The Winnipeg Jets played their first home preseason game on Tuesday night, defeating the Ottawa Senators by a score of 5-3. The lineup consisted of many veterans and young bottom-six forwards, and Connor Hellebuyck played all 60 minutes in the crease, making 24 saves in his first game of 2022-23.
Kyle Connor was the driving force offensively, with one goal and two assists. The top line of Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, and Connor took a while to get going but eventually made an impact. Many good and bad things came out of this game (from “Jets win, but Bowness not thrilled,” Winnipeg Sun, 9/27/22), but these three are based on storylines that have been brewing for weeks.
Heinola Grabbed the Early Lead in Defensive Battle
Ville Heinola had a rough start to the game but slowly found a rhythm alongside Brenden Dillon. That pairing has worked well together in the past and will only get better as they continue to build chemistry. Heinola scored the game-winning goal on a back-door tap-in from Adam Lowry.
Head coach Rick Bowness’ system encourages defenders to jump into the rush, and this will benefit Heinola more than anyone. His biggest strengths are on display when he’s creating offence and cleanly breaking the puck out of the zone. The 21-year-old defenceman jumped into the rush often, growing more confident with the puck as the game went on.
Dylan Samberg hurt his chances of winning the job by having a rough first game. Samberg and Neal Pionk struggled mightily when they were paired together last season, and that continued into the first preseason game.
According to MoneyPuck.com, they held an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 39.5 percent in the 11 games they were paired together in 2021-22. They also got out shot-attempted 98-74, resulting in a 43 percent Corsi. If Samberg is to rebound from this performance, he would benefit from a new defence partner.
Torgersson Made a Strong Case for a Bottom-Six Role
Daniel Torgersson was a former second-round pick of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, and he made a huge impact on the win, impressing fans and management in the process. He signed his entry-level contract near the end of last season and scored three points in four games with the Manitoba Moose.
Both of Torgersson’s goals showed off his strengths. While his teammates were circling looking for options, he was able to find the soft spot in the offensive zone and fire a hard shot past the goaltender. Many people projected that he would start the season with the Moose, but he is making a legitimate case for a bottom-six role with the NHL club.
Torgersson’s ability to win puck battles and be effective in the defensive zone gives him a leg up over some of his competition. If he can develop a goal-scoring touch, it would be an extremely welcome addition to a bottom-six that desperately needs it.
Bowness’ System Will Take Time to Learn
Despite dressing most of their veterans, the Jets took a long time to control play against a Senators team that was missing most of their best players. Four days of training camp and two preseason games are not enough time to learn new systems and values. Luckily for Bowness, there are four preseason games remaining before the regular season begins on Oct. 14.
What the organization should be concerned about is whether or not this “new system rust” will filter into meaningful games. The first week or two won’t be too damaging, but the Jets cannot afford to have a bad opening month, or they will be chasing all year long. These players have been playing the same system for five seasons, so it is going to take time to adjust and knock off the old habits they have spent years developing. The question remains, how long will it take?
The line combinations that Bowness was running may not be what we see on opening night. As much as the system may be hurting the teams’ pace of play and production, some of the defence pairings have never played together. How much will Bowness value implementing the system as opposed to giving “bubble” players opportunities to make the roster? If each veteran only plays three preseason games, that may not be enough time to shake off the old system.
The Jets have four preseason games remaining, including on Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens. Their first game against the Edmonton Oilers featured a younger lineup and their latest game had plenty of veterans. It will be interesting to see what kind of lineup is iced, and how the players look with another game under their belt.
Connor Hrabchak is 20 years old and is currently covering the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators for The Hockey Writers. He is working towards completing his communications and media degree. He was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He’s been watching hockey ever since the Jets moved back to Winnipeg in 2011, and that has inspired him to write about the sport and attempt to make it into a full-time career.