The Winnipeg Jets have been dealt a double blow and have lost two-thirds of their savvy, shutdown third line over the past two games. Can they rally through adversity again?
Jets Picked it Up for Perreault
It was a bad play that spurned the Jets to some good results Sunday. Mathieu Perreault was the victim of an egregiously late, blindside check delivered by the Philadelphia Flyers’ Joel Farabee.
The vicious headshot — delivered well after Perreault had pushed the puck up the side boards to Neal Pionk — sent Perreault to the dressing room, Farabee to the showers, and the Jets to a five-minute power play.
Instead of stooping to the Broad Street Bullies’ level, the Jets made their opponent hurts where it counts most — the scoreboard.
They channelled Perrault’s injury into results: Blake Wheeler blasted one past Brian Elliot a minute-and-a-half into the extended man advantage, and Mark Scheifele followed up Wheeler’s goal a few minutes later by one-timing home the captain’s pass from the slot.
Less than a minute after the penalty expired, Logan Shaw scored his first NHL goal since Feb. 2018, and Patrik Laine followed it up with his tenth of the season 16 seconds later.
The four goals in 4:17 (the second-fastest four goals in franchise history) made a tight 2-1 game — the Flyers were pressing for the equalizer before Farabee’s hit — a 6-1 laugher.
“For us, I don’t want to say it paid off but we were pretty upset with that hit and I think the power play came out and handled that, it’s a good sign for us. I hope Frenchie’s OK,” Wheeler, who had three points in the 7-3 victory, said post-game.
The Winnipeg Free Press’ Mike McIntyre was a little more forceful in his gamer, writing “hockey justice often has a way of sorting things out, and it came swiftly and severely for the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon at Bell MTS Place.” (From ‘Explosive second period gives Jets 7-3 victory over Flyers,’ 12/15/19, Winnipeg Free Press.)
The NHL suspended Farabee for three games for his indiscretion. That’s likely not much comfort to the Jets, who may be missing their versatile veteran for a lot longer than that. While there’s been no official concussion diagnosis, the Jets are treating it like one.
Jets Couldn’t Cope with Losing Copp
However, in Tuesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Jets could not deal with both Perreault’s and Andrew Copp’s absence on the third line that’s been highly effective this season. The intelligent and consistent centre was forced to leave in the mid-second with an upper-body injury he suffered after checking Jordan Staal.
This time, the Jets’ allowed, rather than scored, a number of second-period goals in quick succession — the speedy ‘Canes notched a trio of tallies in 5:33 that turned a 2-2 tie into a 5-2 lead.
You lose a bit of your identity with both of those guys going out,” head coach Paul Maurice said post-game. “It changes the line on you. I liked them early and I thought they were going as well as anything we had there… you miss those guys and you miss Copp there on the PK and the second one. It’s a challenge.
Losing the 25-year-old — a key cog on the penalty kill and in the face-off circle — for any extended period would be a big blow to the team. With both he and Perreault out, the line continuity the Jets have enjoyed for six weeks will be disrupted.
Jets Have Good Track Record of Rallying
If the Jets can stay afloat, it would not the first time they have rallied around fallen comrades. Prior to Bryan Little taking an errant Nikolaj Ehlers slap shot to the head on Nov. 5 and suffering a perforated eardrum and vertigo as a result, they were a mediocre 8-7-0. In the wake of the second-line centre’s scary injury, they had to completely retool their top three lines, and have gone 12-5-2 since; they even set a November record with a franchise-high 10 victories.
Really, the Jets have done nothing all season but rally in the face of adversity. They’ve adapted to life without Dustin Byfuglien, who took an unexpected leave of absence on day one of training camp (on Tuesday, news broke he has started a post-surgery rehab program in consultation with the club). They have also persevered with a patchwork blue line better than anyone could have expected. “Staying in the fight” has become the motto of the hard-working team that takes nothing for granted.
Jets Are a Motivated Bunch
They take nothing for granted because just about every player has something to prove. Collectively, the squad’s trying to prove their Stanley Cup window hasn’t closed as many were saying it had at the outset of a season filled with uncertainty. Laine’s trying to prove — and succeeding in proving — he’s more than a one-dimensional sniper. Jack Roslovic’s trying to prove, in the last year of his entry-level deal, that he’s a bonafide top-six forward.
That extends to the blue line, too. “The Winnipeg Jets defence, if you look at them from top to bottom, they all have something to prove,” Sportsnet’s Sean Reynolds recently said.
Josh Morrissey is trying to prove that he’s a legitimate No. 1 defenceman in this league. Neal Pionk is trying to prove that he was a worthy deal for them giving up Jacob Trouba. Tucker Poolman is trying to prove that he is an NHL defenceman for the first time. Luca Sbisa is trying to prove that he deserved a second shot to be picked up on waivers.
Average-at-best advanced statistics indicate regression may be inevitable. But anyone who knows anything about the Jets has been saying that for two months now. They have five players with 25-plus points and, despite the loss to the Hurricanes, are starting to make Bell MTS Place a house of horrors again. Just like they did in 2017-18 when they only lost seven games in regulation all season.
Part of the reason the Jets keep succeeding is that they’re a tight-knit, fire-forged bunch who go to war for each other. Chemistry is important — just ask the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues — but is something that cannot be quantified.
If the Jets can continue to succeed sans Perreault and Copp, it will only add more fuel to their fire; advanced stats can remain damned for a little longer.