5 Ways The Jets Can Turn It Around

For fans of the Winnipeg Jets, November has been a truly unkind month so far.

Erasing much of their progress from a surprisingly stellar October, in which they went 7-3-1, the Winnipeg Jets are mired in a slump that has seen them lose their last four straight, and go 4-5-1 in their last ten. In the NHL’s most competitive division, the ultra-tight Central, losing that kind of ground can be a major blow, regardless of at what point in the season it occurs.

The Jets have been lucky in that Chicago, the team behind them in sixth in the Central, has been losing games as well. If the playoffs started today, the Jets 18 points would be enough to get them into the last Wild Card spot in the West. That, however, is where the good news ends.

Following the loss to Dallas, the Jets record of late looks positively frightening, particularly in a division where the playoff race begins on day one and each loss can cause a dramatic shift in the standings. The Jets were excellent against the Central last year, but that trend appears to be heading in reverse.

The Winnipeg Jets current slump is concerning, but not insurmountable. If the Jets want to claw their way out of the hole they’ve dug themselves, it won’t be easy, but it is doable. For that to happen, however, a few troubling patterns need to change, and a few players need to step up their game.

1: Tighten up on D

The Jets were among the NHL’s top teams defensively and in possession numbers last season, and their improvement of their goals against led to an improvement in the standings. Seems simple, right? Well, the Jets need to get back to that game. As much as the Jets are stronger up front, this week proved they can’t afford to get into track meets with the likes of Dallas and Minnesota. The Jets are simply not built to win 6-5 games, and giving up six goals against Dallas (albeit two were empty net goals) after giving up five to Minnesota virtually sealed their fate in both games.

The Jets have surrendered countless odd-man rushes this season, as was noted after their loss to Montreal at the start of the month. It seems that 5-1 loss has set the tone for the early part of November, as the Jets have allowed five goals in a game twice since then. Giving up early goals, constantly having to deal with early 1-0 deficits, and poorly timed pinches (leading to both goals against and penalties) are hindering this team right now.

Speaking of early goals against, if the Winnipeg Jets went the entirety of the rest of the season without giving up another one of these, nobody in Winnipeg would complain.

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2: Change up the Power Play

When the Jets power play is at its best, it’s a well-oiled puck moving machine with multiple trigger men and plenty of slick passes to keep the opposition guessing. When it’s at its worst, it’s a hinderance and momentum killer. You can guess which of those two it has been lately.

The puck movement simply isn’t there right now, despite the increasingly talented line up the Jets have been icing up front. One way to breathe some life into the power play would be to change the formation, as the man-advantage set up has been all too easy to read of late. Maybe have Little and Perreault switch places, with Bryan Little on the point. Get Andrew Ladd to park in the slot and look for a high tip. Don’t have Blake Wheeler stick handling below the goal line for several seconds at a time, as this does nothing but waste precious power play moments.

Oh, and for goodness sake, stop using the dump and chase on the power play. With goalies as strong at moving the puck as they are today, a puck dumped in behind the net will promptly be dumped back out again, as has happened far too many times this year. Zone entry is a big part of any power play, and right now it’s missing for the Winnipeg Jets.

Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets [photo: Amy Irvin]
Blake Wheeler has been strong this year, but could stand to do better on the power play. [photo: Amy Irvin]

3: Get Back to the Physical Game

The Jets at their best are a hard-hitting and hard-forechecking team, using their size and speed to give the opposition no chance to get set up in their own end. A team as big and fast as the Jets should be giving opposing defensemen fits, and whenever they touch the puck they should be hearing footsteps. In their best games last season, the Jets were doing just that. This season, there have been far too many soft, one man forechecks, or worse, a dump and chase lacking anything resembling a chase.

On the back end, certain defenders need to be nastier as well. Dustin Byfuglien has been his usual nasty self, sometimes too much so, but other defenders are playing too softly. Tyler Myers needs to use his 6’8 frame more effectively, and Ben Chiarot could stand to pick up the nastiness level too.

The worst offender, however, has been Jacob Trouba. He’s been caught puck watching far too often this season, rather than taking the man. Knowing the kind of hits Trouba can deliver, this is highly disappointing. If Trouba can get back to playing the physical game, a lot of the rest of his game will improve. Many players need to be engaged physically to be engaged mentally, and if Trouba can boost his confidence with some big hits, the rest of his game will improve, and the Winnipeg Jets will be better for it.

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4: Give Hutchinson a Fair Shake

Last season was the best statistical season of Ondrej Pavelec’s career, and it’s no coincidence this coincided with the fewest games he’s played since coming to Winnipeg. Pavelec needs to be pushed, and when he feels pressure from behind is when he’s at his best. This season, with Hutchinson being treated like a true backup instead of a number 1B as many thought he would be, Pavelec’s play has declined.

It’s time to give Michael Hutchinson a fair shot. No, he hasn’t been perfect this season, but his overall numbers are still very strong. It’s high time the Winnipeg Jets dressed their goaltender based on merit, not his contract. As last season proved, Pavelec and Hutchinson will both be better for it in the end.

5: Relax, Boys!

Perhaps it’s an old cliche, but sometimes a relaxed team having fun truly does play better. It looks like the Winnipeg Jets are gripping their sticks a little too tightly in recent games, and as is often the case with teams under pressure, the  Jets locker room likely hasn’t been a fun place to be the last few games.

This is a young Winnipeg Jets team that will go through ups, downs, hiccups, highs, and lows, some of them pretty extreme. To balance them out, the team needs to get back to enjoying the game and sticking up for one another. Andrew Ladd’s fight in defense of Blake Wheeler was a promising sign of that, but pugilism alone isn’t going to turn this slump into a success story. The Jets need to keep it loose, and keep one of the NHL’s most tightly-knit locker rooms as confident as possible. Relax boys, don’t grip those sticks so tightly. Let yourselves have fun again, and the wins will come.

You know, as long as you do all that other stuff.