The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
With game nine officially in the books for the Winnipeg Jets (6-2-1), it’s time to take a look back at the first eight games of the season and how the Jets best start in Winnipeg history came to be.
The Jets come out of Monday night’s game against the St. Louis Blues with 13 points in their first nine games; this places them in third in the central, third in the West, and third overall in the National Hockey League. They are tied with the 1982 version of the Jets. This for the best start to the season for any Winnipeg NHL franchise through the first nine games.
Mark Scheifele and his nine points (four goals, five assists) along with second-year forward Kyle Connor (four goals and four assists) have led the way offensively for the Jets, and big Dustin Byfuglien has been the leading minutes-muncher for the defence averaging 24:21 TOI. Connor Hellebuyck (4-2-1) continues to be a workhorse, opening the year by playing in all but two games.
So far, the two players having the most positive impact on the Jets defence corps are Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey.
The quietly fiery Byfuglien leads the way from the backend for the Jets. Not only does the hulking defenceman lead all Jets blue-liners in average TOI, but he carries a 61.11HDCF%. Meaning that when Buff is on the ice, the team is getting over 60% of the shots from the rectangular area that spans the crease and slot. He is also third in hits, despite missing two games, and his five points (one goal and four assists) puts him behind only the top pairing of Morrissey and Jacob Trouba (seven and six points, respectively) when it comes to defensive scoring. He has been an absolute force and a major catalyst for the team’s impressive start.
Third-year D-man, Morrissey, is showing off his offensive chops as of late. His seven points (one goal, six assists) has him as the top scorer on defence and sitting behind only the number one line of Connor-Scheifele-Blake Wheeler for the team lead. This is all the more impressive when we look at his zone starts. Morrissey along with his partner, Trouba leads the team in defensive zone starts. It was only a few years ago that a subsection of fans wondered if the six-foot-tall former first-rounder would be able to crack the Jets’ roster. Now he’s their best left-handed defenceman and arguably their best overall.
Individually, Connor-Scheifele-Wheeler leads the team in points, goals, and sits second in assists. As a trio, they have combined for 10 of the teams 29 goals. An output that is more than a third of all the goals scored by the Jets. However, a lot of their production has come on the man power play. They’ve been successful with the man advantage and while that is an important part of the game 5on5 is where the bulk of the minutes are spent, and so far that time has belonged to the Adam Lowry line.
While the Copp-Lowry-Tanev trio has been carrying the water 5on5 for the Jets’ it’s quite impressive what Adam Lowry specifically has been able to do. The fifth-year centre-forward has really come into his own as a shutdown centre over the past couple of seasons. We’re also witnessing his ability to produce a level of offence not really seen before. Outside of the obviously crazy point totals (four goals, one assist, and on pace for a thirty-five-plus goal season) His ability to create offence off the rush. Hold the offensive zone, and cycle the puck, at 5on5 has been eye-opening. With Lowry on the ice, the Jets are getting 75% of all the goals-for, they have given up exactly zero goals from the highly dangerous shooting area, and are getting over 53% of the possession.
Last season’s Vezina finalist, Connor Hellebuyck (4-2-1, .909svp, 2.84gaa), has mostly picked up where he left off last year This season his 423:18 of ice time ranks him third in the entire NHL. This shows us that the Jets will be leaning hard on their all-star goalie once more. While there have been a couple of goals I’m sure he would like back, he has been solid for the most part and will be integral to the team’s success again this season. In the summer, Laurent Brossoit (2-0-0, .955svp, 2.00gaa) was signed to very little fanfare but has been a pleasant surprise to start the year. He has shown good movement and a quick glove hand. Both were instrumental in both of his wins, facing a combined 88 shots and making 84 saves.
Coach Maurice has made a small change to the top six forward groups, swapping Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, and moving Nikolaj Ehlers to the right wing. Pairing Laine with one of the teams’ best passers in Blake Wheeler, is great. Hopefully, at 5 on 5, it will help spark the young Finnish winger back into his prior form.
Moving Connor onto the wing with Little and Ehlers gives Ehlers a player who is just as fast as he is. A player with the offensive instincts to use that blinding speed to their advantage. Connor has been an absolute force to start the year. He will be looking to bring that momentum into his new line.
Not Perfect But The Jets Are Making It Work
The Jets aren’t perfect, they have their issues like every team does. However, this is one of the most talented and exciting teams in the NHL. With so many young and exhilarating players available it makes it a bit easier to hide their shortcomings. Coach Maurice has been given the tools he needs to improve on this historic start. However, the question remains, will he hold it together? We’ll have to wait and see.
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