After the Winnipeg Jets lost to the Dallas Stars on Oct. 17, I mentioned that the new systems Rick Bowness and his staff were trying to implement were far from complete and still a work in progress. In their win over the Colorado Avalanche last night (Oct. 19), it would appear that progress is indeed being made. Here are three takeaways from the Jets’ 4-3 overtime win in Denver.
I asked Jets fans on Twitter to predict the outcome of this game and losing by a score of 5-1 or 5-2 was the consensus, with one ray of sunshine suggesting they would play well, but ultimately lose in overtime. They played better than anyone expected and looked like they could be contenders in the Central Division. That’s the kind of hope that tends to make Jets fans nervous.
After the disappointment in Dallas, the Jets showed real grit in the victory over the Avalanche and the changes Bowness wants to see are starting to emerge. When it looked to some fans that the Jets were still the same old bunch against the Stars, they demonstrated last night that they are in fact heading in a different direction.
The Defense is Getting More Involved in the Offense
Defenseman Neal Pionk was the game’s first star as he scored twice, including the overtime winner on a bullet from the top of the circle. Bowness has mentioned several times in the past that he wants his defensemen more involved in the offense. On this night, the Jets got that from their blueliners.
Evidence of more offense from the defense was prevalent throughout the game. Pionk and Josh Morrissey each had three shots on net, while Dylan Samberg hit the crossbar with a wrist shot from the blue line. Nate Schmidt and Dylan DeMelo often started the rush and continued with the forecheck into the Avalanche’s zone. On a few occasions, the defensemen were actually the first players on the puck, forcing Colorado to play faster than they would have liked.
They’ve got to get used to coming up, even every defense (men). We’re defending the rush, but as soon as it goes the other way, go. Don’t watch, go. So we’ve got to do that, we’re going to activate them a lot more.– Rick Bowness, during a training camp press conference, 29/09/2022
Last night the Jets’ defensive corps was engaged on offense. They moved the puck smartly, followed the play into the Avalanche’s end and were consistently involved in the attack. The changes Bowness has made certainly paid off in this game.
Dylan Samberg Should Remain in the Lineup Full-Time
Dylan Samberg should not be a healthy scratch again this season. He had 15:25 of ice time, did not have a giveaway, was not on the ice for any goals against, blocked three shots and hit the crossbar on one of his shot attempts. He was paired with Dylan DeMelo and had a quiet night on the ice. By quiet night, I simply mean he did his job.
He was calm and smart with the puck and was rarely out of position against a team that skates at warp speed. For a rookie with little NHL experience, he was definitely not overmatched. The 6-foot-5, left-handed shot used his size well, and moved the puck with confidence, looked like anything but a rookie. He was so calm in fact, that with three minutes left in the third period he received a puck in his feet and instead of stopping to adjust, he calmly kicked a 20-foot pass with his back foot to Pierre-Luc Dubois at the blue line to exit the defensive zone.
Related: Winnipeg Jets Are Prepared to Play the Rick Bowness Way
Simply put, Samberg looked like an NHL’er. He played with poise and was a real asset to the Jets’ back end and I would be shocked if he wasn’t in the lineup tonight versus the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Coaching Staff Trusts All Four Lines
Unlike the Paul Maurice era where the fourth line sporadically got in the game, the new coaching staff has been more equitable with their distribution of time for the forward lines. They have shown trust in all four lines and have played them accordingly.
I researched the box score of a 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers from Nov. 18, 2021. I chose that game because it was early in the season and the Oilers’ style of play is similar to the Avalanche. In that contest, the fourth line played less than five minutes. Compare that to last night versus the best team in the league where rookies David Gustafsson and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby were the only two players who saw less than nine minutes of ice time.
Scott Arniel put the fourth line on the ice with a minute and ten to go in tie-game against the Stanley Cup champions. You know why he did that? Because Gustafsson had a smart game, Gagner had a smart game and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby was involved on the forecheck, using his speed. That’s what the Jets asked him to do, that’s what he did.– Ken Wiebe, The Kenny and Renny Podcast, 19/10/2022
In the first three games this season, the fourth line has averaged 13 shifts per game for approximately nine and a half minutes. Last season the fourth line regularly got seven or eight shifts for approximately five minutes of play and would often sit the entire third period.
Evidence is there to show the new coaching staff has used their entire bench so far this season. If they are demanding speed and a relentless attack, they are going to need short, intense shifts from all four forward lines.
#NHLJets associate coach Scott Arniel raved about the play of Mason Appleton, including in OT to take out Nate MacKinnon with a perfectly timed hit and set up Neal Pionk for the winner:— Mike McIntyre (@mikemcintyrewpg) October 20, 2022
“That was awesome. Just a great, smart hockey play.”
If you weren’t sure if the new approach and showing trust in all the forwards is real, just look at who started the overtime period, Pionk, Mason Appleton and Adam Lowry. Three unlikely starters, then just 31 seconds later Pionk nailed the game winner. For the second time that night, Appleton assisted on his goal. Under the previous regime, those three would have never been given the start to an overtime period.
The Jets are definitely making progress in their transformation. The coaching staff knows that they are going to experience letdowns like they had in Dallas, but they also know they will see positive results like they had in Denver. The question now is, how soon can they become consistent with their new style of play? They get another chance tonight as they take on the Vegas Golden Knights in the second half of back-to-back games. One side note, look for David Rittich to make his Jets debut in this one.