The Winnipeg Jets may be slowly turning a corner. While this team has a whole host of flaws, the squad is admittedly playing better hockey over the past several periods of action. The Jets will still look like a peewee roster at times, but it is encouraging to see at least some growth over the past few games of action. The shift to a top-line of Stastny-Scheifele-Wheeler may have helped fix one of the team’s biggest issues up front. Against a desperate Canadiens team, could the Jets repeat their recent offensive success?
The First Period
The opening 20 minutes was relatively rollicking by Jets standards. Both teams were looking to create dangerous opportunities off the rush and feast on cross-seam passes. Winnipeg had a notable early jump and the first line looked good. This new-look unit of guys closer to retirement than superstardom has been humming along nicely. Wheeler no longer has to burn every calorie in his body to get up the ice and it’s letting him serve as a patient distributor near the goal-line. He seems to be handling the puck less poorly and Stastny is always in good spots to capitalize on quality feeds.
That line was duly rewarded for their efforts towards the midway point of the period, with Wheeler deflecting a puck off of Stastny’s skate and past Jake Allen for the 1-0 advantage. It’s always good to see the top line scoring at 5v5 and genuinely playing well. We’re used to those lads struggling to hustle up the ice when they’re playing with Connor. The Jets then added a second goal courtesy of the French Prince of St. Boniface (thanks for this one OxdriftPirate), Mathieu Perreault. Tyler Toffoli needlessly turned the puck over on a sloppy cross-slot pace from the walls that Perreault read perfectly. The Frenchman slipped between the Montreal defenders and put it home, his second goal in as many games. Winnipeg retained the lead to the intermission, and barring one really terrible defensive zone sequence earlier in the period, played pretty solid hockey!
The Second Period
I should know better than to get too excited when the Jets play well, because the Bad Jets are always right around the corner. The middle frame forced us to witness the Jets that just don’t do anything. For some reason, Winnipeg seemed to be content to rest on a 2-0 lead. I get that the Habs are in a tough stretch right now, but slowing the tempo down and letting Montreal rip shots into your slot the whole period seems like a poor strategy.
Winnipeg reaped what it had sown with an ugly power play goal against, with Brendan Gallagher taking advantage of some netfront chaos and Beaulieu on his knees to score. The Habs then added insult to injury, with Toffoli tipping a deflection home to atone for his earlier goal against. When you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes. The Jets don’t have a blueline unit capable of sitting back and letting other teams dictate the tempo. They need to push the pace with the forward units and carry the play up the ice as much as possible.
The Third Period and Overtime
The Jets seemed to feel the same way, because the final period saw Winnipeg playing a lot more like its first period self. Winnipeg attacked the Habs slot frequently and gutted Montreal’s defense pretty badly. The Canadiens were barely holding on when Stastny added his second goal of the game, a perfect snipe off an odd-man situation. The Habs defender between Stastny and Wheeler backed off, letting Paul do his thing.
Of course, hockey is also very stupid sometimes, and with the Canadiens trailing late, they pulled their goalie and scored. The Jets don’t handle 6-on-5 situations well, letting their opponents grow a cycle game and create perimeter havoc before attacking the slot. This goal was a tipped deflection, another in a growing list for the Jets. I’m not sure if someone suddenly found Winnipeg’s Achilles heel in front of Hellebuyck but it’s an annoying trend. Clear the crease, Jets!
The game proceeded to overtime, where Winnipeg freakin’ owns. Mo has been running 3 forwards out there more frequently, and he did it again tonight. While Winnipeg did have to get a couple of amazing saves from Hellebuyck (including one I dub The Scoot), the Jets generally had the run of puck possession. You just can’t match the sorts of 3-forward trios the Jets can roll in overtime, and one of the trios earned the extra point. Ehlers and Dubois combined to score a glorious winner and got Winnipeg the victory. Nice!
The top line is humming once again.
The addition of Stastny to Scheifele and Wheeler has worked wonders. Footspeed, once a concern for this unit, is now an asset to the way the skaters work together. The slower pace is helping Blake avoid burning himself out on every shift, and all 3 players are excellent passers. They’re creating all sorts of scoring opportunities near the net, and even Wheeler seems to be taking more shots.
The second line needs a change.
I’m a lot less fond of Connor-Dubois-Ehlers. They don’t seem have to much chemistry, and PLD was a bit of a mess tonight. The top line is fine as-is, so the Jets need to find a better arrangement from the bottom lines. It’s about time to promote Perreault to the top-6, so I wouldn’t mind a Perreault-Dubois-Ehlers line.
The Jets are trending up...somewhat.
Look, take it with a grain of salt when I say the Jets are improving. We all know this division is a dumpster fire. That said...Winnipeg is improving all the same. They’ve played some quality attacking hockey over the past few games and it may be something they can replicate. Who knows! This team is a box of chocolates, with about a third of them having gone rancid already. You’ll just have to take a bit and enjoy the ride.