3 Jets Who Need to Step Up Down the Stretch

The Winnipeg Jets are slowly building back to their previous form, and have posted a 3-1-1 record over their last five games. They swept a back-to-back over the weekend against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Connor Hellebuyck had struggled in March, but he came up large in these two contests after facing a combined 83 shots against two high-powered offences.

Mark Scheifele scored two goals and the winner against the Panthers, while Nino Niederreiter extended his point streak to six games with his new club. As they begin the process of finding their footing for the final 15 games, these three players will need to step up for the Jets to rediscover their impressive early-season success.

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Adam Lowry Needs To Find a Scoring Touch

Providing a scoring touch is not where Adam Lowry’s value to the team is brought, but he has only scored one goal in his last 40 games. As the third-line centre on a potential playoff team, they are going to need more of a boost from him as they make a final push for a playoff spot.

He had two assists in February, three in January, and has yet to record one yet in March. The good news for Lowry is that his lines are controlling play at 5v5 and he is continually providing a ton of value on the penalty kill.

Adam Lowry Winnipeg Jets
Adam Lowry, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

According to Money Puck, when Lowry is on a line with Morgan Barron and Mason Appleton, they are recording an expected goals percentage of 64.4 percent. That is the second-best number out of all forward lines that have played at least 50 minutes together this season. What it tells us is that despite his scoring woes, his lines are typically shutting down the opponents’ top competition. If he is able to rediscover his scoring touch over the next 15 games, the Jets will be in a good spot down the middle come playoff time.

In a Top-Four Role, Neal Pionk Will Need to Post Better Results

Neal Pionk has struggled in many different roles this season. While he has set a career-high in goals with eight, almost all of his defensive metrics have slid further as the season has progressed. With Josh Morrissey currently injured and set to potentially miss a few upcoming games, Pionk will have to step up both offensively and defensively to help weather the storm of losing their top defenceman.

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As the return in the trade that sent Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers, Pionk put together two solid seasons in his first two with the Jets. This season, he has struggled alongside Morrissey on the top-pairing, and his results remain below average when paired with Brenden Dillon.

If the Jets can secure a playoff spot, Pionk will be a main focus as his top-four role will likely remain intact, and he will be tasked with shutting down one of the opponents’ top two forward lines. He has struggled this season when he has had that responsibility placed on his shoulders, although he has time down the stretch to find his form and provide positive top-four results.

Blake Wheeler Needs To Return to His Pre-Injury Form

Blake Wheeler posted three assists in the back-to-back set against the Panthers and Lightning over the weekend, but he is currently riding a 13-game goalless drought. The Jets traded for Niederreiter and Vladislav Namestnikov, both of whom have been slotted into top-six roles due to injuries from Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cole Perfetti.

Blake Wheeler Winnipeg Jets
Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It seems as though Wheeler will remain in a top-six role for the rest of the regular season, and potentially the playoffs even when Perfetti returns to the lineup. If that is to be the case, Rick Bowness and the Jets coaching staff are going to need better production out of the 36-year-old winger.

The line combination of Nikolaj Ehlers, Namestnikov, and Wheeler has been solid through 30 minutes of even-strength play. Albeit a small sample size, they have posted a 69.2 percent expected goals percentage, and this has resulted in Ehlers turning a corner with five points in his last four games. Wheeler has a chance to elevate his game and fill a huge hole on the second line until forwards begin to return from injury.

After their next two games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins, the Jets play four non-playoff teams in a row. That will be a stretch where they should be able to put together a winning streak and have some key players bounce back.

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