The Winnipeg Jets season came to a sudden and disappointing halt on Monday night, dropping Game 4 against the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in overtime. After sweeping Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in the first round, the Jets were handed a taste of their own medicine, being thoroughly dominated across their four contests against Montreal and bringing closure to what was an unprecedented season.
No matter which way you look at it, this is a shocking turn of events for a team that was riding a wave of confidence heading into the second round. Having home-ice advantage, being the higher seed, and facing a team who had just come off of a marathon in their first-round matchup, things seemed to align perfectly for the Jets to make another deep playoff run.
However, with lackluster offense and defensive core that crumbled within the span of a week, it was evident from the early going that the Jets would be in tough against the underdogs. From Mark Scheifele’s suspension to the complete disappearance of Pierre-Luc Dubois, there were plenty of headlines to follow throughout the series. And while the Jets overcame injury and COVID-19 scares throughout the year that was, I can guarantee nobody within the Jets organization will find enjoyment when reflecting on their second-round series.
1. Scheifele Suspension Looms Large, Leaves Jets Unfulfilled
I talked about this as soon as I saw Scheifele deliver the hit on Jake Evans. This series was in doubt from the very beginning. The majority of the hockey community acknowledged that a suspension was forthcoming, it was just the length that needed to be finalized. This put the Jets in a deep hole early, one that, as we saw over the past week, they could never really climb out of.
Scheifele is a polarizing player, there’s no question about it. So when any team, particularly the Jets, in this case, rely so heavily on their top-line centre, it’s expected that offensive struggles would follow if a player of Scheifele’s stature were removed from the lineup for any period of time. With his exit, the Jets were already losing elite production and an in-game impact that very few players could match. Still, the collapse that followed is certainly a cause for concern, even with the team’s top producer watching from the press box.
Looking back at the four games, the Jets were outscored 14-6, including giving up five goals in a game twice. Two is a fascinating number because it’s also the number of games where the Jets scored one goal or less. Not exactly a recipe for success, especially in the playoffs.
What’s more is that according to data from Evolving Hockey, the Canadiens dominated in xGF% across the four games, having a 72% and 73% 5-on-5 Expected Goals For Percentage in Games 1 and 2, while posting a 60% and a 68% in Games 3 and 4. It also doesn’t help that the Jets only managed 16 shots in Game 4, through over 60 minutes of game action.
Scheifele’s abrupt absence also put the Jets in an interesting lineup dilemma, with head coach Paul Maurice having to experiment throughout the series. We saw Pierre-Luc Dubois making appearances on the top line at both centre and wing, we saw Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers switching both wings and lines throughout the series, and in Game 4, it was Paul Stastny’s turn to make a cameo as the top-line centre.
That much inconsistency throughout the lineup is all but certainly one of the main factors behind Winnipeg’s offensive struggles. Already without your team leader in points and assists and one of your power play catalysts, the Jets offense dried up at the worst possible time, and Scheifele’s untimely suspension was the first domino that fell.
2. Pierre-Luc Dubois Disappeared When Winnipeg Needed Him Most
Now, who saw this one coming? Definitely not me. When the Jets acquired Dubois earlier this season, they were widely regarded as the most feared top nine in the entire league. Boasting a centre core of Scheifele, Stastny, and now Dubois, the trade seemed like the perfect time to move two disgruntled players in order to albeit get one back, but someone who had a legitimate chance of making a substantial impact.
It is now safe to say that that substantial impact never came. Dubois battled injury and inconsistency in his first season in Manitoba, struggles that continued to plague him during the playoffs and consequently when his team needed him the most. To put things into perspective, Dubois ended the regular season on a 17 game goalless drought, a particularly noticeable slump for a player whose key to success exists within the realm of goal scoring.
Flash forward a couple of weeks to the conclusion of Winnipeg’s season and Dubois has posted a dismal stat line in the postseason. Adding eight more games to his goal-scoring slump, Dubois posted a feeble three assists across eight playoff contests, with just one of those points coming at even strength. While also being deployed in favorable situations, starting 65.4% of his shifts in the offensive zone (oZS%), the cause behind Dubois’ slump remains in question.
Already without Scheifele and with Stastny missing two games with an injury, Dubois was thrust into a high leverage role and failed to live up to the expectations. Being the catalyst behind a Columbus offense that lacked star power, Dubois had the chance to truly make a name for himself with his new team. Yet, when opportunity called, he merely disappeared, and the former trio of centres that were once seen as the best in the league quickly became an unfillable void for the Jets.
3. In a Goaltending Duel, Carey Price Prevailed Again
By now, every hockey fan (including myself) is fully aware that Price becomes an entirely new player during the postseason. We saw it last year when the Canadiens upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Qualifying Round, we saw it this year in the first round when he (practically single-handedly) sent the Toronto Maple Leafs packing in seven games, and we saw it in round two, with him aiding in the dismantlement of a scuffling Jets offense.
Price was nothing short of brilliant in the Habs second-round matchup, posting a remarkable 0.934 SV% and a GAA under two. Analyzing his in-game strategy further, Price greatly limited his lateral movement, playing aggressively when needed and not panicking under pressure. As we saw against Toronto, Price’s puck tracking skills remained elite, something that ensured clean shots off the rush or on the power play had no chance of finding the back of the net.
Connor Hellebuyck wasn’t much worse than Price but suffered a much tougher fate. Winnipeg’s backend couldn’t withstand Montreal’s depth, something they had yet to experience during their first-round matchup against the Oilers. Boasting key contributors throughout their lineup, including a career renaissance from Corey Perry, a motivated Cole Caufield, and a few timely goals from Joel Armia, the Jets simply couldn’t hold their own against a more balanced lineup.
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With an offense already struggling and a blueline unable to keep up, the Canadiens deserved to sweep the Jets and the numbers behind each of the four games only reinforce that narrative. The Jets, once again, are left with plenty of questions at the season’s end. Did the league get Scheifele’s suspension right? Was Dubois truly the right fit in Winnipeg? Questions that will likely never be answered.
Another Busy Summer Lies Ahead
Kevin Cheveldayoff and company find themselves with plenty of decisions ahead of a busy summer. In a flat cap era (due to the pandemic once again), offseason moves will be strategic and planned, above anything else. Still, it is far too early to tell what offseason moves the Jets are eyeing, but with how this past season transpired, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of new faces at Bell MTS Place this fall.
What did you think of the Jets performances in the second round? Where do they go from here? Let me know in the comments.