Howdy folks, been a while since we’ve gotten to park our butts on the couch in front of regular season Winnipeg Jets hockey. I hope the off-season has treated you kindly. With the Bombers continuing to bully most of the CFL around, it’s nice to see some teams from the Peg putting the win back in the city’s name. Heading into the season-opener the New York Rangers, the Jets had some pretty big questions to answer. Is Winnipeg prepared to play faster, more aggressive hockey? Can the bottom-6 provide supplementary offense while being defensively responsible? What will the blueline unit accomplish with all the systems tweaks under Bowness?
After the first period of Bowness hockey (Rick wasn’t present due to COVID), the Jets were probably feeling pretty pleased! Winnipeg was fast and aggressive, as advertised. The top line of KFC-Scheifele-Ehlers looked dangerous on almost every shift. The second line took a bit to get going but had some solid chances here and there when it clicked. The 3rd and 4th lines looked excellent on the forecheck, causing havoc around the Rangers net. After 20 minutes of hard work, the Jets led 1-0 on a beautiful tic-tac-goal from Scheifele. There were some bumps and bruises along the way, with Hellebuyck needing to remain sharp against New York’s excellent shooters. All that said, the period had a decently positive look.
The second period was a notably different story, with Winnipeg getting absolutely pounded in the defensive zone almost the whole way through. The Jets offense struggled to transition up the ice and found itself pinned deep. The Rangers looked pretty pissed off for a team that was on the back-half of consecutive nights of games. Hellebuyck made some astounding saves that were reminiscent of his Vezina-winning form. You have to love this dude for the impressive consistency and level of performance he brings in net. I shudder to imagine Winnipeg without Hellebuyck. Despite getting leveled and turning the puck over in dangerous areas repeatedly, the Jets managed to avoid conceding. Give your local goalie a pat on the back.
The final frame of the evening looked a lot less painful, with the Jets starting to find their skating legs again. Unfortunately, the Rangers were able to sneak in a Dryden Hunt goal off of a comedic sequence in front of Hellebuyck. Despite the setback, the Jets remained composed and went back to work. The 4th line was a particular wrecking ball, pummeling New York’s skaters and creating good offensive opportunities in front of Halak. Eventually, one of those chances found its way through the Rangers netminder. Sam Gagner, who quietly impressed throughout his pre-season camp, cashed in a juicy rebound to put Winnipeg up 2-1 late in the game. A power play marker from Scheifele just a few minutes later put the game out of reach for New York, and KFC bagged the empty-netter to pad some statlines. For the first game of the season, it wasn’t half-bad! You’ll find a few granular thoughts below...
- The 1st line was offensively dominant, but might benefit from moving KFC and Perfetti around. The 2nd line could use that extra bit of scoring skill and speed, while Perfetti’s passing and defensive work might let Scheifele and Ehlers blossom. I don’t think it’s a switch the team has to make, but it’s worth a look.
- Stanley is struggling to keep up, and I suspect it won’t be long before one of Samberg or Heinola is brought in to increase Winnipeg’s backend mobility. Logan’s defensive work is predicated on his size, but that usually works against him when it comes to speed and skill.
- The 4th line should probably be getting 12-14 minutes a night. They looked remarkably good, and kept the Rangers offense away from Hellebuyck for much of the night.
- Speaking of Hellebuyck, beast of a game from him. The Jets Vezina king was once again in fine form, and looked nigh unbeatable for much of the evening. I hope he continues that this season, because the team will need him to for a post-season berth.
- The blueline unit was a bit careless with the puck, but offered some great offensive support up the ice. It didn’t always lead to direct shots on goal, but it should benefit Winnipeg’s attackers as the blueline continues to get comfortable being aggressive.
- Brad Lauer appeared to be directing Winnipeg’s deployments throughout the evening and managed a solid game. It’s nice to have a competent coaching staff!
- That Jets power play is an unholy monster. They’re gonna shred teams this season, and I can’t wait til they add finishers like Lambert in the future (though maybe not so distant).