It’s St. Patty’s day and most of us probably stayed home to keep safe and squints watch the Winnipeg Jets try their luck against the Montreal Canadiens. After a bit of a butt-fumbled performance on Monday, I wasn’t sure which Jets team we were getting for round 2. I seem to say that a lot because Winnipeg, if nothing else, is always surprising! In a big game with some genuine standings implications, the Jets kinda took care of business.
The First Period
Montreal and Winnipeg both seemed to have their skating legs early. The Jets have done a much better job of coming into games looking prepared. It’s strange to compliment this, but last season, Winnipeg got pasted as soon as the puck dropped. Praise for small improvements! The warmer start definitely seemed to catch the Habs napping, as they served some early turnovers less than a minute into the game. Blake Wheeler seized upon one of them and scored a gifted goal, things we love to see after the Jets had the inverse occur on Monday.
The Habs still seemed a bit loose but they threatened Connor Hellebuyck on some messy reads from the blueliners. Morrissey, Stanley, Pionk, and Forbort all looked a little suspect on the evening. Mercifully, none of the worst moments (like the double pinch with Stanley and someone else along the right wall) ended up in goals against. Instead, the Jets worked a perfect counter with the second line that saw Kyle Connor score a 5v5 goal. He can still do that, apparently! Pierre-Luc Dubois drove down the central slot as Ehlers wristed a shot off Price. Dubois’ rush pushed the Habs defender away from Connor and allowed KFC to seize the easy rebound goal. This is the exact sort of sequence this line should be capable of, and it’s nice to finally see the trio hitting paydirt. The Jets took this pleasant 2-0 lead into intermission, making us all feel the luck of the Irish.
The Second Period
The feelings of fortune quickly turned a bit sour less than 2 minutes into the second frame. Stanley, stranded in the neutral zone after trying to pinch at Montreal’s blueline, left Danault completely open for Gallagher to hit him in stride. The Habs gained a quick 2-on-1 and Danault cut the deficit to just 1 goal. This is probably the first time Stanley’s looked like Beaulieu out there. We’re used to a relatively composed, cleaner performance from Logan but tonight was a minor horrorshow. It happens to the best of ‘em.
The Jets didn’t seem to mind and went back to work, trying to add to the lead. The second line, after a very strong first, scored another goal to increase the margins. Connor completed his brace and once again capitalized on some netfront chaos in front of Price. When KFC is engaged like this, he can be an unending menace on loose pucks. Just being in the right areas while Dubois and Ehlers do the rest is a huge improvement. With a 2-goal lead restored, Winnipeg held on and avoided any further serious blunders before the intermission.
The Third Period and Overtime
The final 20 minutes of regulation were a lot hairier. The Jets got run over by Montreal’s rapid counters and puck movement. The struggling Winnipeg blueliners were utterly besieged, and almost every line outside of the second was thrashed. Even the typically reliable third line was crushed on multiple shifts. Winnipeg occasionally gets into these situations where a single zone exit is difficult, and the final 15 minutes of period 3 pushed that to the extreme.
Gallagher made us all sweat bullets after he cut the deficit to 1 goal again. The Jets iced the puck numerous times and set up a few too many DZ draws with tired Winnipeg skaters. Brendan took advantage and dispossessed Pionk of the puck to score. Montreal continued to surge but struggled to beat Hellebuyck, leading to some highlight-reel saves from the American. Unfortunately, the Jets are universally terrible when defending an odd-manned situation, and conceded the tying goal with Price pulled. Morrissey did...something in front of Hellebuyck and seemed to be unaware of Toffoli on the backdoor. The Habs forward smacked the puck home and sent the game to overtime.
In a surprise move, Maurice opted to put out Ehlers, Dubois, and Connor. This was the wise choice as all 3 seemed to be humming along nicely. After being punished for not using this unit against Toronto, it seems the Jets learned to make the obvious choice. It almost backfired after an early Montreal counter forced Hellebuyck into a ridiculous save. Ehlers didn’t do much to support his linemates defensively, but atoned for his poor backchecking with a countered goal up the ice. It was a messy way to win, but at least the Jets got both points. Ahead of a date with Edmonton tonight, I suppose that’s all you can ask for.
The second line was stellar.
This time, Ehlers wasn’t the one in the driver’s seat. Dubois had his most well-rounded game as a Jet, notching 3 assists and creating havoc all over the Habs OZ. His hulking presence and keen-eyed distribution was a sight for sore eyes. More of that, please!
The Jets defense had a very tough outing.
Winnipeg’s blueline is a bit of a shambles, and tonight served as a reminder of how bad it can be when nearly everyone struggles. At some point, the Jets are going to have to figure out what to do with Morrissey. He seems incapable of keeping up but keeps being given extremely difficult deployments.
The trade deadline is close at hand.
There’s plenty of speculation surrounding blueliners like David Savard and Matthias Ekholm. If the Jets can secure the services of either at a reasonable price, I’d strongly consider it. The rumored price for Ekholm has included a late first and Sami Niku. If the Jets are serious about making a run in this messy season, Ekholm could be an invaluable addition.