++A team can learn a lot about themselves on an early season road trip, and the Winnipeg Jets gave themselves and their fans one satisfying education over the course of the last week.
While it’s likely too early in the season to draw any major conclusions, or to start prematurely handing out hardware, the Winnipeg Jets finished their four-game swing through the northeastern United States with a 3-1 record. After a particularly strong finish against the New York Rangers, the defending Presidents Trophy winners, in which everyone played their part, that has to be considered a success.
So what have the Winnipeg Jets taught their fans about the team they’re to cheer for this season? Certainly we know the Jets better now than we did after the exhibition games, and what we know is, by and large, promising for future success.
Depth and Balance
The Winnipeg Jets used to have no end of trouble rolling four lines, even though they repeatedly stated their intentions to roll three scoring lines. While the fourth line got little ice time in the last two games of the road trip, much of that was due to penalty troubles. What we saw from the Jets on this road trip indicates they will finally be able to go with three scoring lines.
A third line of Alex Burmistrov, Drew Stafford, and Adam Lowry, isn’t going to blow the doors off offensively, but they are able to hold their own in their own zone and create chances in the opposition’s end. The top two lines rolled along nicely, but getting points from the third line is important on nights where the top six isn’t quite clicking. That said…
The Big Boys Came to Play
The old cliche says you need your best players to be your best players, and that was the case for the Winnipeg Jets on this road trip, particularly in the latter half. Just look at the team’s top scorers through four games, and while you’ll see a few new faces like Nikolaj Ehlers, you’ll also see the best players and strongest veterans all contributed on this road trip. In the final game of the trip against the Rangers, Bryan Little in particular stepped his game up after a quiet opening three contests.
Always shorthanded? No problem. Bryan Little scores a SHG and he beats Lundqvist from the mid-slot. 2-1 #NHLJets
— Illegal Curve Hockey (@IllegalCurve) October 14, 2015
The Jets veterans will tell you there’s plenty of room to improve despite the strong start, but Paul Maurice has to pleased with the way his big guns have been firing so far. That’s not to say they’ve been perfect by any means, merely that they’ve shown some promising signs.
The Kids Are All Right
When the Jets weren’t getting goals from established veterans like Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little, they were getting them from the likes of Mark Scheifele, Nic Petan , and most recently Nikolaj Ehlers. These young stars are the future of the Jets up front, and they’ve looked better every game. Ehlers has looked especially good. He’s been peppering opposing goalies with hard shots, culminating in this gorgeous first NHL goal, against Henrik Lundqvist no less. By the way, it was Ehlers who drew the penalty leading to this goal.
Ehlers looks a little more comfortable with each passing game, and at this rate he could easily force himself into the Calder Trophy conversation.
Goaltending Crisis? Where?
A lot of the scepticism about the Winnipeg Jets coming from experts hinged on their goaltending. While it’s too early to deem those questions answered, or tell those experts to enjoy their humble pie, the early numbers from the Jets are as strong in the crease as they are offensively. Discounting the empty net goal surrendered against the Islanders, the Jets have allowed just seven goals through four games. Michael Hutchinson has a sparkling .968 save percentage (which, yes, I do realize isn’t sustainable, but it’s impressive nonetheless), and Ondrej Pavelec hasn’t been far behind with a comfortable .932 mark. It’s a small sample size, but no less encouraging for that.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses on the road trip for the Jets. Their tendency to take penalties reared its ugly head again. Yes, this old story again. It dates back to last year and even before, and seemed no less prominent through four games this year, especially the last two games in New York. While many of the calls bordered on absurd, and the Jets penalty kill was solid at worst, the constant parade to the penalty box is a concerning trend. After all, the Jets can only tempt fate so many times. There are some truly potent power plays in the NHL, and some of the league’s best power play aces reside in the Central Division. The Jets are an aggressive, hard working team, but they need to reel in that aggression a bit if they want to avoid untimely, momentum-kiling goals against.
So was it a flawless road trip for the Winnipeg Jets? No, it was not. Is there room to improve? Always. Can too much be read into early success? It can be, and indeed has in the past. All that said, early success is far better than early failure, and in the ultra-competetive west, every point counts. The Jets learned a lot about themselves on their season opening road trip, and what they’ve learned so far has to be encouraging. Here’s hoping they can carry it over to the home opener this Friday against conference rival Calgary.