by Scott Swail
No. It wasn’t. But through the first 11 years of Jets 2.0, there has likely never been as much pressure on Winnipeg to win in their first or second game of the year.
The expectations are running high for Winnipeg this year after an offseason where the so-called “missing pieces” were put in place. On paper, this Winnipeg Jets team is in the upper echelon of the league and has a legitimate chance for not just post-season play, but for a deep playoff run. Even Elliott Freeman stated that the Jets are the best team in Canada. And on paper, he is correct. However, you have to win to get there and the Jets didn’t play the game they needed in their season opener. And sure, Scheifele wasn’t playing, but if they can’t beat cellar teams without him, this team is doomed.
Most pundits look at the Jets schedule and say that they have about the easiest first month in the entire league, giving them a unique advantage in the early part of the season. Thus, it was expected that they would run through Anaheim, enjoy the sun, and make quick work of the Ducks. And for most of the game, they far outskated and out-maneuvered Anaheim. Halfway through the first period the shots favored Winnipeg 11-1.
But six minutes in Anaheim finally got their first shot on net and it floated past Hellebuyck. Six minutes later, a second Anaheim goal. All of the sudden, it was 2-0 Anaheim on a total of four shots. We saw this playout last year where Hellebuyck was very soft in the early part of a game. And while he wasn’t completely to blame on those first two, they weren’t Top 10 reel goals, either.
This was one game. The Jets are 0-1 with a full 81 games to go. Overall, most fans probably noted that the Jets looked pretty good in the offensive zone and stifled the Ducks for much of the game. It is promising. But as we’ve seen before, the Jets can dominate and then let in less-than-average shots which can deflate a team. Hellebuyck is a great, Vesina-winning goaltender, but he has a penchant for letting in soft goals. The Jets swarmed over Anaheim in the first period last night and directed a lot of shots at Gibson, but they mostly came from the blue line and only Dubois was in an area for deflection and rebound. Writers commented about how great Gibson was, but he was also getting 80-foot shots with clean alleys much of the night.
The pressure is now on Winnipeg to make a statement in this Saturday’s game in San Jose. On paper, it should be a walk for Winnipeg. But so was last night. What happens if the Jets limp to a 0-2 record to start the season? I expect and hope that the team will keep working on their structure and move forward. But to do so, they need to be better than 0-5 on the Power Play and 2-5 on the Penalty Kill. Wheeler needs to stay out of the box and, for the love of God, Dubois needs to show up. He may have taken position in front of Gibson last night, but that’s about all of it outside of a penalty. The “Dubois” question is surely on Paul Maurice’s mind right now: what if Dubois doesn’t break out of his slump? Can we do a “do-over” with Columbus and get Laine back for Dubois? Just saying, I don’t think he showed much last night.
It’s easy to be critical after one single game, and also not entirely fair. But for a team that spent much of the preseason testing out the new tires, perhaps they should have spent a little more time repurposing with the starters.
If we are having this same conversation mid-November, the heat will turn up considerably on Paul Maurice.