The Vegas Golden Knights took a 3-1 series lead after defeating the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 in Game 4 of their best-of-seven first-round match. The loss illustrated three key facts that will cause the Jets trouble as they try to rebound and become only the 32nd team in NHL history to overcome such a deficit.
The Golden Knights currently have a significant talent disparity. The Jets are not a team laden with depth, and they are now in serious jeopardy of bowing out because of it. The big story for the Jets in this game was losing another key player and team leader to injury.
Mark Scheifele Went Down in the First Period
The Jets have gone through the season with minimal depth and can’t handle any serious injuries. Already missing Nikolaj Ehlers, Cole Perfetti and Norris Trophy candidate Josh Morrissey, the Jets’ woes took a turn for the worse when leading goal scorer Mark Scheifele was injured early in the first period and did not return. Suddenly, the Jets are now a team with a significant talent disparity to the Golden Knights.
Missing three top-six forwards and one of the best defensemen in the league will be a problem the Jets are not likely to overcome. They had to move Kevin Stenlund up to their second line. No offense to Stenlund, but he’s not a top-six forward on any NHL team, yet the Jets had no better options.
Jets’ head coach Rick Bowness said Schiefele suffered an upper-body injury, and nothing about how he exited the ice nor Bowness’ reaction to the trainer’s report suggests he will be available for Game 5.
Mark Scheifele has an “upper-body injury and will be re-evaluated tomorrow.” – Rick Bowness pic.twitter.com/HkRBiZ2OJr— Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming) April 25, 2023
Scheifele’s injury is likely the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Jets don’t have the talent to compete and win three consecutive games. The future looks bleak.
Brossoit Outplayed Hellebuyck Again
The only position the Jets are still at full strength is in the net. Connor Hellebuyck, a Vezina Trophy candidate, was again outplayed by the Golden Knights’ Laurent Brossoit in Game 4.
Hellebuyck hasn’t been bad by any means. He’s been good, but Jets fans often get treated to elite-level goaltending and highway robbery. That hasn’t happened, and Brossoit has been his equal in the three Vegas wins. If the Jets have any hope the rest of the way, Hellebuyck will have to pull off the goaltending magic he’s shown throughout his career.
The Jets’ Inconsistent Play Continues to Hurt Them
The Golden Knights scored two goals 47 seconds apart late in the second period. The pair of goals marked the beginning of the end for the Jets. Hellebuyck has made it the norm to see him make unbelievable saves and keep the Jets in games. That didn’t happen in Game 4, and it was another difference in the game, considering the injury woes the Jets are facing.
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The Jets had trouble getting shots on goal. In a game they were down both on the scoreboard and in manpower, they couldn’t consistently put pressure on the Golden Knights and create any serious quality chances. Most of their shot attempts came from the outside and were being blocked or redirected away from the net.
They need to find more greasy goals, mucking things up in the dirty areas in front of the net, like their second goal in Game 4. But, like a recap of the regular season, they have trouble finding any consistency in this area.
They manhandled the Golden Knights for the first four periods of the series, then inexplicably, roles were reversed in the next four. It makes no sense how things can change so fast. The Jets’ consistency, or lack thereof, has come back to bite them. In Game 4, like Game 3, the Jets laid an egg in the second period allowing the Golden Knights to extend leads they couldn’t overcome.
Turns out it’s a goal and an assist for the all-time playoff points leader for the Jets 2.0. https://t.co/7WXgaFk2Y9— Dave Minuk (@ICdave) April 25, 2023
In this game, they took a 20-minute break from effort and push. The onus is now on players like Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois to put the team on their shoulders. They are both highly-paid players that have been less than stellar in the last two games. With the injuries the Jets are facing, those guys need to be the best players on the ice.
They could look to veteran Blake Wheeler, the Jets’ best forward in Game 4, who probably played his best game of the season. When the chips are down, your best players need to be your best players, and again that’s been inconsistent for the Jets.
Game 4 was close. To the Jets’ credit, they have not rolled over. Their depth players played well and hard, but it wasn’t enough. They need more from the guys earning the most.
The Jets Are in Trouble
The simple fact is that the Jets got beat by a better team. The Golden Knights are deeper and have more talent right now. It’s not exactly fair to the Jets, as they haven’t been able to ice a full and healthy roster in the series yet.
If they want to get a win in Game 5 and bring the series back to Winnipeg, two things have to happen. Dubois and Connor have to have games as they did in Game 1. They need to be the Jets’ best skaters. More importantly, Hellebuyck has to be their best player, plain and simple.
If these two things don’t happen, their season will likely end this Thursday.