A fine Winnipeg Jets effort on the road was for naught, as the New York Rangers chased Connor Hellebuyck from the net on their way to a 5-2 victory. Three thoughts on last night’s game (with a dash of Jacob Trouba too):
1. The goaltending
First off, credit where credit’s due: New York’s first three goals came off of good-to-beautiful shots, the 4-2 tally was deflected by Jesper Fast’s foot, and we are talking about the league’s best offence here. And the night wasn’t without goaltending highlights; Hellebuyck’s late first period pad save on Chris Kreider was exactly the kind of stop Winnipeg (and any NHL club, really) needs if it’s going to contend.
All the same, the Winnipeg Jets needed better from their goaltender.
Hellebuyck left the game with a .750 Sv%, having made 12 saves on 16 shots. While we're all of eight appearances into 2016-17, the 23-year-old hasn't looked nearly as indomitable as he did during last year’s recall. The murmurs over Hellebuyck’s glove hand and butterfly timing are growing louder.
@dongange Carrying his glove way too low to throwing off his center of gravity...this league will make you pay every single time.— Steve Valiquette (@Vallys_View) November 7, 2016
High glove. High glove. Seems every game teams go back to the well on Hellebuyck.— Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming) November 7, 2016
Is the book out on Hellebuyck? Perhaps, but there remains one self-evident truth: Ondrej Pavelec still isn’t the answer. That ship has hopefully sailed, permanently; after five seasons, even the organization had to throw in the towel. The only reasons barring injury for recalling Pav would be to a) allow Hellebuyck to rediscover his game at the AHL level; and/or b) showcase the 29-year-old in hopes of trading him. Both scenarios are temporary, and neither is all that convincing.
Unless or until Eric Comrie leaps over him on the depth chart, Connor Hellebuyck is the team’s future in net, and his excelling at the AHL level is practically a given at this point. If there are areas of concern with his game, they’ll likely have to be addressed on the fly, at the NHL level.
At what point does the Wade Flaherty conversation become a serious one? The goaltending coach has been with Winnipeg since 2011-12, and is now entrusted with said goalie of the future. Perhaps the issues mentioned are being worked on as we speak; they’ve certainly already been identified. If the year carries on with no improvement, the coaching conversation should be fair game.
2. Ebbs, flows and Dustin Byfuglien
Before Hellebuyck was pulled after four goals against, the second period story was shaping up to be Dustin Byfuglien, for better and worse. Big Buff was flying, leading rushes and laying big hits. But at the same time, his blown tire precipitated New York’s second goal, and the 31-year-old was culpable on J.T. Miller’s 3-2 go-ahead marker as well.
The good news is, with Jacob Trouba now signed, Byfuglien will be under less pressure to do and be everything. In 2015-16, Buff played 25:12 ATOI; this year, he's up to 28:44, highest in the entire league. Even if Trouba takes a game or three to get up to speed, his addition to the lineup will pull at least some of those minutes away from Winnipeg's d-corps leader. Hopefully this will have a beneficial impact both short and long-term.
Now to wait and find out where Trouba will play.
Chevy hasn't had any conversations with Maurice about where Trouba will play, what d-pairing he'll be part of, etc.— Mike Halford (@HalfordPHT) November 7, 2016
Josh Morrissey has been fine beside Byfuglien on the top-pairing. Not phenomenal, but steady, which is plenty to ask from a 21-year-old defenceman in his NHL rookie season. If Tyler Myers remains out (don't count on it), there's an obvious top-four hole to fill beside Enstrom. But once Myers returns, it'll be interesting to see whether Trouba plays top-pairing, or right-side. The way things are, these are mutually exclusive.
3. At least we have Laine
While last night went from solid road effort to miserable rather quickly, Patrik Laine continues to delight. With his tally up to eight, Laine now shares the NHL goal scoring lead with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Artem Anisimov (yes, Anisimov). The 6'5" Finn also co-shares the lead in power play goals and is one point behind William Nylander for tops among rookie scoring, all while averaging the highest TOI among rookie forwards.
In short, the second overall pick in 2016 is already paying dividends and playing a prominent role. If your expectations were tempered, as mine were, he's likely already exceeded them. Also, while yesterday was the first time Winnipeg lost following a Laine goal, it was a tip-in and thus doesn't count.
What Ehlers and Laine might be in a couple of years is pretty freakin mind blowing. #NHLJets— Troy Westwood (@TroyWestwood) November 7, 2016
Finally, apologies for the delay folks. Even Managing Editors feel frustrated after a loss sometimes. But turn that frown upside down, because look, Trouba's back!