The Winnipeg Jets continue to be road warriors in 2019-20. They just went 3-1-0 on their four-game road trip through the southern U.S. and pushed their road record to 8-4-0 — and their overall record to 13-9-1 — in the process.
They haven’t won as consistently in their home barn, however, and are just 5-5-1 through their first 12 at Bell MTS Place. Some of their worst performances have come in front of their fans: a 7-2 drubbing courtesy of the Pittsburgh Penguins and listless 4-2 and 3-1 losses to the Arizona Coyotes and New York Islanders respectively, among others.
However, all is not lost. Based on the way the team is trending, they should be able to improve that record going forward, important considering the Jets have eight home games in December. Here are three reasons why.
1: The Top Line Is Top-Tier
Before the Jets departed Winnipeg for Florida for last Thursday’s trip-opening contest versus the Panthers, their new top-line had only been together for three games and was still figuring out how they fit together.
Fans only got a glimpse of what the combination of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and Patrik Laine — put together out of necessity in the wake of Bryan Little’s gruesome injury — were capable of. In the final game of their by-no-means disastrous 2-1-1 homestand that preceded the road trip, a 4-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the line fired 14 shots on rookie goaltender Adam Werner, but couldn’t beat him.
They’re definitely a tighter trio now; they combined for five goals and seven assists in the games versus the Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators, and Dallas Stars and have looked dangerous nearly every shift.
Related: Jets’ Top Line Beginning to Shine
All three are pulling their weight, and there’s no reason their successes can’t continue this Saturday as the Jets pop into their downtown rink for a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets before heading to the West Coast.
2: Jets Have Found Their Identity
They are no longer a team that simply blows opponents out of the water with pure offensive talent. They’re a team that takes nothing for granted and works extremely hard.
Even in their lone loss — a 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Stars — they refused to fold up the tent when down 3-0 and battled back to draw even with less than five minutes to go in the third. (Unfortunately, 25 seconds after Luca Sbisa’s tying tally, a crucial miscommunication between Tucker Poolman and Laine led to Jamie Benn’s game-winning goal.
“That’s who they are,” head coach Paul Maurice said post-game. “We haven’t quit in a game all year. It doesn’t always go the way you want it to go but I’m really proud of that. I don’t think it was easy for us tonight, in terms of execution. We got a few miles on us but the heart was there.”
When the Jets win, they usually do it on a razor’s edge: 10 of their 13 victories have come by just one goal, and they’ve almost always come out on top in close games because of contributions from throughout their line-up.
Jack Roslovic is finally shining with more consistent top-six minutes, Nikolaj Ehlers is showing that his offseason homework project was worth the time as he leads the club with 10 goals, Mathieu Perreault and Andrew Copp are chipping in with timely tallies, Blake Wheeler is tougher than a two-dollar steak, Adam Lowry is consistently winning key faceoffs…
“Staying in the fight” has become their mantra, and they’ve become fire-forged by the adversity they’ve faced over the past few months. The successful road trip should only work to further catalyze the team.
3: Hellebuyck Is Running Hot
Many of the one-goal wins may be multi-goal losses if it wasn’t for Connor Hellebuyck’s outrageous goaltending.
“He’s won us some games single-handedly, he’s given us a chance to be in a lot of games and he’s confident in the net,” Josh Morrissey said recently. “He worked hard during the summer, he’s in great shape, he works hard in practice, so we’re definitely really confident having him in the net.”
The 26-year-old has posted Vezina-calibre numbers thus far — a minuscule 2.45 goals-against average, a sparkling .928 save percentage, a .722 quality start percentage and a 4.7 goalie points share, which is the estimated number of points contributed by a netminder due to his play. He’s thriving even though the Jets’ defence hasn’t made his workload light very often: he’s stopped 30-plus shots in six of his 10 victories.
His two best road starts this season — a career-high 51-save effort versus the San Jose Sharks and a 38-save performance versus the Nashville Predators on Tuesday — are just microcosms of his larger body of work and representative of how his play has covered for defensive deficiencies.
Home Success Important For Many Different Reasons
The Jets need to make Winnipeg a place opponents hate to come because it’s a place they’ll probably lose in, not because it has crappy WiFi or because it’s so dingy and dirty they feel the need to wash their faces after venturing out for a cup of coffee.
Another reason the Jets need to make their home rink a house of horrors like they did in 2017-18 and for most of last season — one that goes beyond just trying to stay afloat in the Central Division playoff race — is to get their supporters psyched up again.
Bell MTS Place, objectively, is not the raucous place it once was. No one’s hearing is in danger of being damaged anymore. Creative chants, once a hallmark, are few and far between.
Related: Jets Fans’ Best Chants
The novelty of the Jets simply being back in town has long worn off; having tickets to a tilt is no longer a status symbol. Many fans have lamented rising prices of tickets, expensive food and beverages, and a stale, uninspiring game-day experience. On Oct. 16, for the first time in the Jets’ nine seasons since relocating from Atlanta, the game versus the Arizona Coyotes did not sell out, ending a streak of 332-straight in front of maximum capacity.
“My social media lit up late Tuesday night and through Wednesday at the mere mention of the empty seats, with several folks offering their own hot takes about who or what is to blame,” the Winnipeg Free Press’ Mike McIntyre wrote in the wake of the non-sellout. “Among the common themes: Overpriced tickets, which continue to go up every season. Expensive concessions and beer prices. A diminished on-ice product this season. A financially tapped-out market, which includes back-to-back playoff appearances.”Mike McIntyre in ‘Jets, fans relationship status? It’s getting complicated,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 10/16/19.
True North Sports & Entertainment, for all the good they’ve done for the city and Jets faithful, are definitely guilty of thinking their team will sell itself and of not providing anything more than just a hockey game. The game-day experience does need some refreshing. However, the most surefire solution to filling any empty seats is simple — Jets’ victories, more often.
We’ll get a glimpse Saturday, and a more robust look in December, if the Jets can make Bell MTS Place home sweet home for the holidays and beyond.
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.