The Winnipeg Jets avoided disaster Sunday and Tuesday with a pair of wins over the NHL’s two worst teams, but certainly teetered on the edge of the cliff in both.
Jets Needed Third-Period Comeback to Defeat NHL’s Worst Team
On Sunday, the Jets rolled into Glendale for an afternoon contest against the soon-to-be-evicted Arizona Coyotes, who are the NHL’s worst team with just 32 points.
Despite the Coyotes’ status as Central Division and league bottom-feeder, the game was a dogfight. Twice, the Coyotes erased Jets’ one-goal first-period leads; after 40, they Coyotes were leading 3-2 courtesy of a goal from Barrett Hayton.
The Jets had already lost the first three games of the four-game road trip they were on, including an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night, where they jumped out to a surprising 3-0 lead in the first period before caving in and allowing the powerful Avalanche to bury them with six straight goals.
Losing this one would have represented an all-time franchise low, and the players the Jets pay the big bucks stopped that from happening. Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor both scored to restore the one goal lead.
The Jets almost gave up the lead for a third time as the Coyotes nearly tied it with their goalie pulled on a mad scramble, but a sprawling Eric Comrie managed to keep the puck from crossing the line. Connor scored his second of the game on an empty net to cement the 5-3 victory.
“In this high stakes game of survival, all this really represents for the Winnipeg Jets is a first step – the importance of which is yet to be determined over the coming weeks,” Sportsnet’s Ken Wiebe’s wrote. “There is no real reprieve coming in this block of games, especially given how the Canadiens have been playing since Marty St. Louis took over as head coach. Where things go from here for the Jets is still very much up in the air.”
A Painful Truth, Demonstrated: No Lead is Safe for Jets, Regardless of Opponent
On Tuesday evening, in the first game of a four-game homestand, the Jets faced the Montreal Canadiens, a team Wiebe noted were playing well and had won five straight games under interim head coach Marty St. Louis. That being said, the Canadiens are still the second-worst team in the NHL and came into Canada Life Centre with a 13-33-7 record.
The Jets got got off to a scintillating start, powered by the booming national anthems — both Ukrainian, to show support for Ukraine in light of recent world events, and Canadian — performed by Hoosli Ukrainian Male Chorus. They scored four goals before the game was 10 minutes old, with Evgeny Svechnikov, Nate Schmidt, Adam Lowry, and Mark Scheifele all putting pucks past Sam Montembault.
But if you thought that lead was safe, you obviously haven’t watched enough Jets’ hockey this season. In the back half of the period, in a shockingly similar fashion as in the game against the Avalanche, the Jets allowed the Canadiens to run roughshod and get back into the game. It turns out poor defensive structure that allows the opponent to attack relentlessly off the rush and from the middle of the ice and subpar goaltending is not a good combination.
The implosion began when Connor Hellebuyck allowed a very weak, seemingly harmless shot by Josh Anderson from a sharp angle. Anderson scored another on a power play to make it 4-2, then a free pizza by Neal Pionk on an attempted breakout pass led to an Artturi Lekhonen breakaway goal to make it 4-3 going into the first intermission.
Anderson completed the first hat trick of his career early in the second period to knot the game 4-4, and the score remained that way for a while.
The Jets nearly allowed the Canadiens to take the lead when Pierre-Luc Dubois slashed Rem Pitlick on a shorthanded breakaway, but Hellebuyck got just enough of Pitlick’s penalty shot attempt with his blocker to keep the game tied.
That save turned out to be a turning point. Andrew Copp, in his first game back after missing six with a concussion, scored 18 seconds later to restore the one-goal lead going into the second intermission.
In the third, mostly thanks to the Canadiens’ suspect goaltending, the Jets were able to pot three more to win 8-4. However, if Pitlick had scored on his penalty shot, it very well may have been a mental hit the Jets would have been able to recover from.
2 Wins Shouldn’t Change Jets’ Status As Sellers
The game against the Canadiens may have excited fans — how could it not, when your side scores a converted touchdown? — but it is the type of contest that will drive a coach and any more-than-casual observer mad. It highlighted many of the main flaws that have made the Jets’ 2021-22 season such a disappointment — a lack of defensive commitment, a lack of ability to refocus when things start going sideways, and a lack of consistency. The Jets, after allowing the 4-1 goal, seemed resigned to the fact the game would eventually be tied.
The game against the Coyotes didn’t inspire much confidence either, given how much trouble the Coyotes gave them throughout.
Overall, the two wins should not change the Jets’ status as sellers prior to the March 21 Trade Deadline, and Andrew Copp, Brenden Dillon, and Paul Stastny — among others — should be aggressively shopped. If they play like they did against the Coyotes or Canadiens against the Dallas Stars, New York Rangers, or Tampa Bay Lightning as the homestand continues, they will finish the homestand 1-3.
Related: Winnipeg Jets’ Time to Sell Has Arrived
The wins prevented the Jets from hitting rock bottom, but they are still six points out of the second Western Conference Wild Card spot with only 28 games to go and must leapfrog at least three teams for a playoff berth. Based on the past 120 minutes of hockey, the organization would be foolish to change tack and suddenly act like it’s a contender.