Just two short days ago, it seemed like the hockey world was crumbling around the Winnipeg Jets. Following a humiliating 4-1 defeat, which saw the likes Mark Scheifele (leg), Patrik Laine (wrist), and Mason Appleton (undisclosed) all leave early with injuries, it seemed as though the Jets were on a collision course with another year of playoff disappointment.
Heading into Game 2, the undermanned Jets squad had every reason to be discouraged, frustrated, and overall shocked following the outcome of Game 1. However, they didn’t seem fazed at all, as Winnipeg bounced back with a gritty, hard-fought, 3-2 victory in Game 2.
In a shocking turn of events, the Jets kept things simple, ultimately hanging on to beat the Calgary Flames, a team that made them look foolish two nights prior. With nothing but positives drawn from Game 2, the Jets evened the series despite being down two All-Star calibre players.
1: Players Who Needed to Step Up, Stepped Up
To nobody’s surprise, Scheifele, Laine, and Appleton were all watching from the stands when the puck dropped. This meant that Paul Maurice had some serious shuffling to do ahead of the 2:30 P.M. start time in order to fill the voids in his lineup.
When the dust settled, Jansen Harkins, Nick Shore, and Mathieu Perreault all drew into the lineup, with Andrew Copp replacing Scheifele on the top line, and Blake Wheeler sliding over to the wing.
While many would argue that this wasn’t nearly an ideal situation for Winnipeg, Harkins was quick to make an impact, as he rifled home the game’s first goal, beating Cam Talbot clean over the glove. Adam Lowry later added another, batting a Josh Morrissey shot out of mid-air.
Copp fit in seamlessly between Wheeler and Kyle Connor, as the top line generated numerous chances in the offensive zone and saw plenty of time on the power play. Cody Eakin, who was moved up to the second line in Scheifele’s absence, was tasked with shutting down Sean Monahan’s line and he did not disappoint, limiting the Gaudreau-Monahan-Lindholm trio to just one point combined as well as winning a key faceoff which led to the eventual game-winning goal off the stick of Nikolaj Ehlers.
There’s no doubt that both Scheifele and Laine are near irreplaceable. But if the Jets can rally together while getting contributions from up and down the lineup, we could be in for quite the series. One game is just a small sample size of the possibilities to come, but the Jets’ refusal to back down in the face of adversity should be turning the heads of opposing players and management alike.
2: Jets Special Teams Clicked in Crunch Time
With the teams going a combined 1-for-12 on the power play in Game 2, it’s more than evident that both teams struggled mightily while on the man advantage. However, the Jets found a way when they needed it the most, as Ehlers tipped home a Neal Pionk shot with nine and a half minutes remaining in the third period.
While that’s a modest improvement from going 0-for-7 in Game 1, the big shift here was the drastic improvement of Winnipeg’s penalty kill, as the Flames went 0-for-6 compared to going 2-for-4 in Game 1.
This was largely in part thanks to the style of play employed by the Jets defensive core. They kept it simple, being aggressive when necessary; causing countless turnovers against a reckless Calgary power play. Morrissey, Dylan Demelo, and Nathan Beaulieu all saw plenty of time shorthanded and while the Jets still weren’t disciplined enough, their penalty killing structure answered the bell.
While both Scheifele and Laine’s absences were felt as the Jets power play continued to struggle, Winnipeg made do with what they had. Eakin filled in on the top unit, which ultimately sparked the lone power-play marker. Connor, who has been quite productive on the Jets top line, drew an assist on the goal, which hopefully leads to him hitting his stride as the series continues.
3. Better Structure & Physicality Frustrated Flames
Matthew Tkachuk’s Game 1 hit seemed to ignite something in the Jets team as Game 2 saw a completely different squad hit the ice. The new one seemed for organized, with better zone exits, cleaner passes, and more high quality scoring chances.
On the defensive side of things, the likes of Ehlers, Beaulieu, and Pionk were finishing checks as Winnipeg clogged up the neutral zone and limited Calgary to just 43 percent in the faceoff circle. Aside from a couple of gaffes in the defensive zone, with a brutal giveaway from Ehlers and an unfortunate own goal by Beaulieu, the Jets seemed to utilize a simple system, one that allowed them to exploit gaps in Calgary’s defense.
In quite the ironic twist, the Jets seemed refreshed and determined; even without two of their best players in the lineup and while many fans expressed their disappointment following Game 1, Winnipeg proved that they should not be taken lightly, even short-handed.
Game 3 is Right Around the Corner
With the NHL deploying a condensed schedule in the bubble, the Jets will have less than 48 hours to soak in their victory as Game 3 gets going tonight (Tuesday, August 4) at 6:45 P.M.
Winnipeg will look for another complete effort in an attempt to move one step closer to the Stanley Cup.