Old habits die hard for Jets
Old habits — especially bad ones — apparently die hard for the Winnipeg Jets. And if they can’t quickly clean up their act, it’s only a matter of time before it comes back to bite them and recent history repeats itself.
No doubt some will take issue with this, pointing to the fact the hockey club just wrapped up the month of October with a 5-3-1 record and a share of first place in the ultra-competitive Central Division. In a results-oriented business, that’s impressive. You’ll get no argument from me.
Anyone who’s been watching lately must realize this type of small sample size of success isn’t sustainable over the long term if the style of play doesn’t change. Relying on smoke, mirrors and an unhealthy dose of Connor Hellebuyck heroics to carry you through an 82-game campaign is not a sound strategy.
It didn’t work last year when they managed to pull victory from the jaws of defeat on plenty of occasions, yet still missed the playoffs by a substantial margin. And it won’t work this time around, either.
Fortunately, coaches and players seem to recognize this based on what we heard down at Bell MTS Iceplex on Tuesday following practice. Given some of the candid comments, you might come away feeling like the Jets were languishing near the basement of the NHL, rather than the penthouse.
That’s an encouraging sign. Getting comfortable, or complacent, based simply on their current lot in life would be a massive mistake. Talk is cheap. It’s time to start putting the proverbial money where the mouth is and walking the walk. A three-game homestand which begins Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens would be a good place to start.
It’s mind-boggling, really, how the same Winnipeg team that looked so dominant just over a week ago in a 4-0 victory over previously unbeaten St. Louis then took the show on the road and nearly got blown out of the buildings in Los Angeles, Tempe and Las Vegas.
The only thing more inexplicable is that they somehow came away with five out of six points. In that sense, they’re like the naughty kids who keep being told by their parents to behave “or else!” — then suffer no actual consequences when they carry on as they wish.
Of course, youth is no excuse here. The Jets core is well-seasoned, and have experienced this same song and dance for much of the past few years. This season was supposed to be different, with the new coaching staff led by Rick Bowness preaching a more aggressive, up-tempo approach which would hopefully alleviate some of the pressure on Hellebuyck and his backup, David Rittich.
So far, not so good.
As they’ve done so often in recent years, the Jets continue to tip-toe out of the gate, seemingly content with allowing the opponent to dictate how the game is going to look. Exhibit A of that is the fact they were outshot by a whopping 44-17 (!) in the first periods against the Kings, Coyotes and Golden Knights.
Shot attempts were even more egregious. At one point last Thursday, with about five minutes to go in the opening frame, the Jets were being caved in by a whopping 31-2. That’s almost unheard of at this level of the sport. They escaped the period down a goal, thanks to their netminder, and ultimately fled southern California with two very undeserved points.
They don’t ask how, just how many, right?
To that extent, here’s where I give you the glass-half-full perspective. Despite some of these troubling early signs not burning them, a valid case could be made that brighter days are likely on the horizon due to a number of areas that appear due for a course correction.
At the top of the list is the fact Winnipeg has just one goal combined from its two best wingers, and that came courtesy of Kyle Connor into an empty net on opening night. After putting up a career-high 47 tallies last year, he has yet to beat an actual goaltender with his lethal shot this year. Meanwhile, Nikolaj Ehlers only skated in the first two games before suffering a lower-body injury, and there is still no timetable for his return.
After putting up a career-high 47 tallies last year, Kyle Connor has yet to beat an actual goaltender with his lethal shot this year.
Connor is going to get it figured out sooner or later, and Ehlers should return to his usual high-flying self once he gets the green light. That can only help. In the meantime, there’s been enough contributions from some of the depth forwards to keep them above water.
The Jets are also getting positive results despite getting spanked on special teams. What should be a potent power play has instead been putrid, currently ranked 26th in the 32-team league. The penalty kill isn’t much better, sitting just 19th overall. If they can get one, or both, areas clicking at the same time, then look out.
The schedule has done them no favours, either, playing six of the first nine games away from home, sweet home, including two sets of back-to-backs and very little time for practice. Eight of those nine opponents had at least 94 points last season. The docket now starts easing up a bit, with both the re-building Habs and then the tanking Chicago Blackhawks up next, along with ample time for rest and on-ice workouts in between.
Of course, Winnipeg has shown a troubling trend of, at times, playing down to inferior opposition, so time will tell if that continues.
Rick Bowness, is back after missing all but one of the first nine games due to an ongoing battle with COVID.
Perhaps most importantly the new head coach, Bowness, is back after missing all but one of the first nine games due to an ongoing battle with COVID. The rest of the staff has done a solid job filling in, but this is his show. Now, he’ll finally get a chance to start running it full-time after a couple of frustrating starts, then stops.
Bowness had both barrels blazing on Tuesday, questioning the lack of passion and emotion from his players and suggesting they’re “not even close” to playing the type of hockey they need to. He was hired to bring plenty of accountability and responsibility to a group that had lost its way, so this type of candour is refreshing.
It would be easier to understand if this was simply what the Jets were, but there’s too much talent, and too much potential, for this to be acceptable around here. We know they’re capable of much more. We’ve seen it, albeit in just short spurts so far this year.
As Bowness correctly noted, it’s more about a mindset than anything else. Fixing Winnipeg’s fragile state — and getting some of those ugly traits flushed out of the system — is apparently going to take some additional time.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Read full biography
Credit: Old habits die hard for Jets