3 Keys to Jets Success in November

The Winnipeg Jets posted a 5-3-1 record in October and sit in second in the Central Division despite not playing a sustainable or consistent brand of hockey or pleasing head coach Rick Bowness in the slightest.

In November, they’ll play 12 games with the goal of staying in a playoff position. The all-important American Thanksgiving “cutoff,” a good indication of if a team will be postseason bound or not, comes in three weeks.

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The Jets will only be able to maintain or improve on their position if they correct a number of issues that haven’t come back to bite them yet, but will sooner or later. Here, we’ll take a look at three keys to Jets success in November.

1) Give 60-Minute Efforts

Bowness, a stern taskmaster, recently said there was only one game he was happy with — the 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues which was a near-perfect team performance. The other eight games, he said, were “below the standards and our expectations of how we want to play.”

Rick Bowness Winnipeg Jets
Rick Bowness has not been happy with his team’s performance at all. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

The 67-year-old, who has been behind the bench for just one game as he’s battled COVID-19 and its after-effects, is not one to mince words or coddle anybody, unlike his predecessor Paul Maurice. What he watched from home did not make him feel any better, and holding court Tuesday after his return to practice, he put his charges on blast for their lack of consistent effort and passion.

The effort is inconsistent. The compete is inconsistent. And the puck management is a huge issue right now,” he said. “The elite players in our league, they play with passion, they play with emotion. It’s not their skill level they rely on. It’s their passion of the game. So we all have to have that passion. So that bothered me too. I didn’t see that emotion and that passion. Everything revolves around that. We’ve just got to get that emotion and that passion level back up, and it has to be on a consistent basis.”

Rick Bowness

In the first few games of the season, the Jets started off well but then sagged. Lately, the inverse has been true — in each contest of their recent three-game road swing, they started badly and let their opponents dictate the majority of the game. The Los Angeles Kings, Arizona Coyotes, and Vegas Golden Knights combined to outshoot the Jets 47-17 in first periods, but the Jets captured five of six points anyway, relying on goaltending to bail them out.

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Growing pains in adapting to Bowness’ systems were inevitable, and the coach said the room understands they haven’t been good enough. That self-awareness is a good thing and a departure from last season’s wide-spread complacency.

“They’re not sitting there saying, ‘Wow, we’re 5-3-1, this is great.’ No one’s in that room saying that,” Bowness said. “What isn’t acceptable is some of the terrible things we’ve seen in our team play. We have to come to an agreement on what is and what isn’t acceptable in terms of our standards and in terms of our expectations of ourselves.”

2) Tighten Up Defensively

The Jets are not off to a good start on their goal of reducing the number of shots against and making life easier for their goaltenders.

The Jets have allowed an average of 33.44 shots per game this season and have given up 40-plus shots in a third of their games. Connor Hellebuyck has been solid, and as he’s done for a number of seasons now, has stolen them points — the goaltender sports a 4-2-1 record, 2.41 GAA, .931 SV%, .921 SV% on high-danger chances, and one shutout. New backup David Rittich also has a victory in two starts.

Letting Hellebuyck get bombarded with hopes he’ll be able to withstand the shellings is the absence of a plan and been proven not to work. Last season, he was overworked when it came to both number of starts and the number of high-danger chances faced per start; by March, he was obviously dead tired and the quality of his play dropped dramatically.

The Jets’ starting six on the blue line are mainly veterans and need to be better in their own end, full stop. Some responsibility also falls on the forwards to play the up-tempo, aggressive style Bowness wants them to, which should eliminate some of the turnovers and increase puck possession time. The opponent can’t shoot if they don’t have the puck.

3) Get Kyle Connor Going

Kyle Connor’s probably gripping his stick tightly enough nowadays to snap it.

The sniper, coming off a 47-goal season and considered a good bet to push for 50 again, would settle for just beating a goaltender at this point. His only tally came on an empty net during the home opener way back on Oct. 14.

Kyle Connor Winnipeg Jets
Kyle Connor is mired in his worst slump in years. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Since then, he’s found no twine and plenty of frustration. It’s not an issue of him failing to generate chances or being misused, as he’s fired shot after shot — 32 of them on goaltenders — from all sorts of prime scoring areas, but the pucks that usually find the back of the net just haven’t. He’s been robbed more than a few times and has hit the post twice.

MoneyPuck.com places Connor deep in the “no finish/unlucky” sector of their Expected Goals chart. The site gives his expected goal season total as 5.1.

The reigning Lady Byng winner said if he focuses on competing and playing hard every shift, results will eventually follow.

“All you can do is try to get better every game. I’m not trying to focus on the results. It’s going to come,” Connor said. “I’m getting far too many good looks at this point. What I’m not going to do is just sit back and feel sorry for myself.”

The Jets have gotten just enough scoring from everyone else to keep them afloat (averaging 2.88 per game,) but Connor getting off the “scheid” would undeniably do them wonders at five-on-five and on special teams. The team’s power play, operating at a woeful 13.3 per cent efficiency, got 20 goals from Connor alone last season.

If he cannot score on his blistering wrist shot, perhaps he can get a greasy one and get going. Start truly worrying about him if he goes another nine without scoring.