Winnipeg Jets are Still Plagued by Consistent Inconsistencies

Two and a half weeks ago, the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Detroit Red Wings by a 3-0 score and the media praised them for their play in a solid win after being throttled 7-1 by the Colorado Avalanche in their previous contest. The game was seen as a bounce back after a bad loss at the hands of the Central Division leaders. Two days ago they answered the bell on “Hockey Day in Canada” with a very solid 4-1 road victory over the St. Louis Blues. However, sandwiched between the two wins were six consecutive losses, the final one being a 5-1 drubbing delivered by the Vancouver Canucks who are seventh in the Pacific Division. In total, the Jets managed a meagre two out of a possible 12 points in that stretch and now find themselves in the sixth place in the Central currently outside of a playoff berth.

Stanley Cup contenders are supposed to have the art of consistent play mastered by the end of January and the Jets purposely put themselves in that very conversation in training camp. Every team has played games on occasion that are less than stellar — even downright poor — but not six in a row. They have put themselves in the unenviable position where they need right the ship sooner than later. If not, meaningful games in the postseason will have to wait until next year.

Defensive Play is Still Inconsistent

The Jets’ defence has improved from last season, but has remained a concern as of late with play that has varied from night to night. Throw in the fact that the Jets have had nine games postponed, which has disrupted their team flow, a roster of players who have bounced in and out of COVID protocol, then add in some significant injuries that have occurred and you have a team that has not dressed the same defensive unit in successive games in the past three weeks.

Josh Morrissey Winnipeg Jets
Josh Morrissey, has been the Jet’s most consistent blueliner to date. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Jets played a solid game in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals, then two nights later were less than stellar in a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Nashville Predators. They had a very good game against the Pittsburgh Penguins and deserved to win if not for a puck-handling blunder by netminder Connor Hellebuyck that basically gave the Penguins the tying goal late in the third period. After losing that game in a shootout, they dropped the next one to the Florida Panthers by a 5-3 tally that incorrectly indicated a close game… it was not. The Panthers owned the Jets all night and controlled the entire 60 minutes of play. This game preceded the embarrassing loss to the Canucks, in which postgame excuses were made with no real indication of how to fix the problems they were facing. The only thing consistent was the players’ reply that they had to “work harder.”

Related: Jets’ Defensive Depth Being Tested as Team Struggles

Yet, this past Sunday they came out and soundly defeated the Blues, a club in Stanley Cup contender conversations, with what some have called their best 60-minute effort of the season. A game that also featured backup goaltender Eric Comrie who started in the pipes for the first time since Dec. 10.

They displayed solid efforts in Boston, Washington and Pittsburgh but still found ways to lose — not a characteristic of a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. The interesting thing about the game against the Blues was that the defensive corps was manned by only three regulars: Brenden Dillon, Nate Schmidt and Neal Pionk. The remainder of the blue line was filled with reserve players and callups from the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League. Yet, they completely controlled the flow of the game and kept most shots on Comrie to the outside and away from the dangerous scoring areas. So, they have shown they are capable of playing a defensively sound game, just not every day.

Going into tonight’s game vs. the Philadelphia Flyers, a team who just crawled out of a 14-game losing streak themselves, the Jets should be able to regulate the pace of play. The big question remains… will they? That’s what Jets fans are going to be watching for tonight, because lately you just never know with these guys. The return of leader Josh Morrissey off of COVID protocol will help. The Jets’ best and most consistent defender should bring back more stability and balance to the Jets’ blue line tonight.

Connor and Dubois Have Been Consistent

Kyle Connor, easily the Jets’ best and most consistent player has shown day in and out that he is the offensive leader of the club, while playing a major role on their improved penalty kill. His numbers are solid with nine points in the past eight games while logging upwards of 22 minutes of ice-time per game and still averaged six shots on goal per game during the six-game losing skid. He has been, by far, the most reliable Jet to date.

Kyle Connor Winnipeg Jets
Kyle Connor has been by far the Jets’ most consistent player. (Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)

Alongside Connor, linemate Pierre-Luc Dubois has been a physical presence that opponents have not been able to ignore. The more responsibility he is given, the better he seems to play. He is usually matched up against the likes of Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid and is thriving. He has manufactured scoring chances for himself each night and his size and strength has also created space for Connor and Cole Perfetti who has recently been added to that line.

His ability to defend in his own end is undeniable and he is at his best when he agitates the opposition. His hard-nosed play has been an annoyance and he has been able to turn the heat up on the opponents each night — a quality few players possess. This has made him not only effective for the Jets, but a catalyst and a thorn in the side of the opposition. He, like Connor, has been a beacon of stability and consistency throughout the season.

Jets Need More Consistent Play Needed from Leadership

Players like Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele need to step up. The latter has not seen the ice in the final minutes of the past two games. Call it a benching, call it what you want, but his lack of work ethic has been noticed by his coaches, the fans and the media. If those groups have noticed, then do you think his teammates have also noticed?

Former coach Paul Maurice made it very evident he didn’t think the Jets could win or compete without these two regardless of their level of play. Interim head coach Dave Lowry stated early in his tenure that those that play well, will play most often. It looks like he plans to hold players accountable regardless of the number on the jersey. Leaders are expected to lead, and these two should be able to take the bull by the proverbial horns and put some of the responsibility of the team’s success moving forward on their shoulders.

Scheifele has been near a point per game as of late, but his lack of attention and care to defence has been overtly evident and a lazy turnover in the St. Louis victory late in the third period. It created a situation that required Comrie bail him out in goal and could have changed the outcome of the game, which would have done real damage to a fragile club who put in a stellar performance.

Wheeler has had a tough year with layoffs from having COVID-19, postponed games and most recently he has sustained some injuries. A much stronger second half from him will be needed if the Jets are to make the playoffs. He has managed only two goals in 27 games, which is not up to his usual standards and he has definitely lost a step at 35 years old. A transition to his game is required where he accepts a less impactful role on the team with second- or even third-line responsibilities.

With the season only half over, there is time for the Jets to turn a corner and repair the damage done from the past few weeks, but it they will have to start playing a much more consistently and fundamentally sound team game to do get that done.

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