By Watson Scott Swail
The Winnipeg Jets, and in particular Patrik Laine, had a great comeback win last night. Given the excitement of the night—with Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson being inducted into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame, along with the absent Bobby Hull—the comeback from a 4-0 deficit certainly lifted the roof off of the MTS Centre.
The Jets are only four games into the 82-game season, so it is difficult to assess whether this is a playoff year or another building year. The Jets have added four rookies to the lineup, which is always challenging, but there are many pluses to this lineup. Given that this is the start of the season, here are some things that are critical for the Jets to improve upon last season.
- The Faceoff Circle. After three games, the Jets sit at about 45.6 percent, placing them in the bottom six teams in the league and equal to their output last year. Mark Scheifele’s game has improved drastically in the last two years, but his work in the circle remains suspect at best. His game last night against the Leafs was better and improved his percentage from 45 to almost 48 percent. If he continues to improve his faceoff skill, he will be a long-term, tremendous force in the NHL. Bryan Little is the best faceoff man on the Jets, but he is back in the infirmary right now. Mathieu Perreault is doing a great job in the circle with a 56 percent win rate, but the key is having Scheifele progress and get above the 50 percent mark.
- The Power Play. So far, they are like they always have been: very poor on power plays. To date, they have 2 goals in 16 attempts: not good enough in the NHL. This is a systemic issue for the Jets, and special teams play is about systems, which are to a large degree about coaches. NHL teams cannot win very often if they do not score with a man up on a consistent basis. If the Jets do not improve here, it will be a long season.
- The Penalties. In four games, the Jets have allowed 5 goals on 14 penalties. That ranks fourth worst in the league. Consider this: over these four games, the Jets have been in the box for a period and a half. Hard to win in that situation.
- A Consistent Offensive Threat. The Jets are showing they can score goals. In 2 of their 4 games, they have posted 5 goals in a game. We will have to see if they can consistently score on opponents, as consistency has been a challenge in the past. With new scoring machines in place (read: Patrik Laine with 4 goals in 4 games), there is hope that the Jets could be feared by the opposition. Laine is already making a difference, and Scheifele and others are starting to strut their stuff. This team could be very dangerous.
- The Goaltending. The Jets have put everything on the backs of two young goalies in lieu of the experienced Ondrej Pavelec. In two starts, Connor Hellebuyck, the odds on favorite to become number one in the system, sits 31st in the league with a save percentage of 0.863. If that was a seasonal number, that would put him down in the ECHL, at best. Hutchinson has also been subpar. He was very shaky in letting four goals in last night in the first two periods, but then settled down and looked very competent in the third period and especially in overtime. Perhaps it will just take time for these boys to settle down. Winnipeg Fans do like to complain about Ondrej Pavelec, but he is arguably the best goaltender in the Jets’ system at the present time. The Jets would be wrong to let him go, but my bet is that a trade is in the wings as goalies start to go down on injuries around the NHL.
There are some significant upsides to the Jets early on this season and here are some random thoughts:
- The Jets are very fast, and if they connection of their systems and speed come to fruition, they will be a force for defenses around the league.
- Josh Morrissey looks very comfortable on the D line. Although he still looks young enough to play on the Vincent Massey Collegiate team, his time spent in the AHL and WHL seems like time well spent. Morrissey has a few shades of Paul Coffey in him, which bodes well for the Jets long term.
- Joel Armia is off like a cannon and is making other teams take notice of his speed and hard nose. The Jets have done enormously well on the Evander Kane trade, to be sure.
- The Jets have a ton of talent on this team and in the system. When players like Nic Petan have a hard time cracking the lineup, it shows the depth that has been created by the Jets since 2011. Eric Comrie, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Connor Hellebuyck, Andrew Copp, Chase De Leo, Mark Dano, and Brendan Lemieux all showcase a pretty good backdrop for the future.
Once we hit the mid-November mark, we’ll have a much better idea of who this team is. The game against the Leafs last night showed the worst and the best of the Jets. The good part is they have resilience—a very important team trait that any coach would love to have. But they cannot play half of their games asleep at the wheel. They’ve come back twice from large deficits, but you can’t do that habitually and win in this league.