The Winnipeg Jets are 6-2-1 heading into Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are 4-0-1 on their critical early-season homestand. They are third in the Central Divison, hot on the heels of the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche.
They are playing nowhere near their potential.
Does that statement seem contradictory given the Jets have 13 out of a possible 18 points and have won three straight? Read on.
Jets Succeeding Despite Early-Season Issues
Despite their record, the Jets haven’t run roughshod their opponents this October. Many of their games have had more ups and downs than a bouncy ball in the hands of a toddler.
Against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 14, the Jets were outplayed, outworked, and outshot 43-26, yet they won 3-1. Against the Arizona Coyotes last Saturday, the Jets were given all they could handle and looked tenuous through the first half of the game, yet left with a 5-3 victory.
It’s safe to say the Jets’ coaching staff doesn’t want it this way, nor will they be using these types of performances draft a blueprint of how to win in the NHL. Really, the team is still searching for a complete, 60-minute, puck drop to final horn, type of victory.
Yet the Jets are succeeding despite not dominating, which illustrates just how deep they are. Two of the biggest indicators of strong teams are their ability to grind out wins and the mettle to steal points when they aren’t at their best. Points socked away early are often reflected upon down the stretch as tremendously important.
“It’s sort of baffling,” Winnipeg Sun reporter Scott Billeck wrote in a recent Twitter thread. “…the team has a tremendous amount of talent that can show up for one period and win a game. And there’s nothing the opponent can do to stop it. They sap the other team’s will, and quickly.”
Indeed, the Jets have the talent to swing the momentum in a hurry. This was never more evident than in Monday’s 5-4 overtime victory against the St. Louis Blues.
The game was far from a masterpiece — they allowed a goal less than a minute in and found themselves down 3-1 after two periods. They had trouble generating sustained pressure, their power play wasn’t as crisp as usual, and they’d lost the services of spark plug Brandon Tanev, who was sent to the showers early for boarding Ryan O’Reilly.
For many teams, it would have been a sure loss. However, for the Jets, the game was far from over.
Jets Have Had Many Different Heroes so Far
Monday night was just another reminder of how many game-changers the Jets possess. They’ve mined their depths for a hero more than a few times this year and have found clutch competitors all throughout their line up.
On Monday, Ben Chiarot and Jacob Trouba played the roles. Chiarot, known more for his heavy game than his offensive prowess, scored a minute in to draw the Jets within one, then assisted Mark Scheifele’s game-tying tally less than three minutes later.
In overtime, with the game tied 4-4, it was Jacob Trouba who stepped up with an aggressive forecheck, pressuring Jayden Schwartz into turning the puck over after the Jets’ initial entry. The puck made it’s way to Kyle Connor, who took a shot that generated a rebound which Trouba was in perfect position to hammer home.
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) October 23, 2018
That’s not to mention the contributions of Bryan Little, who scored to tie the game with just 1:40 to play to set the table for Trouba’s goal. Little, who they’re going to start calling “Captain Clutch” pretty soon, has either the game-winning or game-tying goal in three of the Jets’ last four games, including two third-period winners, one against the Hurricanes and one against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Jets have also benefitted from their new masked marvel. Backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit — brought in this offseason to ease Vezina-nomiated Connor Hellebuyck’s workload — has helped the Jets steal wins in both of his starts. The big backstop from B.C. has impressed with his calmness and economy of movement in a pair of dazzling 42-save performances. He is looking like another smart signing from general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.
Best Is Yet to Come for Jets
Like every other team, the Jets have early-season wrinkles that need ironing out. The team is far from looking like a freshly-pressed suit.
Blake Wheeler has suddenly developed a penchant for taking offensive zone penalties. Patrik Laine has three goals, but none at even strength. Nikolaj Ehlers hasn’t scored at all — he is mired in a 26-game goalless streak and is more snakebitten than Cleopatra. Connor Hellebuyck’s save percentage is a pedestrian .909 and his goals against average is hovering just below 3.00.
The Jets will have to fix these failings if they want to compete with the Toronto Maple Leafs later this month and succeed against the Florida Panthers in Finland. However, the ways they’ve found to succeed despite not coming close to the zenith of their capability shows their fortitude.
I've got nothing clever to end this with. The long and short of it is the Jets are getting by playing OK hockey. Should be interesting to see what great hockey looks like in the standings and on a nightly basis.
— Scott Billeck (@ScottBilleck) October 23, 2018
“It just shows that any game is in reach if you play the right way,” Schiefele said of Monday’s game. “That third period, we played Winnipeg Jets hockey. We were on the puck, we were working hard. We were battling for each other. That’s how you win games in this league.”
Once the Jets really get firing on all cylinders and start playing the well-known brand of “Winnipeg Jets hockey” consistently rather than sporadically, they will be truly terrifying.