The Winnipeg Jets are down 3-1 in their first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights. Injuries to Mark Scheifele, Josh Morrissey, and Nikolaj Ehlers have put a major dent in their playoff hopes.
Related: Jets’ Ehlers Injury Storyline Full of Oddities, Unknowns
In light of all of the injuries, there have been a few players that have stepped up in a much-needed way. Even with their evident struggles as a team, these three players have stood out in particular.
Adam Lowry has hit another gear offensively in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and he has continued his shutdown role in the process. On the third line alongside one-eyed Morgan Barron and Mason Appleton, they have been tasked with shutting down Jack Eichel’s line for the majority of the first four games. Money Puck’s tracking gives that line a 62.5 percent expected goals percentage so far, which is the best out of all forward lines for the Jets in the postseason.
Lowry opened the series on the road with two goals in Game 1 and the opening goal in Game 2. In Game 3, he also scored not only the biggest goal of the Jets’ season at the time but one of the most improbable goals since they returned to Winnipeg.
With all of the injuries to the forward core, Lowry has been asked to take on an even larger role. In Game 4, he had 18:09 of time on ice (TOI) in an attempt to play a more slow, defensive style. His role will likely increase even further as it shifts back to Vegas for Game 5, with Scheifele’s status in doubt.
Neal Pionk is still playing “high-event” hockey, which means that while he is generating plenty of chances at one end, he is giving up a lot at the other. He makes this list because he is leading the Jets in points with seven assists through the first four games of the playoffs. According to Natural Stat Trick, Pionk at even-strength is above 50 percent in Corsi percentage, scoring chance percentage, and exactly 50% on high danger chances percentage. This is a massive step up from the underlying numbers he posted throughout the regular season.
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With Morrissey ruled out for the remainder of the series, Pionk has shifted into the number-one role on the Jets’ blue line. His TOI in the playoffs has gone up almost five minutes per game, and he ended up playing 41:08 in Game 3, in which Morrissey exited early due to injury.
The power play has been clicking at a high rate for the Jets in this series, as they have scored on five of their 12 attempts. A large factor in that is Pionk, who was able to step onto the number one unit and produce right away. He assisted on both power-play goals in Game 4 and has shown the ability to quarterback a power play throughout his entire career.
For the majority of the 2022-23 season, Blake Wheeler was at the forefront of a lot of criticism, due to his play or the way he was being used by head coach Rick Bowness. While that criticism was valid, it seems he has been able to put that behind him and hit another gear in the playoffs.
He put together a magnificent effort in Game 4 and is the leading point-getter for Jets’ forwards with five points in four games. He opened the scoring on the power play in that game with a shot over the blocker of Laurent Brossoit.
Wheeler is set to turn 37 years old in August. Yet, here he is, over a point per game in the Stanley Cup playoffs for yet another year. His foot speed has been slowly declining over the years, although it seems the playoffs have brought a bit of a jump to the veteran’s game.
He and Scheifele turned back the clock when the Jets staged their improbable comeback in Game 3, as they were setting each other up on the power play and at even strength, especially once Scheifele was moved back to center. If the Jets are to rally and come back from a 3-1 deficit in this series, Wheeler will have to continue putting up points in all situations.
The Jets are facing a do-or-die situation on Thursday, with Game 5 set to be played at 9:00 central from Las Vegas. It has been a rollercoaster of a season to this point and you can expect to see more ups and downs with their season on the line. These three players will have to continue their stellar ways as the Jets fight the injury bug and attempt to steal a game on the road.