Jets Are Doing December Right

The Winnipeg Jets are proving their prowess last month was no fluke. After setting a record last month by recording 10 wins in November and playing well in all facets, the Jets have continued to do what made them successful in November so far in December, and have a 3-0-1 record this month to prove it.

Jets Are Still Scrapping…

Sometimes, literally. To see dynamic Dane Nikolaj Ehlers drop the gloves with the much-larger Ryan Getzlaf in the Jets’ Dec. 8 victory over the Anaheim Ducks for just his third-career fight perhaps best represents that every Jet is willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Winnipeg Jets Nikolaj Ehlers
Nikolaj Ehlers, who usually uses his hands to create offence, used them for a different purpose in a scrap against Ryan Getzlaf. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Last month, we explored how the Jets’ success stems from their adoption of a new identity as a hard-working team that takes nothing for granted. Wins don’t often come easily for them — although in some of their recent triumphs they’ve looked akin to the dominant squad of the past two seasons that portions of the fanbase expected would blow opponents out of the water — but rather, they come from sheer desire.

What their opponents do doesn’t affect the way they play, and they never get too high or too low in any given contest, because they know exactly who they are.

It’s tough to hear an interview with a Jets’ player these days without hearing the phrase “staying in the fight.” They’ve certainly fought to the end for most of their victories — 12 out of the 19 have come by the slimmest of margins.

Patrik Laine Winnipeg Jets
12 of 19 Jets’ wins, including this one against the Nashville Predators last month, have come by one goal. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Even in their lone December loss — a 3-2 overtime decision in Dallas last Thursday — the Jets fought back from a 2-0 third-period deficit, simply dominated the final frame, and snagged a point in the back half of the Central Division home-and-home. If it wasn’t for a marginal holding the stick penalty to Josh Morrissey in the three-on-three that led to Joe Pavelski’s game-winner, they may very well be perfect this month.

Jets Are a Timely Team

The Jets have an uncanny knack for executing in key moments. Take Patrik Laine’s last-minute second-period goal in their 5-1 win against the Stars at the beginning of the month. The Finn’s eighth of the season made amends for his boneheaded cross-checking penalty earlier in the period and swung the moment back his team’s way after Miro Heiskanen cut the lead to 3-1.

Take Mark Scheifele’s game-tying goal with the net empty against the same team two nights later that forced overtime. Take the power play’s opportune tally with less than five to play in the third against the Ducks that lifted them to the win. Take Blake Wheeler’s second-period snipe that opened the floodgates for his side against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.

Take Connor Hellebuyck’s — who should be the Vezina Trophy favourite at this point for his outstanding play between the pipes — huge breakaway pad stop on the Ducks’ Ondrej Kase that kept the game deadlocked at one apiece, or the number of calm saves he made in the final minutes even though it was bedlam in front of his net.

They’re displaying a tightness they didn’t last year when they fell apart down the stretch and the locker room became divided. Believe it or not, at 19-10-2, the Jets have only one fewer win through 31 games than they did in 2018-19.

Jets Are Benefitting from Continuity Up Front

The Jets’ chemistry is a byproduct of the continuity they’ve enjoyed up front for the past month. In the 15 games since Bryan Little suffered a serious head injury, the Jets’ forward lines have been the same save for some in-game tinkering, and the team has gone 11-3-1 since switching things up out of necessity.

Winnipeg Jets Kyle Connor Patrik Laine Mark Scheifele
The Jets have had the luxury of keeping their lines intact for more than a month, including the top line. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

With the exception of the struggling fourth line, the combinations have been highly competent. Kyle Connor, Scheifele, and Laine continue to make up the electric top line; Blake Wheeler, who took over the role of second-line centre in Little’s stead after an uncharacteristically slow start, has benefitted from the speed of Ehlers and Jack Roslovic, while Ehlers and Roslovic have benefitted from Wheeler’s veteran leadership and passing prowess.

Blake Wheeler Winnipeg Jets
Moving Blake Wheeler to centre and away from Mark Scheifele has benefitted both players. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry, and Mathieu Perreault, meanwhile, have been an effective shutdown line and have provided an extra layer of offensive pop. The eye test alone shows each of the three lines are comfortable with their roles and companions.

The stats also show it, as the Jets have spread their scoring out nicely this month. Everyone on the top three lines has at least two points except Jack Roslovic (who has zero), but no one has more than six (Connor and Scheifele are tied with that number.)

Jets Are Soaring, but Can They Fly Even Higher?

The Jets’ scoring may be even more spread out soon, as the fourth line is undergoing a revamp. Recent waiver-wire addition Nick Shore made his Jets’ debut Sunday, replacing centre David Gustafsson, and left-winger Gabriel Bourque skated in his first game Tuesday since being injured in early November, replacing Joona Luoto. The Bourque/Shore/Shaw line had some positive offensive-zone shifts in Tuesday’s matchup versus the Red Wings, with Shore, in particular, getting a couple of good looks.

Related: Jets’ 4th-Line Reload Coming Soon

Mason Appleton is also healthy after missing more than a month after breaking a bone in his foot playing football the day before the Heritage Classic at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium. The Jets sent him down to the Moose on Tuesday, and while it’s not an official “conditioning loan,” which has a two-week timeline and particular protocol to follow, it’ll likely be treated as one. It’s tough to see the offensively gifted Appleton being down on the farm for too long.

Gabriel Bourque Winnipeg Jets
Gabriel Bourque returned from injury Tuesday, joining Nick Shore and Logan Shaw on the fourth line. Mason Appleton should rejoin the big club before too long and replace Shaw, thereby completing the fourth-line revamp. (John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports)

If the Jets can roll four lines and take some of the pressure off their top nine, they’ll be all the better for it. With a less gruelling travel schedule than last month, the team should be in a good position come the New Year as long as they keep doing what made them successful over the past six weeks.