The Winnipeg Jets squandered a good chance to get their 2021-22 season off on the right foot during their three-game road trip.
Then, in Minnesota on Tuesday for their first Central Division matchup since February, 2020, the Jets imploded in the third period, blowing a 5-3 lead with less than five minutes remaining and losing in overtime to the much-improved Wild.
Indeed, the first trio of contests have come with some nightmarish number for the team many predicted would be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
53 Per Cent — The Jets’ Penalty Killing Efficiency Rate
A man in the box has led to a goal against nearly half the time this season. The penalty killers have given up eight goals on 15 chances, and multiple goals down a man in every contest.
Most recently, they gave up three in five shorthanded opportunities against the Wild. The Jets were crusing with a 5-3 lead and appeared destined for victory before a Neal Pionk slash led to Marcus Foligno’s goal to draw the home side to within one. It was Josh Morrissey, in the sin bin for holding, who watched Joel Eriksson-Ek complete his hat trick with the overtime game-winner on a three-on-one.
The Jets have a capable defensive corp, with Dylan DeMelo and Brenden Dillon playing key PK roles. Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp — who lead Jets’ forwards in PK ice time — have been capable killers for years.
But they are all done a disservice by head coach Paul Maurice’s overly passive system that allows unimpeded shots from the outside in an attempt to stop cross-crease passes. Failures to clear have been rampant and the puck pursuit is near nil.
The Jets have capable defenders such as Dylan DeMelo and Brenden Dillon, but they can’t excel under the current PK strategy.
A PK this bad simply isn’t possible to compensate for elsewhere. It needs to be corrected as soon as possible, and it starts with a more aggressive regime with forwards pressuring the puck carrier instead of standing around and trying to block shots or relying on Connor Hellebuyck to make a save.
4.66 and .856 — Connor Hellebuyck’s Goals Against Average and Save Percentage
Speaking of Connor Hellebuyck, the only thing he’s stopping right now is the Jets’ chances to win games.
The usually-stalwart goaltender, who has stolen many games for his side over six seasons as a pro, has been absolutely awful so far. He’s allowed 14 goals in three games and has a 4.66 GAA and .856 SV%. He has also failed to stop the first 10 shots in any of his starts.
He made some great saves in the game against the Wild, but at the end of the night, still allowed half a dozen pucks to tickle twine.
Overall, Hellebuyck has looked extremely uncomfortable in his crease, has lost track of the puck quite frequently, and hasn’t controled his rebounds well. As far as this author is concerned, an on-his-game Hellebuyck would have stopped at least half of his goals against.
One has to wonder if Hellebuyck is still feeling the lingering effects of COVID-19. Despite vaccines being widely available in both Canada and the U.S. by June, he did not get vaccinated and contracted the virus in late August (he got vaccinated after that, albiet reluctantly.)
His wasn’t a minor case, either: he reported having “a very bad headache (and) really bad fatigue,” and said it took him a week and a half to get out of his fog.
Quite frankly, it looks like Hellebuyck is still in a fog and the Jets need him to get out of it soon. For better or for worse, he’s going to start 65 games at least, considering the inexperienced Eric Comrie is not a high-quality backup like Laurent Brossoit was.
5 — Number of Blown Leads
It’s primarily due to the ugly PK and goaltending that the Jets have had trouble holding a lead. They blew four leads against the Wild alone — 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, and 5-3 — and also blew a 2-0 lead in the second period against the Sharks.
How quickly they allow a goal after scoring one has been alarming. Kyle Connor’s game-opening goal against the Wild was followed by Eriksson Ek’s game-tying goal just 53 seconds later. In San Jose, Andrew Copp’s shorthanded goal to make it 2-0 was followed by Andrew Cogliano’s own shortie just 2:19 later, which changed the entire complextion of the game.
It seems as the Jets ramp down the intensity after scoring. That’s the opposite of what successful teams do — keep their foot on the gas.
Zero — Number of Wins
That’s the most alarming number of all considering the high expectations around a team that has all the pieces — at least on paper — to be a heavyweight.
While the pitchforks are out on Jets’ Twitter, Maurice is pooh-poohing any notion that his team is in big trouble.
After the collapse against the Wild, somehow Maurice insisted postgame he liked the game “until we were offside on the empty net,” (the Jets had a goal disallowed for offiside that would have made it 6-4 with less than two minutes to go.) “That’s a hard-fought, good battle game on the road. Liked big chunks of it. Didn’t like that last minute-and-a-half,” Maurice said.
Maurice said it’s been an eventful first three games and they have lots of room to get better, which is quite the understatement. He wasn’t wrong when he said the team has some good things going: Kyle Connor got off to a hot start with three goals’ Andrew Copp has four points already and looked good on the top line in lieu of Blake Wheeler, who is out indefinitely with COVID-19; and Pierre-Luc Dubois had looked very engaged after a disapponting first season with the Jets.
Maurice said “we’ve got to clean up some things, obviously,” but his talk of improving rings hollow considering the club under his leadership has lost 12 of their past 15 regular season games dating back to April. Obviously, these nightmarish numbers have to be cleaned up right away, lest the Jets find themselves facing way up in the Central Division by the end of the month.
It may be even more difficult than expected if the Jets are to lose a number of key players: TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported Wednesday afternoon the Jets are bracing for multiple COVID cases in the locker room.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.