The Winnipeg Jets began a 4-game road trip tonight, starting with a date against the Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver is a bad team that’s in the top-3 of the Pacific division because....it’s the Pacific division. Regardless of opponent form or quality, the NHL can be a chaotic place, and the Jets needed to treat the Canucks as a dangerous adversary. Young guns Elias Pettersson, Nikolay Goldobin, Jake Virtanen, and Adam Gaudette have all shown some serious offensive chops. Did the Canucks put their youthful firepower to bear, or were the Jets in cruise control against a weaker line-up?
The First Period
I haven’t seen Winnipeg eviscerate an opponent quite as handily as the Jets did against Vancouver. This first period was total domination from start to finish, with scarcely a break for the home team. The Jets were flying from the initial puck drop, and hounded Vancouver every solitary second the Canucks spent in the defensive zone. Any offensive zone pressure was quickly transitioned into a Winnipeg counter, and Vancouver had little answer for the Jets blitz.
Bryan Little got the party started, scoring off a misplayed puck by Jacob Markstrom. Patrik Laine created a zone entry, but lost possession of the puck. Markstrom beat Laine to the rubberized disc and deflected it off the boards, right to Little. Jacob realized his error far too late to react, with Little scoring one of the easiest markers of his career. Winnipeg’s penchant for penalties, however, kept things interesting. On Vancouver’s initial power play, Pettersson rocketed an unstoppable one-timer right through the Jets PK. Wow, lads, that kid can shooooot.
Winnipeg shook the goal off and continued to press Vancouver at even-strength. Markstrom was extremely busy and had to make several difficult saves, including an unbelievable glove robbery of Mark Scheifele. It was an incredible save, but Mark wouldn’t be denied a second time, cashing in on a sloppy rebound from a Nik Ehlers shot. Markstrom thought he had the puck, then watched helplessly as the net behind him rustled. Kyle Connor only added to Vancouver’s misery with a ridiculously filthy power play goal. Markstrom never read the shot and was completely undressed by one of the best one-on-one scorers in the league. The Jets outshot Vancouver 23-7, and the 3-1 scoreline felt like a fairly just result.
The Second Period
The Canucks weren’t pleased with their first period performance, and came out to make a statement. They didn’t have the spectacular response they might have hoped for, but they began by disrupting more of Winnipeg’s offensive zone entries and neutral zone set-up. The Canucks in the first period basically left their half of the ice open for the Jets to pierce. That space closed significantly, and Winnipeg had a much harder time entering Vancouver’s end of the ice, much less exiting their own.
Despite Vancouver’s push-back, the Jets capitalized on a sloppy turnover that Laine potted for his first even-strength goal of the season. That’ll hopefully be the first of many for the beleaguered young Finn. The good feelings didn’t last long, sadly. The Jets had some defensive blunders, and few were as costly as the Tyler Motte short-handed goal against. Dustin Byfuglien fired a point shot from his usual power play spot up high, but the shot deflected off of a Vancouver skater and created enough space for a Motte breakaway. Tyler did not miss, to say the least.
The other Tyler playing in tonight’s game absolutely did miss. Not long after the Motte goal, Tyler Myers threw a pass right to Nikolay Goldobin, who tucked it past Connor Hellebuyck to cut the deficit to 4-3. Winnipeg’s blueline has been a hot mess this year, and few players have epitomized this more than Myers. There are nights when I’m not sure he’s know what defending in his own zone means. Tonight was definitely one of those nights. At least Winnipeg didn’t give up another goal.
The Third Period
This was a full 20 minutes of absolute clenching. Winnipeg flirted with disaster a number of times, especially in the defensive zone. The Canucks kept buzzing the Jets end with some excellent scoring opportunities, including a ridiculous point-blank shot from Motte that Hellebuyck somehow saved. Somehow, some way, Hellebuyck fought through some difficult bounces and net-front chaos to keep the game-score at 4-3 in Winnipeg’s favor.
Just when it seemed the Canucks were due to tie the game, out came Laine to seal Vancouver’s fate. The Jets sprang a nice breakout rush the other way, with Laine and Connor leading the charge. Laine took a pass from Little and slipped behind Connor, who served as a screen on Markstrom. The one-time wrister was absolutely ridiculous, beating Markstrom before he even knew the puck was in motion. Unstoppable, that shot. Vancouver then tried to pull the goalie and scratch out a marker, but a Laine empty-net goal finished the hat-trick and any hopes of a comeback. Phew.
- Laine with even-strength goals and a hat-trick. That was overdue.
- Kyle and Mark were flying again. I like this.
- Hellebuyck in the first 40 minutes was a bit scary, though most of the goals against weren’t his fault. The third period, however, was a great recovery in form.
- Neither team’s defense was very good. Tyler Myers continues to look like an AHL rookie in his own end, so that’s not great.
- Winnipeg was a bit sloppy after the first period, to put it mildly. Don’t let these games snowball, Jets.