ANALYSIS: Early observations on the Jets' 0-2 start

It’s safe to say 0-2 isn’t how the Winnipeg Jets envisioned the new season starting.

But as they get set to close out this opening road trip with a Central Division battle against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, the Jets are currently one of five NHL teams without a single point and one of eight without a victory.

Of course, there are 80 games remaining in the regular season and it’s important to let the season breathe a bit more before drawing too many conclusions.

That said, there was both reason for optimism and some cause for concern in those two losses against California-based teams that are supposed to be in the midst of a rebuilding project and not necessarily anywhere near the list of expected contenders in the Western Conference.

The biggest concern is the easiest to identify and that was the poor performance on special teams.

Of course, the sample size is small and there is time for course correction, but losing the special-teams battle 5-1 was basically a recipe for disaster.

Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson lunges for the puck during the first period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson lunges for the puck during the first period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

The Jets’ power play created ample opportunity in the 4-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks and ran into a hot goalie in John Gibson.

Getting Mark Scheifele back made his unit a bit more dangerous in the 4-3 loss, but this wasn’t as simple as Aidin Hill stoning his opponent as the Jets slipped to 0-for-8 on the season — and then allowed a shorthanded goal from Andrew Cogliano that led to four consecutive goals from the Sharks.

Sometimes it’s as simple as getting a bounce or scoring a single goal to help open the floodgates.

With two units that have the ability to score, the Jets have the weaponry to continue to be a top-10 team with the man advantage.

While tweaks and wrinkles will always be required, an overhaul of the power play is nowhere near the top of the to-do list for the Jets’ coaching staff.

The four goals allowed while shorthanded does not fall into the same category.

Sure, there were a pair of beautiful tip-in goals against the Ducks. Those are going to happen, especially when the penalty killers are getting up to speed on their reads and getting into those shooting lanes.

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.

John Woods / The Canadian Press

Saturday’s goals included a perfect shot from Jasper Weatherby and a rebound goal from Tomas Hertl.

Surrendering power-play goals is going to happen as well, but the bigger issue right now for the Jets coaching staff is sorting out the personnel they plan to use, especially up front.

With the departure of Nate Thompson and Trevor Lewis in free agency and Mason Appleton in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, the next wave of penalty killers has yet to emerge.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice knows he can count on Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp and newcomer Riley Nash, but the auditions are continuing from there.

On the weekend, Maurice went to what looks like more of a stopgap measure, as he used captain Blake Wheeler and Paul Stastny in the role.

Both Stastny and Wheeler have been used on the PK before, but given the taxing nature of those additional minutes, that doesn’t look like the most likely long-term solution.

Whether it’s the inclusion of someone like Pierre-Luc Dubois, calling up David Gustafsson from the Manitoba Moose of the AHL or incorporating Jansen Harkins, Evgeny Svechnikov or Kristian Vesalainen, other options need to be explored.

This isn’t about fitness or ability, but Wheeler led the Jets forwards in ice time with 21:20 on Saturday — and led all players on his team with 3:29 while shorthanded.

Those are hard minutes and it’s nearly impossible to be as fresh at even strength when playing that much against the opposition power play.

The other part of the equation is that the fourth line hasn’t been playing much and by adding ice time for some of those guys, it will both get them more involved while also likely leading to a better distribution of the minutes.

This wasn’t as big a factor with two days between the second and third games of the season, but as the pace of the schedule picks up, the Jets need to find more minutes for that fourth line.

With all of the talk about an improved defence corps and the commitment to being better without the puck, allowing eight goals was a tough start.

When it comes to even-strength play, the score was 3-3, so it’s important not to overreact.

The Jets spent less time chasing their opponent in the defensive zone, managed plenty of clean zone exits and it wasn’t exactly a shooting gallery of high-danger chances that goalie Connor Hellebuyck was facing.

Hellebuyck is off to a slow start by his lofty standards, but the 4.10 goals-against average and .849 save percentage are skewed by the special teams struggles and unlikely to stick around much longer.

Hellebuyck is a guy who is at his best when he’s in a rhythm and he’s expected to get into the flow as this week progresses with games on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Winnipeg Jets players Nate Schmidt and Blake Wheeler speak with media following a practice at Canada Life Centre/Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg Jets players Nate Schmidt and Blake Wheeler speak with media following a practice at Canada Life Centre/Winnipeg Jets

As for some of the encouraging signs, the Jets’ top pairing of Josh Morrissey and Nate Schmidt is settling in well together.

They’ve done a solid job of defending and have been using their feet to join the rush in an aggressive, yet responsible manner.

“If we’re standing around, that’s not going to be good,” Schmidt said last week before the Jets departed for the road trip.

“If we’re moving and getting our feet up the ice and getting into that fourth man’s hole up the ice, that’s when we’re going to be successful as a pair and as a five-man unit that goes on the ice.”

Up front, Dubois had a dominant first period on Saturday, scoring his first goal of the season and generating three dangerous scoring chances.

Dubois was skating well and highly engaged and if he continues to do those things, he can be a two-way force — which is exactly what the Jets need him to be.

While it didn’t necessarily show up on the scoreboard, Nikolaj Ehlers had a strong start as well, generating 10 shots on goal and 17 shot attempts through two games.

It’s only a matter of time before the production starts to come for Ehlers.

Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for Sportsnet.ca and is a regular contributor to CJOB.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

You May Also Like

Top Stories