The Winnipeg Jets had five of six points on a three-game trip to the West Coast and showed resilience, but also a bad old habit of relying too much on goaltenders. They hadn’t had trouble starting on time before the road trip, but got off to a slow start in all three games of the ride through Los Angeles, Tempe and Las Vegas.
In the first two games, they proved the old adage “it’s not how you start, it’s how you end” to be true by picking up a pair of wins. It was the first time in Jets 2.0 history that they had come back from a multi-goal deficit to win on back-to-back nights.
Jets dominated but find a way in Los Angeles
The Jets crumbled for much of the game against the Los Angeles Kings, especially during the first period when the shots were, at one point, 16-1 in favor of the home side. The Jets scored first on a breakaway goal from Mark Scheifele, but then gave up three straight.
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Last season, the frail Jets may have packed it, but under a new regime they’ve pushed back and scored three straight games to make it 4-3. The Kings tied 4-4 in the third, but the Jets then got a game-winner with five and a change to go as fourth line Axel Jonsson-Fjallby. flipped into a point shot from Brenden Dillon.
One aspect of the game that was reminiscent of last season was the lopsided shooting totals – 44-19 in favor of the Kings. The Jets relied on the heroism of Connor Hellebuyck as they have done many times in recent seasons to run away with two stolen runs.
“An ugly win,” said associate coach Scott Arniel, replacing Rick Bowness as Bowness recovers at home from a COVID-19-related setback after the game. “It definitely wasn’t a Picasso…I know it’s not a VHS tape but it’s in the trash and we’ll just put that one aside.”
Jets overcome cold feet in Arizona
One of the many shortcomings of the Arizona Coyotes’ new home – the 5,026-seat Mullett Arena in Tempe where they moved after being kicked out of the Gila River Arena in Glendale for non-payment of bills – is the sub-league quality beer from the temporary visitors locker room.
The “accommodations”, if they can be called that, are located at a nearby ice rink and have gone viral this week for being nothing more than a square of folding chairs cordoned off with curtains. Cole Perfetti praised the quality of the ice and the college atmosphere at Mullett Arena, but said after the game “if you take your shoes off (in the locker room) it’s a little cold on your feet” because the floor is rubber and on top. ice rink surface.
In what was the Coyotes’ first home game and first-ever professional game in the barn they would occupy for at least the next three years, the Jets didn’t register a shot until 7:22. Christian Fisher engaged the raucous crowd, scoring a pair of first-period goals (and with his first count, providing the answer to the future trivial question of “who scored the first NHL goal at Mullett Arena?”)
Last season, this game might well have been just another example of the Jets underperforming against and losing to a beatable team – especially with famed Jet-grounder Karel Vejmelka in the crease – but a new top-six player at Perfetti provided a spark before the first half was over with a magnificent goal on an exceptional individual effort.
The Coyotes, a rebuilding team short on top-end talent, did a good job of forcing the Jets into a sparsely contested game in the first two periods. In the third, however, the Jets began to use speed through the neutral zone to generate entries and chances in the controlled zone, and Mark Scheifele hit the dirt at 8:34 to tie the game. The Jets outshot the Coyotes 13-2 in the third.
In three-on-three overtime, where skilled players have plenty of room to shine, Blake Wheeler ruined the party by hitting home a pass from Pierre-Luc Dubois on a two-on-one just 30 seconds away.
Along with overcoming odd circumstances, the Jets also overcame their own ineffective power play, which went 0-5 and gave up a few shorthanded breakaways.
“We left it at that,” former captain Wheeler said after the game. “We played last night in Los Angeles and we knew those early periods are always tough. The fact that it was still a hockey game and that (goalie David Rittich) made some big saves there for us to keep ourselves in, and you leave those games on a back-to-back game near or on a goal, you have a chance of winning. It was mission accomplished.
Hellebuyck faces too many pucks against Golden Knights
Sunday in Vegas, the Jets looked like a team playing for the third time in four nights.
For the second straight start, Hellebuyck was bombarded – the Golden Knights put high danger chance after high danger chance on goalie – but he did everything and then some to prevent what should have been a blowout.
In what was perhaps his best performance since Nov. 1, 2019, when he made 51 saves in a one-goal win over the San Jose Sharks, Hellebuyck stood on his head, making a number of 10-bell stoppages as the Jets were passed. 33-8 in two periods and 47-20 in regulation time.
The Golden Knights triumphed 2-1 in overtime, but Hellebuyck can’t be blamed for the game-winner – Jack Eichel took advantage of a Jets trio that ran out of gas and undecided in the dying seconds of the extra frame , netting and scoring.
Jets defensemen will have to tighten around Hellebuyck if they want to make the playoffs. Last season, he was overworked and exhausted in March due to the number of starts he made and the amount of rubber he saw on each start. During the stretch run, the quality of his game dropped dramatically.
The Jets’ season has started pretty well, all things considered
With that old habit rearing its ugly head, one should be quite heartened by the way the Jets have embarked on a pivotal campaign where nothing less than the long-term trajectory and franchise relevance are at stake.
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Going into play Tuesday, they’re tied with the Dallas Stars for first place in the Central Division, impressive considering all the adversity they’ve already faced.
Their opposition has been strong, as they faced the 2021-22 Eastern Conference finalists New York Rangers, three teams considered Stanley Cup contenders in the Golden Knights (twice), Maple Leafs of Toronto and the St. Louis Blues, and last season Colorado Avalanche Cup Champion.
They have played seven of nine on the road, seven of nine without first line Nikolaj Ehlers and eight of nine games without new head coach Rick Bowness, who has had health issues following his COVID-19 diagnosis. and did not join the team on the road trip. They also only have one goal from a badly snake-bitten Kyle Connor, which was an empty net.
They have a lot to improve on and growing difficulties to overcome – 60-minute efforts have mostly eluded them as they have varying degrees of success, period by period, playing the Bowness way. Their special teams are also in development, as the power play operates at 13.3% efficiency and the penalty kill operates at 79.2%. Ideally, these numbers should add up to 100 or more.
However, seeing the Jets pull through and work hard is refreshing after seeing mostly complacency last season. Good teams find ways to win when they’re not at their best and if the Jets keep doing that, we may have to consider them a good team.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a degree in Creative Communications with a major in Journalism from Red River College and a BA in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets left town when he was two and the 2.0 version hit the scene when he was 17.