The Winnipeg Jets finished their longest homestand of the season with a 5-1-1 record after beating the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 on Tuesday night at Canada Life Centre.
Now that the seven-game homestand has come and gone, it’s time to make some observations about it… seven, to be exact.
1) Jets Don’t Need Everyone Firing on All Cylinders All the Time
Jets teams of seasons past would not be in first place in the Central Division if their number-one centre and captain had combined for just two goals and nine assists in 15 games. But the 2021-22 version has enviable offensive depth, and that depth has served them well — they’ve helped the team succeed despite Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler’s slower starts.
Kyle Connor, (12 goals, eight assists) Andrew Copp, (five goals, 11 assists) Pierre-Luc Dubois, (nine goals, six assists) Nikolaj Ehlers, (four goals, seven assists) and Paul Stastny (four goals, four assists but currently out with a foot injury) are among those forwards who have picked up the slack.
It’s quite revealing how much trust head coach Paul Maurice has in the top line of Connor, Dubois, and Evgeny Svechnikov that when Scheifele and Wheeler came out of COVID-19 protocol, he put them on the third line with Adam Lowry instead of reuniting them with Connor. They didn’t see top-six time until the latter stages of Saturday’s game against the Kings, and the top line remained intact until Maurice trotted out some new looks against McDavid and the Oilers.
“When you miss a few chances, you feel like you’re snake-bitten a little bit,” he admitted Monday. “I just want to keep on doing the right things defensively and just kind of let the rest of the game take over on its own, not try to chase it, not try to do everything in one shift and score 100 goals in a second. It’s just a matter of doing the right things over and over and when you do then you get rewarded.”
While Wheeler is more suited to a bottom-six role now as he struggles to keep up at five-on-five with the opponents’ top guns, increased production from him would turn an already strong attack even more formidable.
2) The “Hockey Gods” Aren’t Always Fair
The Jets controlled the pace of play against the St. Louis Blues last Tuesday, but weren’t rewarded with a win. Despite outplaying the visitors overall and getting tons of chances, they were stymied by Jordan Binnington — who made 41 saves — and lost in a shootout.
After a dominant 4-1 Thursday win over the San Jose Sharks, the Jets didn’t excel Saturday versus the Kings at all. They were especially anemic in the second period, when they only generated two shots and had a stretch of 10:48 without taking a shot on Cal Petersen.
Despite that, they went home with two points thanks to a game-tying shorthanded goal by stay-at-home defenseman Dylan DeMelo — who lit the lamp for the first time since March 21, 2019 and for the first time as a Jet — and the overtime winner from Scheifele.
“Yeah, it felt great. Obviously, huge relief, there was definitely some frustration,” DeMelo said post game of going so long without a goal. “Obviously, you play defence you’re not maybe relied on to score but you want to contribute, and there’s no feeling like scoring, obviously, so it was nice to get that one and the timing was crucial.
Hockey is a funny game. Sometimes you play well and feel you deserve better from the powers that be, and sometimes you don’t play well at all but the “hockey gods” are with you.
3) Jets Continue to Get Offence from Defencemen
The Jets’ revamped defence has added another element to their offensive attack, with a sizeable portion of the team’s points coming from mobile, puck-moving blue-liners who aren’t afraid to jump up in the play.
Jets’ rearguards have combined for seven goals and 33 assists, with Nate Schmidt, (11 points) Neal Pionk, (10 points) and Josh Morrissey (eight points) leading the way.
“We have a lot of offence up front and a lot of guys that can make plays, and can find you with nice passes. I think that’s a luxury we have as defencemen being able to get up and being available, they’re going to find you, you just got to keep your stick on the ice,” Brenden Dillon, who came to the Jets in an offseason trade with the Washington Capitals, said Monday. “It’s always nice getting rewarded like we have the last couple games… to be able to chip in and help out, I just think it makes it that much sweeter for team victories and to have some success like we’ve been having as a team.Brenden Dillon on offence coming from Jets’ defenders
The average of 2.66 per game from defensemen is quite a bump compared to last season. In the 56-game 2020-21 campaign, Jets’ d-men had 81 total points (46 coming from Morrissey and Pionk alone), an average of just 1.44 per game.
5) Jets “11 Forward, 7 Defencemen” Experiment Seems to Be Done
The Jets played their first two games of the 2021-22 season with four full lines, but after Scheifele and Wheeler both went into COVID-19 protocol, they were forced to go with 11 forwards and seven defencemen. Having players in COVID-19 protocol does not provide any salary cap relief and the Jets are right up to the cap ceiling, thus couldn’t call anyone up.
The Jets first went with 11 and seven on Oct. 19 against the Minnesota Wild, and did so for nine straight games. They went 6-1-2 in the span, with many players benefitting from the added ice time.
Despite its success, the experiment seems to be done for now. For the past four games, the Jets have rolled four traditional lines, with seventh defenseman Nathan Beaulieu coming out of the lineup and centre Riley Nash coming back in to anchor the fourth line with Dominic Toninato and Kristian Vesalainen.
6) Facing A Canadian Team Seemed Fun Again
The Jets played their first one-anthem game of the season Tuesday after facing exclusively American opponents in their first 14. It was a blast to the recent past, as last season as a member of the temporary North Division, they played every regular-season and playoff game against the six other Canadian teams.
Related: Jets’ Top 5 Games of 2020-21
In this author’s opinion, the lack of variety of opponents got stale by April, with rivalries and bad blood not developing as much as many hoped.
The Jets’ next two contests are against Canadian teams as well (they play in Edmonton Thursday and in Vancouver Friday) and they’ll face Canadian opponents just a dozen times after that. Those games are more fun to watch when they’re not as frequent — absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
7) The Heritage Blue Jersey Looks Unbelievable
The Jets donned their new official third jersey — the Heritage Blue — for four straight games during the homestand and did they ever look fabulous.
First unveiled for the 2019 Heritage Classic in Regina, the uniform looked even better during indoor games than it did at Mosaic Field under the lights. Inspired by the Jets’ World Hockey Association-era uniform, the Heritage Blues are gorgeous, with striking red-and-white stripes on the sleeves and socks and red pants that provide a great contrast to the dark blue jersey body.
It’s a massive upgrade over their previous third jersey: the painfully plain and deeply disappointing Aviator design, which has been put in storage where it belongs and very few will miss.
Not only did the Jets look good in them, they played well in them, capturing seven out of a possible eight points against the Blues, Sharks, and Kings, and Oilers. They will wear the Heritage Blues 10 more times this season.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-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.