Don’t ya just love Winnipeg Jets hockey? In the hallowed words of Gennaro Gattuso, Jets hockey is “sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe sh*t!” Facing a Dallas Stars team that’s been racking up the wins recently, you can guess which version of Winnipeg arrived in Texas last night. As you’re all painfully aware, Winnipeg will break old habits slowly under the new coaching regime. Years of poor puck management, confused assignments, and chaotic play aren’t going to vanish with just a few months of instruction. The old Jets are going to appear many times throughout this season. The first game against Dallas served as a stern reminder of how far Winnipeg still has to go.
You’d be forgiven for wondering about my pessimism, then, after the Jets had such a strong start to the game. The opening 10 minutes saw the Jets creating some wonderful scoring opportunities early, resulting in a great Mark Scheifele one-timer to give Winnipeg the lead. The number 1 Jets centre has been looking more and more like that description, notching 3 goals already this season. His improved play in all 3 zones of the ice is appreciated, even if some of the defensive work is still middling at best. After that opening goal, though, Scheifele and the rest of the team spent the next 2 periods withering under the Dallas press. The Stars swarmed the puck and started to really hammer the Jets as early as the backend of period 1. Things only grew dimmer from there.
The second period saw the Jets completely outclassed. The Stars forced turnovers repeatedly, pitting Hellebuyck against an onslaught of dangerous scoring opportunities. Dallas had already tied the game in the first period thanks to a busted defensive read, but the Stars clearly weren’t finished. Markers from Hakanpaa and Kiviranta put Dallas ahead 3-1, and it was a lead the Stars refused to relinquish. The Jets scarcely threatened to score until the final 5-10 minutes of regulation, which is alarming considering Winnipeg had numerous power play opportunities. A late Heiskanen goal added insult to injury, and the Jets found themselves in the all-too-familiar position of bitter defeat.
I could point to about 50 different problems in this game, but a lot of it starts with the defensive unit. Just about every defender, barring Morrissey and Schmidt, had horrendous outings. Our resident man-giraffe had a particularly nightmarish game, taking multiple penalties and screening Hellebuyck on the Hakanpaa goal. Dillon and Pionk were also difficult to watch, struggling with multiple turnovers and failed defensive zone exits. It was a constant stream of errors, and the scoreline is probably a bit generous to Winnipeg. On the offensive side of things, the Pierre-Luc Dubois was a ghost for much of the evening. If PLD’s mind is already wandering 2 games into the season, the Jets are in deep, deep trouble. They cannot afford a single member of the top-6 to fall behind. I’ve got some more takeaways below, but I’ll wrap up with the note that we’d best get used to games like this. The Jets are in a weird transition phase right now, and we’re likely to see more painful outings before the team hits its stride.
- Bring Samberg and/or Heinola into the fold. The Jets could really use Samberg’s defensive presence in place of Stanley, and Heinola’s puck-moving ability would do wonders at 5v5 and 5v4. I would be shocked if we see either player before next week, but it’s clear the defensive grouping is well below par as constructed.
- Connor-Scheifele-Ehlers continues to hum nicely. I’d originally felt swapping Perfetti and Connor made a degree of sense, but if PLD is checked out, Winnipeg should probably continue riding that elite first line.
- The special teams were embarrassingly poor. I refuse to say anything more than that.
- Hellebuyck did as much as he could to mask Winnipeg’s deficiencies, but the bill comes due eventually. The scoreline could have been a lot uglier were it not for some fabulous Vezina-calibre saves.
- The Jets have a lot of work to do, and that was always going to be the case. It still sucks to see the team struggle with many of the same issues that have plagued it for the last 5 years, but progress is a fickle thing. The team needs quite a few changes to get it up to speed, but I’d be surprised if we see more than a handful actually take place.