Hello, is this thing on? Winnipeg Jets hockey is back, and it got off to a rollicking start against the now-hated Calgary Flames. We all have painful memories of the last several meetings between these two teams, and tonight was a chance for Winnipeg to make a statement. Could the Jets start the season off on solid footing, or would Calgary rustle our jimmies once more?
The First Period
Things got off to a rough start. The Jets looked like the team that was on course for a lottery pick at the start of last season. Winnipeg’s defense, a slightly updated version of last year’s unit, was struggling mightily under Calgary’s physically aggressive press. Space was limited and the Flames did a good job harassing Winnipeg’s puck-carriers into sloppy turnovers and mistakes. The Jets attackers were equally neutralized, failing to find traction along the boards and making no progress towards Calgary’s slot area.
Before long, the reunited pairing of Morrissey-Poolman found itself in hot water after Matthew Tkachuk tipped a shot past Connor Hellebuyck. The Vezina-winning Jets goalie looked very shaky, to put it mildly, but Poolman failed to disrupt his marking in equal measure. The Jets then responded a short while later, with a goal-line stop from Derek Forbort leading to a Patrik Laine breakaway for a goal. Absolutely labeled that one, Patrik did.
As is often the case, the joy was short lived, and Winnipeg’s sloppiness led to a power play goal against and a late goal from Elias Lindholm. The Jets left the period with a 3-1 deficit, likely feeling a bit stunned by Calgary’s offensive pressure. During the break, Laine seemed to indicate the team wasn’t prepared for the Flames to start churning and burning. Not a great sign!
The Second Period
Whatever happened in the opening 20 minutes appeared to have stirred the Jets to life. Winnipeg came out of the locker-room with speed and aggression, immediately hounding Calgary’s puckcarriers. The pressure led to an early Mark Scheifele rebound goal, courtesy of a Nik Ehlers wrister that was deflected to the side by Jacob Markstrom. Winnipeg wasn’t done either, continuing to dial the tempo of the game to 11. This felt more like the team we fell in love with a few seasons ago.
Towards the end of the period, Calgary started to crack under the successive waves of pressure and started taking penalties. Laine found Kyle Connor on a perfect seam pass and the American sniper capitalized, evening the score at 3-3. The Jets continued to look for the go-ahead goal with just a few minutes remaining but had to be content with a tie until the third.
The Third Period and Overtime
After a thorough paddling at the hands of Winnipeg, the Flames put up a stiffer resistance in the final frame. A few of their counters actually looked a bit dangerous, and with how ramshackle the Jets defense was, I started getting nervous. Hellebuyck was still swimming in his crease and there was a hint of worry in his puckhandling behind the net. Incredibly, it was the Jets who ended up getting the best chance of the night to win in regulation. A massively chaotic sequence saw Markstrom out of his net, with Andrew Copp and several other Jets forwards seeking the go-ahead goal. Rasmus Andersson saved one goal before Markstrom miraculously slid across and saved another. The saves kept Calgary alive long enough to force overtime.
The first couple of OT shifts didn’t impress me, with Paul Maurice opting to turn to Scheifele, Wheeler, and Morrissey at the start. In a scenario like this, and with how well Ehlers was playing, the Dane needed to be out there as soon as possible. Of course, nothing really mattered once Laine stepped on the ice. He found himself in the defensive zone with Neal Pionk, wrestling for the puck near the boards. Laine briefly picked his head up and saw only one Flame skater back, so he completely faked out Sean Monahan and created a 2-on-1 with Pionk. After a failed pass attempt to Neal, Laine recollected the puck and wristed the game-winner home. What a win for the Finn!
Ehlers and Laine are too freakin’ good.
We all knew Ehlers was a monster, but Laine was a force to be reckoned with tonight. He stood up for Connor after a dirty Hanifin cross-check, and called game for the winner. His puck distribution, great skating, crafty stickhandling, and top-tier awareness led to a tidy 3-point night. If this is Laine’s new normal....sweet mother of pearl.
The defense was....not too freakin’ good.
With Dylan DeMelo out to attend to his newborn child and wife, the Jets turned to Sami Niku. All told, Niku actually did well enough for the first few periods before a rougher third. Poolman and Morrissey had much worse outings, which probably won’t surprise many here. I will say that Derek Forbort had a well-rounded game. For the price Winnipeg paid, he looks like a bargain acquisition.
For 40 minutes, Winnipeg ran the show.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Good Jets. They’ll go through ruts across the next 55 games, but if they can scrounge up more periods like the second and third, they should have a great shot at the post-season. Winnipeg will live or die by its scoring counters, but they’ve managed to survive before. Maybe they can pull one more magic trick and surprise us all this season.