Jets’ Consistency Depends on Defensive Improvements

With two consecutive home wins, the Winnipeg Jets have corrected their 2021-22 record back to the .500 mark, but there is a severe imbalance that has appeared and needs to be addressed by the coaching staff and players. The team’s offseason acquisitions promised optimism and hope to a squad that had difficulty preventing scoring chances by its opposition. Even after these latest wins, that trend continues and illustrates that not much has changed yet. Thus far, the Jets have lived by their offense alone, and as most championship recipes include a defense-first kind of mentality, those defensive woes seem to have trickled over from last year into the early part of this season.

Neal Pionk Winnipeg Jets
Neal Pionk and his Winnipeg Jets teammates look to defend and reduce scoring chances.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In five games, and no one is pushing any panic buttons yet, the Jets have given up more shots than last season. At 32 shots against per game, they are 23rd in the league, and the very reason for shoring up the defense roster has yet to demonstrate any real change. The fact that the team is second-last in the NHL at the penalty kill is more glaring than this. In five games, they have been shorthanded 22 times and allowed 10 goals by the opposition’s power play. In defending just over half their penalty situations, the Jets need to figure this out, considering they are in the midst of an October schedule that has them start the season heavily tilted to the weaker Pacific Division teams.

Goaltending Needs Improvement

In the past couple of seasons, the Jets’ when the defense was struggling, goaltender Connor Hellebuyck was the big eraser that wiped out a lot of mistakes. That isn’t the case thus far this season. Hellebuyck has made some highlight-reel saves but has shown some early inconsistencies. With a save percentage (SV%) of .886, Hellebuyck has allowed 3.80 goals per game which converts to 19 goals in five games. Numbers that are contradictory to what Jets fans have become accustomed to over the years. In comparison, last year, he had a .916 SV% and a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.58, while in the 2019-20 season, his Vezina Trophy season, he had respective numbers of .922 and 2.57, which translates to one less opposition goal per game. Hellebuyck’s spectacular play kept them in games and produced wins when they would have otherwise lost in those seasons. That hasn’t been the case yet this season.

Phillip Danault, Connor Hellebuyck
Connor Hellebuyck looks to improve on his slow start to the 2021-22 season.

Some have suggested that his August bout with COVID-19 affected his training regimen coming into camp, and he is still not where he needs to be yet. The virus did knock him back and severely interrupted his summer preparations. Whatever the reason, he’s not been his usual self that the Jets and their fans have come to depend upon and perhaps taken for granted over the past few seasons.

The Offense is Consistent

In contrast, the Jets’ offense has been solid. Scoring at 4.0 goals per game puts them at 8th in the NHL, and players like Kyle Connor, who was named NHL First Star of the Week, and Pierre-Luc Dubois, who has scored a goal in each of the last four games, has provided some stability and structure to a team that was touted for its offensive depth and scoring prowess. The power play has scored five times in the past three games and that early season concern has subsided. And all this with Captain Blake Wheeler and perennial leading scorer Mark Scheifele out of the lineup due to Covid protocol. The depth of the offense that coach Paul Maurice talked about in training camp seems to be holding true.

Related: Jets’ Offensive Depth Poses a Good Problem for Paul Maurice

The issue is that you can’t win championships by simply outscoring the opposition. So as much as the Jets have consistently found the back of the net early in the year, they can’t expect to win consistently without rectifying the defensive issues. To date, they have scored one more goal than they have allowed and that doesn’t get you to those lofty expectations that the team, the media, and the fans have all put on this team.

Kyle Connor Jonathan Bernier
Jets’ forward Kyle Connor was named the NHL First Star of the Week, with five goals and three assists.

I realize the Jets are only five games into the season, and no one needs to be calling 911, but a trend has appeared and trends left unchecked can lead to impropriety. Do I foresee the 5-0-0 St. Louis Blues winning the Central Division? No. Do I expect the 2-3-0 Colorado Avalanche to remain in 5th in the division? Extremely unlikely. It’s not how the season starts but how it ends, which is important. Fortunately for the Jets, these negative trends have shown themselves very early in the season and should be able to be rectified in due time. This is something to keep an eye on in the next five to ten games because if this continues into the 10-15 game range, then you might want to start looking for that proverbial panic button.

Sign up for our regular 'Jets Newsletter' for all the latest.