It feels weird having hockey back. Though the playoffs have not officially begun yet, we’ve had some teasers in the form of a few exhibition games before the weekend festivities get under way. Last night, the Jets got a taste of pre-season action against the Vancouver Canucks, a team that has struggled mightily against Winnipeg. Though it’s the first NHL action the Jets have had in months, there were some notable takeaways from the (rough around the edges) action.
Connor Hellebuyck is a cheat code.
The Jets, especially during the first half of the game, had a lot of trouble exiting their own zone. More than a few skaters also had a tendency to turn the puck over in dangerous areas, and the Jets blueline was in pre-break form. No matter, for Connor Hellebuyck was as resplendent as ever. The Winnipeg netminder stopped 37 of 38 shots and committed highway robbery on numerous Vancouver scoring opportunities. The Canucks could easily have had a 2 or 3-goal lead early, but Hellebuyck held them scoreless for most of the evening. Any questions about his current form appear to be answered.
The top line was pretty listless.
Connor, Scheifele, and Wheeler spent much of the evening in the defensive zone...and not the opposing one. This line, which has struggled in the past, looked really rusty in its return to action. Mark overcooked a few prime slot opportunities, Connor was just sort of there, and Wheeler wasn’t as mobile as he’s been in the past. While the defensive support behind the top line did not help in zone transitions, I just didn’t see much out of the 3 key offensive catalysts in general. They’ll need to get going against a tough Calgary Flames squad that boasts rapid counters and some skilled depth.
The middle-6 unit was pretty good.
At first, the line of Ehlers-Eakin-Laine was suffering the same fate as the top line. As the game wore on, though, Ehlers and co. started to up the pace considerably. Eakin wasn’t much of a participant in the offensive rushes, but Ehlers and Laine were able to create together anyways. The third line impressed me most, with Roslovic leading the way alongside Copp and Lowry. If Roslovic was looking to make a statement, he surely did. He narrowly missed a gorgeous backhand-goal attempt, but still collected a cheeky drop-pass assist on a well-worked goal later on. All in all, solid outings from the bottom-of-the-rotation players, and that’ll be crucial in match-ups against a decently balanced Flames roster.
Ehlers may be injured.
This one would be a crushing blow before the weekend. Ehlers, who’d been recovering from a training camp ailment, left the ice after a mix-up with Adam Gaudette. Ehlers was able to walk down the tunnel under his own power, but reportedly sported a minor limp. The Jets can’t afford to lose either of Hellebuyck or Ehlers, so let’s pray this absence is short-lived. If not, Jansen Harkins will likely get the nod for this opening series.