It’s been a tumultuous start to this NHL season. A lot of teams are dealing with risky COVID situations and, on more than one occasion, I’ve questioned the point of it all. That said, hockey isn’t likely to stop anytime soon, and that means we get to feast our eyes on whatever Winnipeg gives us. The first few Jets games have been a smorgasbord of varying quality. We’ve had great periods, wretched periods, and incredibly fortunate results. Tonight, Winnipeg had a chance to genuinely earn a win against Ottawa. Did they give us the goods, or crash-land early?
The First Period
The opening 20 minutes probably saw the most back-and-forth action of the evening. The Sens looked decently hungry for a revenge match after blowing a lead on Tuesday. Winnipeg seemed up to answer the bell, and both sides had some decent end-to-end action. While surrendering shots and trading chances isn’t ideal, I’ll happily take that over the boring and listless shellings we’ve seen from the Jets in previous outings.
Despite Ottawa owning a slight edge near the slot area, Winnipeg ended up breaking the deadlock first. The second line, captained by Danish war hero Nikolaj Ehlers, hit paydirt on a shot from distance that Matt Murray completely missed. Ehlers let one go from a high central point and beat Murray between the pads, giving the Jets a nice moment of serotonin on the road. If you were worried Winnipeg would squander the early lead, worry not, because what followed was a paddlin’.
The Second Period
Winnipeg apparently decided humiliating the Sens was the best course of action. The Jets spent the middle 20 minutes looking like the Harlem Globetrotters in the offensive zone. Countless shifts saw Winnipeg pinning the Sens deep behind their own blueline, hounding the puck and creating great opportunities in the low slot. The pressure just caved Ottawa in, and before you knew it, Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry, and Blake Wheeler had already scored to put the Jets in control at 4-0.
The last time we saw a period this dominant was against Calgary during the season opener. It felt more like the 2017-18 Jets, a team that will forever live in my heart. The puck movement was crisp, the attacking positioning was great, and the defensive cut-offs were nearly perfect. The Jets were working as the hockey gods intended, and we could all pop a few cold ones and kick it.
The Third Period
With a 4-0 lead never looking in doubt, the Jets took the last 20 minutes off. It’s hard to blame the team, especially with a condensed schedule and plenty of games upcoming. The Sens did scratch one goal off of a feed to Chris Tierney, but couldn’t get anything else past Connor Hellebuyck. Winnipeg’s Vezina winner was once again sparkling, even if his workload was a bit lighter than usual.
If I had to choose one thing to complain about, it’d be the curious decision not to give returning rookie Ville Heinola more ice-time. Every time Ville was on the ice, he was doing something positive. His defensive markings were great, and his considered distribution created a lot of good breakouts. When danger arrived near Hellebuyck, Heinola was there to seal it off and strip the puck. This staff should learn to trust the young Finn a lot more. He’s a step ahead of every other defender on this roster, and ready for bigger responsibilities. Feed the beast, Maurice.
The defense performed quite well.
Forbort, Heinola, and Stanley all acquitted themselves nicely tonight. While I’m certainly not as high on Logan as others, it’s easy to see a scenario where he eventually cements a third-pairing role. When he has time and space to make plays, he can be solid as simple, but effective, physical presence on the blueline. Heinola, as expected, was mature beyond his years and calm on the puck. Forbort....man, maybe extend this dude for a few years. He’s good good.
Kyle Connor might have turned a corner somewhere.
Of all the top-6 forwards I’ve felt conflicted about, few have stuck with me as much as Connor. His defensive play and offensive IQ often made me wonder if he’d ever become as good as his deployments suggest. Something’s changed with Kyle this year. His passing, decision-making, and linemate utilization have noticeably improved. Sure, it’s not earth-shattering stuff, but it’s having a tangible impact on his space creation. If Connor can keep this up, Winnipeg is in for a treat.
This is how the Jets can play at their best.
Please keep playing like this, Winnipeg. We’re all in for some bumps along the way, but this roster still has some serious juice when it’s firing on all cylinders. The Jets are still without Dylan DeMelo and Patrik Laine. Once they come back, this team might be in for some fun, if flawed, games in the coming months.