To get a true picture of the Winnipeg Jets season after 34 games, November 1 would be a dividing line. After a number of offseason changes to the Jets' defence group, injuries to start the season and a group getting to know each other, the Jets started 6-7 including a 1-4 five game home stand. From November 1 on, the Jets are 14-5-2, had a five-game home ice winning streak snapped Tuesday, but are still 8-2-1 in the last 11 at home.
So what was the turning point? In the win column, it started in San Jose, a 3-2 win in a game they were outshot 53-19, but Connor Hellebuyck was brilliant and their goaltender won them one. Next night in Vegas they trailed 3-1 going into the third, but won the game on a Kyle Connor overtime winner. So yes, those two wins on back-to-back nights put them on the right path.
But lets go back a bit. We mentioned that homestand that did not go well. It ended with a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. Kind of ended, because the October 26 Heritage Classic against Calgary in Regina, was a Jets home game. That was a fun event to be part of. Mosaic Stadium was picturesque that Saturday night. Over 33,500 on hand for the game, temperature very manageable, snow flurries adding to the beauty of the night. The day allowed them to forget about the home stand and soak up the event.
The result was a 2-1 win, followed by a post game flight to California to start a three-game trip. They lost in Anaheim but played well. Then Hellebuyck’s heroics in San Jose, and followed by another incident that inside the dressing room was also huge. In the Vegas game, Adam Lowry put Alex Tuch out of the game with a hit, and was challenged by one of the NHL’s toughest, Ryan Reeves. Lowry answered the challenge. Those in the dressing room feel there was a “mood change” after that.
After giving up an average of 3.38 goals against in the first 13 games of the season, the Jets have allowed only 2.52 in the last 21, including six in Tuesday's loss to Carolina. The penalty killing numbers have jumped from 65 per cent in the first 13 games to 77 per cent in the last 21, including 0 for 3 on the PK the last two games. Coaches love when the goals against stat trends in the right direction.
While the power play numbers are not where they want them to be, nor where they were last year at this time, it too is trending in the right direction with six power play goals in the last five games, four of the goals from Mark Scheifele. So a 35.2 per cent clip over the past five games. Much better than the season percentage of just over 17.
After getting shutout in San Jose last November 25, 2018, the Jets scored 45 goals over a 12-game period, 14 on the power play. Fast forward to November 23 of this season and in 11 games the Jets have scored 40, eight on the power play. So yes, the defensive numbers have been good, but some new line combinations are putting up some offensive numbers.
Each of the top three lines brought something different.
Mark Scheifele, 26, between Kyle Connor, 23 and Patrick Laine, 21, is a young, dynamic line. They can pass the puck, find seams and create. They score off the rush, all three can shoot the puck very well and they score off offensive zone time. Scheifele’s offensive zone vision has gone to another level. There is some risk to this line, but also plenty of reward. Scheifele has a seven-game point streak going (7-5-12) and is 12-12-24 in the last 21 games and leads the team in scoring at 16-20-36 in 34 games. Connor had a six-game point streak (4-6-10) snapped Tuesday, but still has 8-10-18 in his last 15 games. Laine has added 6-10-16 in his last 15 games.
Blake Wheeler at centre with Jack Roslovic and Nikolaj Ehlers is pure speed. Injuries have given Roslovic the opportunity to play in the top six and the 22-year-old is taking advantage of it, notching his seventh goal on Tuesday and only a cross bar in the third period from it being a two-goal game for Roslovic. Wheeler has 614 points as a member of the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise, and is one back of Ilya Kovalchuk for the franchise points lead. Wheeler is also closing in on 900 NHL games played. Ehlers has scored seven times in his last 15 games.
There is great chemistry between Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry, a line that provided some physicality. Those two were critical in the improvement in the penalty kill numbers and up until an injury, Mathieu Perreault was a great fit on the third line. Perreault was injured Sunday and is in concussion protocol, while Copp left the game against Carolina in the second period and did not return due to an upper-body injury. For 16 games the Jets ran the same top nine forwards, now lose two players off one line in back-to-back games. Having Perreault and Copp out for any length of time will cause a major disruption to the forward group, especially with Bryan Little already out of the lineup indefinitely.
Injuries derailed the fourth line at the start of the season, but it was starting to take shape and form an identity as well with the acquisition of Nick Shore and the steady play of Logan Shaw. Gabriel Bourque, back from injury, was elevated into Perreault’s spot, and Shore and Shaw both saw action in Copp’s spot after he left Tuesday's game. This just as the Jets loaned David Gustafsson to Sweden for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship.
But through it all, so far, so good for the Winnipeg Jets. They have not lost consecutive games since a three-game losing streak in mid-October. And with a 20-12-2 record, sit in third spot in the Central. But starting Thursday against Chicago, the Jets play six of eight games in the division including a home-and-home against St. Louis, the defending Stanley Cup champs, and the team that bounced them in the first round last spring, which they have not played yet this season.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays and here’s to a happy and healthy 2020. Enjoy.