The Winnipeg Jets have come into the second half of the season ready to crash, bang, batter and bruise as they attempt to claw their way back into the Western Conference Wild Card race and avoid a lost season.
Jets Have Embraced a Smash-Mouth Style
Interim head coach Dave Lowry seems to want to see some old-school smash-mouth hockey and has gotten his team to physically dominate and throw their weight around.
They’ve dished out 72 hits in their first three games since the All-Star break and haven’t shied away from scrums, scraps, or net-front battles. They’ve fought six times in those three games, compared to just 12 times in their first 42 games.
The elder Lowry’s son Adam has engaged in his share of those fisticuffs with three of those fights, and helped set the tone for his good old dad’s club on Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. Less than halfway through the first period, he chucked knuckles with Marcus Foligno while Brenden Dillon did the same with Jordan Greenway.
Dillon dished out the big hit to Foligno that started that centre ice brouhaha, and though he’s not the only one on the Jets’ blue line playing the body frequently, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound blue liner has been a one-man wrecking crew with a bunch of heavy hits lately.
Another one of his victims was the Dallas Stars’ John Klingberg on Friday night as Klingberg got teed up on a breakout, despite not being a small man by any means. Dillon answered the bell and scrapped with former teammate Jamie Benn just after.
The Jets didn’t back down from the Nashville Predators — who are the most penalized team in the NHL and its most frequent fighters — on Saturday night. The Jets’ old Central Division foe plays right on the edge, if not over it, and the Jets passed the litmus test by matching their level of physicality with 35 hits.
Jets Goading Opponents Into Mental Mistakes with Physical Play
The Predators’ aggression backfired on them in the third period. Mark Borowiecki was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a reckless elbow to Evgeny Svechnikov’s head, and the Jets scored two goals on the man advantage to turn a 2-2 tie into a 4-2 lead.
That’s not the only example of the Jets goading opponents into infractions with edgy truculence. In Tuesday’s game, Lowry and Foligno dropped the gloves again in the third period and the spirited affair ended with Foligno kneeing Lowry in the head after they both went down. Foligno was assessed a minor and was later slapped with a two-game suspension.
Lowry also came to Ville Heinola’s defence against the Predators and traded blows with Tanner Jeannot, who had boarded Heinola earlier. He smartly did not go after Jeannot right after the hit, avoiding taking an even-up call. Mark Scheifele scored on the ensuing power play.
Scrappy Play Goes Beyond Hits and Fists
What the Jets have showed in their past three games, really for the first time all season, is resilience and desperation.
On Tuesday, they blanked a Wild team that came into Canada Life Centre on a 9-0-1 heater. On Friday, they rallied after allowing an awful third-period go-ahead goal at 12:47, as Scheifele — who has three goals in his past three games after a uncharacteristically disappointing first half — tied the game with 32 seconds left to get his team at least a point. Earlier in the season, the goal that put the Stars ahead would have completely deflated the Jets.
On Saturday against the Predators, the Jets quickly fell behind by two, and it looked like they might get blown out. But they rattled off five straight goals for the 5-2 victory with the Blake Wheeler of yore emerging for a vintage performance. He recorded five points, including the third-period power-play game winner.
As a result of all this, the Jets have five of a possible six points and seven of eight points in their past four games against Central Division teams.
One can only wonder how long they can keep this brand of hockey up, with the bulk of an extremely busy February still ahead. The Jets play four home games in five-and-a-half days starting Monday against the Chicago Blackhawks and may have to stock up on ice packs.
At the very least, being feisty and resilient is an identity. Having any semblance of one is a step up from the lost-at-sea, lackadaisical bunch the Jets were far too often in the first half. They’ll have to keep embracing that identity to make up the seven-point gap between them and second Wild Card position.
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.