by Scott Swail
After two very solid games in which the Winnipeg Jets scored 14 goals against their opponents, the Jets faced a true litmus test last night against the Carolina Hurricanes for what it will take to run deep in the playoffs. The on-ice, look-in-the-mirror opportunity clearly showed that Winnipeg looks light years away from matching a team like the Canes, who played at will with the Jets for most of the game. The game started in a foreboding manner with the Canes first goal at the 30 second mark, something that has been a challenge for the Jets in first quarter of the season.
From a pure hockey viewpoint, Carolina looked exceptional. They are one win under the top of the league, and it shows. The Canes took away any “time and space” that the Jets might have wished for, especially in the neutral zone. The forechecking was impressive and the Jets were rushed with every pass. Winnipeg had eight minutes in the third period where they had an extra forward (five minute major plus three minutes empty net) and they still couldn’t gain any meaningful zone time. The Canes cleared at will and most entries lasted about five seconds or less. At the other end of the ice, the Canes held extended time of possession. The shots on goal told part of the story. In the first period, the Canes outshot the Jets 15-5. However, the Jets were lucky to get out of the first frame at a 1-0 disadvantage. It could easily have been 5-0 after 20 minutes.
The Jets played better in the second period, but they just weren’t meeting the speed or focus of Carolina. It seemed like they were a step short all night long and were rushed whenever they had the puck, which translated into many missed passes and opportunities. Thus, part of the outcome was the Winnipeg Jets weren’t at their best; the reality was that Carolina was very, very good. When those two things meet it will be an unfortunate night, and it was.
Where does that leave Winnipeg right now? Five very poor games, followed by two excellent games, and then last night. Fans are left wondering who this team “is.” In one respect, the Jets struggled with the same issues that plagued them during the slide. Winnipeg had one power play goal last night in five chances, totaling 12 minutes of man advantage. On the other end, Carolina scored on 2 of 3 of their PP opportunities. The Jets simply have to do better on special teams if they are going to get to the playoffs, let alone go deep. This is something that can be fixed. It comes back to: can the coaches make it happen? I’m still in the “no” category. We know that Bruce Boudreau is now out of the picture.
On thing to be sure, which Craig Button made clear during the second intermission, is that Connor Hellebuyck has been sensational all season and is keeping the Jets within a few opportunities of tying or winning games when the offense isn’t running on all cylinders. Helly is, as Button said, one of the best goaltenders on the planet. Let’s give him that much.
One other positive last night was Pierre-Luc Dubois goal. Highlight reel all the way.
We’ll see how Winnipeg looks on Thursday when they play the Kraken in Seattle.