The Jets of Winnipeg continue to chug along in this strange season, a team that feels like it’s neither here nor there. Some days, Winnipeg looks a confident, puck-slinging offensive juggernaut (against the Sens). Other days, the Jets remind us that actual competition exposes the severe tactical flaws that still haunt the team (against anyone not named the Sens). The Flames presented an interesting challenge, because they aren’t very good either but they always find a way to piss me off. Would the Jets extinguish Calgary, or would the Flames scorch my hopes and dreams?
The First Period
At long last, Paul Maurice finally decided to split Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. We all know it’s been a serious problem for years now, but it’s rare to see the coaching staff and players actually agree to the split. The results seemed to have a somewhat positive effect, at least defensively. Winnipeg’s opening 20 minutes saw all 4 lines rolling and moving the puck out of the defensive zone with relative ease. Calgary seldom had time to set up any serious looks on net and the few extended zone possessions they had resulted in nothing.
The tradeoff is that Copp-Scheifele-Ehlers and Connor-Stastny-Wheeler lines really didn’t create much offense. Ehlers, having a rare off game, was out of sync and wasn’t able to divebomb the slot or cruise the perimeter with as much confidence. The rest of the lot were not bad, aside from Wheeler, but not super effective either. Thankfully, Calgary took some early penalties and Kyle Connor nabbed himself a quick brace from the right face-off circle. He’s started to make this area his home on the power play, and it’s paying dividends. Keep it up, KFC! Winnipeg left the period with a 2-0 lead.
The Second Period
The problem with a Jets lead is that this team is notoriously good at giving the lead away. Trouble started right from the puck drop, with Connor Hellebuyck letting in a Chris Tanev zone clearance....from Calgary’s end of the ice. It was honestly funnier than anything else, and served as a warning shot to stay focused. The Jets and Flames then spent the next 10 or so minutes doing very little, locked in a boring struggle.
The Flames spent the latter stages of the period putting a bit more pressure on. The Jets seemingly took much of that last 8 or so minutes off, and it started getting a bit nervy. One moment that did stick out is Dillon Dube elbowing Pionk. Dube wouldn’t have been in this game had the league properly suspended him for elbowing Kotkaniemi. Instead, Pionk got absolutely stapled to the boards on a nasty hit and was probably lucky to walk away unscathed. Thanks, DoPS, real fine job you’re doing!
The Third Period and Beyond
If the closing minutes of the second period were a warning, then the final regulation period was a full-on siren. The Jets got pummeled, and completely caved to Calgary’s pressure as the last minutes of the game wore on. Gaudreau and Mangiapane took advantage of Winnipeg’s defensive sloppiness to put the Flames ahead 3-2. It was only by some stroke of miracle that Hellebuyck saved 3 or 4 insane shot attempts to keep the deficit at 1 goal.
In the last few minutes, Winnipeg went full-court press and started to throw every skater at the offensive zone. The pressure started to work and with the goalie pulled, Scheifele tipped a Pionk shot to force overtime. The 5 additional minutes weren’t enough to resolve things but both teams had some stellar looks on goal that barely missed. It was then time for the dreaded shootout, and Calgary prevailed. A lot of ire was thrown Maurice’s way for not putting Ehlers in over guys like Perreault and Wheeler. Honestly, that bit doesn’t even bother me. I’m a lot more worried about the rest of the game being a tirefire. You take the point and run, but good grief, Jets.
The first few lines still aren’t working.
Scheifele and Wheeler need to be on different lines, but the combos Maurice came up with didn’t yield much in the way of results. Until Dubois arrives, the Jets are going to be treading water at even-strength. I don’t know if it’s better to have the top line of Connor-Scheifele-Wheeler get caved in while the others feast, or try to limit the damage and go conservative.
The defense is still bad.
Until the Jets get a real top-pairing blueliner, this backend is going to be a pain to contend with. The Jets have gotten more mileage out of guys like Fortbort, but Beaulieu playing as much as 15 or more minutes a night is simply untenable. Heinola may not be a huge fix, but he should be able to provide more puck-moving ability and defensive acumen than Nate.
This team is still what we thought it was.
Most of us probably expected the Jets to be....not great. We’re getting that, for the most part. This team has been more entertaining than in previous years, but the actual on-ice quality still suffers. I don’t know what the rest of the season will look like, but the Jets have some serious work to do.