by Scott Swail
For the second game in a row, the Winnipeg Jets came out flying only to lose their MoJo and have the other team take it to them. In a fourth-straight loss, this time to the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0, it wasn’t that the Jets were playing that poorly, it was that they didn’t put away their scoring opportunities. A second concern is that lack of high-quality opportunities, which are few and far between. Winnipeg used to be a team that, if the other team scored first, would bound and level it quickly. Now, when the opposition scores first, we are left thinking that this is going to be a hard climb for the rest of the game. That’s the way it was last year and thus far this year. The team of 2017-18 that made it to the conference finals is, quite apparently, long gone.
A number of players had rough nights. Kyle Connor, the league’s eighth-top scorer (he was fourth a few nights ago), was not only held pointless but registered a -2 +/-. But it was plain to see he was working out there. I guess they all were. The other Connor, as in Hellebuyck, was outstanding again in net for the Jets. For all the people that talk about running into a hot goaltender, Helly has been hot almost every night. But we lost regardless because zero goals makes it hard to win games, akin to the golfing analogy: “100 percent of all short putts don’t go in.”
Let’s put to bed this notion about, as Paul Maurice discussed two days ago, that the Jets are being “Goalie-ed” or “Goaltendered” out of wins. Social media is exploding with Jets fans talking about the team being beaten by hot goalies. Please get a life. A goalie has great nights, but poor puck movement and poor shooting make a goalie look really good—even “hot”—in the NHL. Great puck movement and shooting are the vaccine to any “hot” goaltender, so let’s just stop using that term now and forward.
Case in point, for the past four games, the Jets have registered only four goals against four different goaltenders; only one in their last 120 minutes of play. I know what you’re thinking: ‘Wow: what an incredible stretch of running into “hot” goaltenders, eh?’ No, this is a story about a team that can’t get a puck into the back of the net. Over the past four games, the Jets were beaten by teams that scored 3, 3, 3, and 2 goals. It is hard to win in this league unless you are banging at least three goals into the net. Just last night, three teams scored 6 goals (Caps, Leafs, and Sharks), four teams 5 goals (Bruins, Golden Knights, Avs, and Oilers), and three teams 4 goals (Penguins, Red Wings, Rangers 4). That’s 11 of 14 games that were won with four or more goals, and 8 or 14 games with five or more goals. We have a 1.0 GFA in the last four games. Of the losing teams, only three had three goals, while five had two goals and five had only goal. The Jets were the only team that were zeroed out.
The Jets continue to play the dump game, which is interesting because they didn’t start the year doing that. But they are dumping because teams have learned that if they forecheck them hard, they can’t get through the neutral zone. So the Jets dump it in, mostly lose the battles on the boards, and the puck, in seconds, is already in our end of play. If the Jets don’t figure out how to play against a tough forecheck, things will get much worse. Adding insult to injury is the Jets Power Play, which went 0-4 last night and has a miserable 18.9 percent PP conversion to date. This compares to a remarkable (i.e., unbelievable) 39 percent for Edmonton, but also 29 percent for St. Louis and 28 percent for Dallas, both in our division. Perhaps even worse is our penalty kill, which is a lowly 31st in the league, only a point up on Vancouver.
We all understand it is easy to come out and complain about a losing team. I, myself, am a little different: I have the capacity to complain about a team when its winning. And we know that the Jets could go on a 10-game tear starting tomorrow in Minnesota. But it isn’t likely because there is little about their game right now suggesting they will. Their systems approach is too gawd-awful for a streak like that. Without system changes in how they play, especially on special teams, this team isn’t going to do wonderous things on a consistent level. With only Stastny out (and he will play in Minnesota we are told), this is a healthy hockey team. There are no good excuses, which sharpens the point on the coaching staff.
This finally brings us back to the Blake Wheeler/Mark Scheifele saga. Wheeler was fighting out there last night, but he almost caused one goal and was notoriously behind the play on several others. Some people suggest that he is still suffering from COVID. Could be, but I’m 59, had COVID, and I didn’t have that long-lasting issue. More importantly, if he is truly suffering from those effects, he shouldn’t be on the ice, period. Regardless, his play doesn’t deserve a top six or top 3 pairing right now. As I wrote yesterday, both Scheifele and Wheeler should be back on the third line so we can see how those other lines that were doing very well can do on a longer run. That would give more time for Scheifele and Wheels to get their “stuff” together. And yes, players go on droughts. But not these players, at least not like this. Neither has ever had a drought like this in their respective careers. As a coach, the answer is not propping them to the top six and hope it will shake the rust. At this point, they have played enough that there is no rust. It is simply their level of play. We can’t blame it on bouncy pucks or bad bounces.
I always like to be proven completely wrong on any or all of the above. Unfortunately, I am not wrong enough for my liking as of late.
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