ANALYSIS: 7 observations from the Jets' 7-game point streak

680 CJOB hockey analyst John Shannon joins us for our weekly Jets roundup and reacts to Kevin Cheveldayoff's press conference, Eric Comrie's performance, and the Jets 11 forward-7 defencemen strategy.

Those two outright losses are starting to seem like a distant memory for the Winnipeg Jets.

While there was plenty of hand-wringing and pleas to sound the alarm bells, the Jets have survived the early turbulence and seem to be rounding into form as they continue this seven-game homestand with a game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night, followed by a visit from Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders on Saturday.

Despite the inability to close out a two-goal lead in the third period, the Jets found a way to secure the bonus point when Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele produced video game-like dekes to secure a 4-3 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night.

That victory allowed the Jets to improve to 5-2-2 on the season, which leaves them riding a seven-game point streak and suddenly battling the St. Louis Blues for top spot in the Central Division.

Not a bad start for a team that squandered a pair of games against the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks to open the campaign.

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It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Jets during this stretch.

Some hiccups have been evident, but as Jets forward Andrew Copp mentioned last week, the hallmark of a good team is having the ability to pull out victories when they don’t always perform at their best.

There’s plenty of room for improvement, but there are signs of progress in a number of areas as well, so let’s look at some of the things that are standing out so far — while fully recognizing nine games is still a relatively small sample size.

It’s too early to draw sweeping conclusions, but some themes and talking points are starting to emerge.

Let’s dig into them.

Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler talks with Mark Scheifele during a 2020 practice.

Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler talks with Mark Scheifele during a 2020 practice.

Global News / FIle

B is for balance

Yes, it was only for one game and the fact Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler are still early in the process of coming back from bouts with COVID-19 was an obvious factor, but the decision to spread out the offence over three lines on Tuesday was something that is worth giving a longer look.

That the Jets survived the loss of both Scheifele and Wheeler for a five-game stretch and find themselves with a record over .500 is a testament to the forward depth that has been compiled.

As Jets head coach Paul Maurice likes to say, nothing is permanent when it comes to line combinations but count me among those who would like to see Adam Lowry on the left side with Scheifele and Wheeler for a bit more time to see if there is something there.

Given how well the top two lines played in the absence of Scheifele and Wheeler, it’s worth keeping them together for a bit longer and seeing where things go, as there are other options to test out when the time is right.

Internal competition for minutes is always a good thing and there should be plenty to go around, especially since the players used on the fourth line right now have been used somewhat sparingly.

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Speaking of sweet spots for ice time…

One of the hotly debated topics over the past several seasons revolved around finding more ice time for Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers, and that time has arrived.

While it will be interesting to monitor the numbers now that the Jets are getting closer to full health, Ehlers has seen his ice time increase nearly two-and-half minutes per game compared with last season and he’s up nearly three minutes on his career average for time on ice.

That boost in ice time hasn’t led immediately to a dramatic increase in offensive production (he’s got two goals and six points in nine games), but it hasn’t been for a lack of opportunities.

Ehlers is second on the Jets in shots on goal with 34 and his alarmingly low shooting percentage of 5.9 per cent is sure to raise to a level that resembles the 12.1 per cent number he’s posted through the first six years and change of his NHL career.

The dynamic Danish forward remains a one-man zone entry machine and he’s generated quality opportunities for himself and his linemates.

As long as that’s happening on a consistent basis, there is no cause for concern.

The Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele, left, celebrates his goal with teammate Kyle Connor during second-period NHL hockey action against the Calgary Flames in Calgary, Monday, March 29, 2021.

The Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele, left, celebrates his goal with teammate Kyle Connor during second-period NHL hockey action against the Calgary Flames in Calgary, Monday, March 29, 2021.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

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ANALYSIS — Hot start for Dubois a welcome sign for Jets

Chemistry set lands on winning combination

It wasn’t an accident that Kyle Connor was on left wing when Pierre-Luc Dubois arrived on the scene after the blockbuster deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

And while the duo didn’t produce immediate results, the reunion that was partly borne out of necessity has been impressive to watch.

Given his straight-line speed, predictable game and high-end finishing ability, Connor is a natural fit to play alongside Dubois, who increased his point streak to eight games on Tuesday by scoring his seventh goal of the season.

Connor saw a seven-game point streak snapped in the same game, but he’s been a driver for the Jets, leading the team in scoring with 14 points and tied with Dubois for the team lead in goals.

Equally important has been the dedication Connor has shown to the defensive side of the game.

No, he hasn’t blossomed into a Selke candidate overnight, but his willingness to use his speed on the backcheck and the improvements in the defensive zone have been evident.

As for Dubois, he’s growing into a bona fide power forward and has been a force at both ends of the ice.

These are the qualities the Jets were expecting to see when they paid a steep price to acquire Dubois (who has already recorded 11 points in nine games) and if he can stay at this level, the Jets’ centre-ice depth is sure to create some matchup challenges for their opponents.

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The Edmonton Oilers' Darnell Nurse (25) and Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Copp (9) battle for the puck during first-period NHL playoff action in Edmonton.

The Edmonton Oilers' Darnell Nurse (25) and Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Copp (9) battle for the puck during first-period NHL playoff action in Edmonton.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Copp’s bet on himself paying early dividends

Although he was interested in looking at a longer-term deal during the off-season, Jets forward Andrew Copp knew that a one-year pact was the way to go, given the Jets’ commitments to upgrading the defence corps through a pair of trades and the multi-year extension given to Neal Pionk.

Copp has been betting on himself to deliver for years and as a pending unrestricted free agent, the stakes are obviously high.

Some players heap additional pressure on themselves to put up big numbers in a contract year, but Copp has taken a business-as-usual approach to this season.

Rather than worry about what his next contract is going to look like, Copp is living in the present and delivering top-notch on-ice results.

Since moving back to his natural position of centre, Copp has continued his high level of play.

Given his current rate of production (five goals, nine points in nine games while playing on both special teams units in addition to his even-strength usage) and the importance of his role, Copp appears to be positioning himself for another significant raise.

Now it’s up to Copp to maintain the pace while providing his defensively sound presence, whether he stays in the middle or moves back to the wing.

Winnipeg Jets defenceman Brenden Dillon looking on at the first day of Jets training camp.

Winnipeg Jets defenceman Brenden Dillon looking on at the first day of Jets training camp.

Defence corps finding its way

One of the most important developments is the return to form for Josh Morrissey, who has settled back nicely into his role as a top-pairing blue-liner.

With a regular partner in Nate Schmidt, Morrissey has been playing with confidence.

Given their aggressive nature, there have been some high-danger chances allowed, but both Morrissey and Schmidt have the ability to use their skating legs to get up ice and join the rush.

Pionk has put up points (eight assists), but he’s adjusting to a new partner and hasn’t quite reached the defensive effectiveness he showed last season.

Some of that is likely related to adjusting to a new partner (Brenden Dillon) and a new system.

Dillon has been as advertised. He’s brought a physical element to the back end and has fit in well with his upbeat attitude.

By running seven defencemen and 11 forwards, the third pairing has featured Dylan DeMelo and Logan Stanley, with Nathan Beaulieu working his way into the equation while also being used on the penalty kill.

For the most part, the defensive zone exits have been cleaner, but the Jets — like many teams around the NHL — are adjusting to the changes to the cross-checking standard that is being implemented.

The Jets weren’t going to emerge as a defensive juggernaut overnight, but the improvements to the personnel are obvious.

Now it’s just a matter of the group getting more comfortable with one another.

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Eric Comrie.

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Eric Comrie.

Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press

Comrie passes two early tests

One of the big questions coming into the season revolved around whether or not Eric Comrie was ready to play well enough to hold onto the backup job behind workhorse starter Connor Hellebuyck.

Two starts does not qualify as the finish line, but at the same time, Comrie has supplied enough evidence that he warrants further opportunities, posting wins over the Stars and the Los Angeles Kings.

With games on consecutive days this weekend, Comrie could be tapped on the shoulder to play for the third time in 10 games.

Because the Jets are home for a lengthy stretch and there won’t be any travel until Nov. 17, it’s possible Hellebuyck plays both games depending on the type of workload he faces on Friday, but Maurice doesn’t need to look for soft spots on the schedule to squeeze in the next start for Comrie.

Much like the NHL sample size was small coming into the season (nine NHL starts), it remains small and as Comrie has said numerous times this season, he knows full well that he needs to continue to perform in order to keep the job.

But his ability to post a 2-0 record with a 2.40 goals-against average and .915 save percentage represents an important first few steps on that journey.

PK still a work in progress

For all of the improvements made to a power play that has improved to third in the NHL (28.6 per cent) behind the Edmonton Oilers and Blues, the other arm of the Jets special teams has struggled mightily to start the season.

With an efficiency rate of only 62.5 per cent, the Jets are tied for 31st spot in the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes.

They’ve allowed at least one power play in seven of those nine games and multiple goals in four of them.

They’ve dug themselves a hole and it’s going to take a lengthy run of success to slowly chip away at the numbers.

Failed clearing attempts have played a role here, while clearing the front of the net and defending deflections remain a priority.

Once the reads get a bit quicker, the Jets should find a way to get themselves in more passing and shooting lanes, which is required to disrupt the rhythm of the opponent.

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

 

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