Opinion

They can't all be works of art. And, to be honest, the Winnipeg Jets have resembled more of a finger-painting than a Picasso through the first week of the NHL season.

They can't all be works of art. And, to be honest, the Winnipeg Jets have resembled more of a finger-painting than a Picasso through the first week of the NHL season.

Head coach Paul Maurice's club has yet to hold a lead at any point — until scoring overtime goals in the two victories this season. They have been badly outshot the last two outings, including lengthy stretches where the ice completely tilted against them. They've lost the special teams battle. 

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice.

You get the picture, and it hasn't been very pretty.

"You’re obviously playing with fire when you spot teams two-goal leads, get down early in games, constantly have to come from behind," veteran centre Adam Lowry admitted to me Wednesday following the team's optional practice in Ottawa.

So far, the Jets haven't been burned. They are 2-1-0, courtesy of a pair of big rallies that led to overtime victories, and sit in the top four of the Canadian Division. That's the good news.

The even better news? We have yet to see Winnipeg ice its optimal lineup, which is why any attempt at a broad-brush assessment of their play is a bit of a fool's game.

Dylan DeMelo, arguably the top shutdown defencemen, hasn't played due to the birth of his child. Tucker Poolman, an underrated two-way blue-liner, only skated in the season opener before COVID-19 protocols sidelined him. Same with sniper Patrik Laine, who had a sparkling debut before getting injured. Another asset in winger Jack Roslovic remains home as an unsigned restricted free agent hoping to be traded.

Defenceman Sami Niku has struggled at times, playing on the Jets top D-pairing with Josh Morrissey.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Defenceman Sami Niku has struggled at times, playing on the Jets top D-pairing with Josh Morrissey.

In a perfect world, all four of those players would be in the lineup for Thursday night's game against the Ottawa Senators, helping both the penalty kill (DeMelo and Poolman) and power play (Laine and Roslovic) that has been a weakness so far. 

The trickle-down effect would be significant. Sami Niku wouldn't be in the lineup, let alone playing on the top defence pairing with Josh Morrissey, where he has struggled mightily. Logan Stanley wouldn't have made his NHL debut this week, sooner than anyone anticipated. Nathan Beaulieu wouldn't be forced, like Niku, to play his off side on the blue line, since the Jets only have one right-shooting defenceman currently on their roster with DeMelo and Poolman sidelined.

Forward Mathieu Perreault, pointless through three games and often looking a step behind, would probably be on the taxi squad rather than starting games on the second line and getting ineffective power-play time. 

You get the picture and it would likely look a lot better than the one we've seen so far. But in a results-oriented business, taking two of the first three has to be considered a success. Doing it under the current circumstances makes it even more impressive.

Dylan DeMelo should stabilize the Jets' defence when he returns for Saturday's match against the Senators.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Dylan DeMelo should stabilize the Jets' defence when he returns for Saturday's match against the Senators.

And help will soon be on the way. DeMelo will make his season debut on Saturday at Bell MTS Place against the Senators, and he should help settle down a blue line that has had trouble getting out of its own end at times, the way he did after joining the team at the trade deadline last February and helping them to an 8-3-1 record before the season came to a halt.

He should immediately take Niku's spot beside Morrissey, whose own play has been dragged down. Derek Forbort and Neal Pionk have formed a solid second pairing and should remain intact, and Poolman's eventual return would send Stanley back to the taxi squad, and Beaulieu back to his natural side.

Before Niku gets another game, I'd much prefer to see Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg get a look. Surely they can't be worse.

Up front, the hope is Laine's upper-body injury isn't serious, although he's expected to miss a third straight game Thursday night after making a brief appearance at Wednesday's practice. And the Roslovic situation remains fluid, with the Pittsburgh Penguins said to have interest but Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, as he is prone to do, patiently playing the waiting game. Whether Roslovic eventually returns, where he'd boost the top nine, or is swapped for some kind of asset, the Jets could ultimately reap the rewards.

Winnipeg Jets sniper Patrik Laine, right, is expected to miss his third-straight game Thursday due to an upper body injury.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets sniper Patrik Laine, right, is expected to miss his third-straight game Thursday due to an upper body injury.

But the bottom line is it's much too early to draw any conclusions about the Jets, especially given the current holes in the lineup. What you currently see may not be what you ultimately get with this club.

"We’re real careful about getting too high or too low. Certainly too low in this condensed schedule. You don’t have time for a two-week kind of malaise. Once your confidence goes for a stretch of time you’ve got to rebound, just get back playing. So we’re 2-1 without three pretty important people in our lineup," said Maurice, who is clearly taking the out of sight, out of mind approach with Roslovic.

"Sometimes you’ve got to survive a little bit, and we’re doing that right now."

Aside from the obvious resiliency and lack of panic when they fall behind, there's been a few other things to like about Winnipeg's game. It starts in net, where Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit have done everything you could ask of them, and more. Kyle Connor, who was one of the NHL's hottest scorers when the 2019-20 season was paused last March, has picked up where he left off, with three goals in as many games.

Jack Roslovic is currently at home in Columbus, Ohio, and is without a contract.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Jack Roslovic is currently at home in Columbus, Ohio, and is without a contract.

The Jets have shown spurts of their full potential, including strong second and third periods against the Calgary Flames that briefly brought back memories of the aggressive style of play that was a trademark of the 2018 club that went to the Western Conference final, routinely imposing their will on opponents.

Hard on the forecheck. Defencemen pinching at the right times. Sustained shifts in the offensive zone. Cycling and more cycling that eventually pays off. It's a much better look than the passive, almost tentative approach they often seem to take in games, including the first two periods against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, and the opening frame against the Senators on Tuesday.

A return to that approach on a regular basis, coupled with some key pieces returning to the lineup, and there's no reason this Jets team can't start putting together some on-ice masterpieces.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
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Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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