With “identity” being the buzz word at the start of this Jets season, it looks like the team is rounding into form and playing the brand of hockey it expects of itself. Two resounding wins this past week against the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils showed how they’re coming around.
Yes, the Devils are last in the Eastern Conference and, yes, the Avalanche came into Winnipeg riding a four-game losing streak, but the way the Jets played looked like the same style the used down the stretch last season when they went 11-1-0 entering the playoffs.
At the very least it shows this team knows what it takes to achieve the identity it’s been chasing. The challenge now becomes finding ways to do it consistently.
Jets’ top line hangs with the best of them
As they do at most stops on the NHL circuit the Colorado Avalanche trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen created quite a buzz coming into Winnipeg. When Blake Wheeler was asked before that game how to stop Colorado’s top forward unit he responded: “I think those guys are one and two in the league in scoring. Has anyone contained them?”
Prior to that game only one team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, shut them down in a 1-0 win. The Jets managed to be the second team to do it, frustrating the trio at every turn and limiting them to six shots on goal and a combined minus-2.
The key play came in the second period when Wheeler stripped MacKinnon of the puck and set up Nikolaj Ehlers with a wide open net for what turned out to be the game-winner. It was a microcosm of what this Jets team does really well — smothering and shutting down elite talent.
The Jets have faced all three Hart Trophy candidates from last season and none of them made the score sheet. The belief inside the dressing room is Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Ehlers (or Kyle Connor when he’s playing on the top line) can run with anyone in the league, both offensively and defensively. When they play like they have the past two games, they definitely belong in the debate as the NHL’s top line.
Jets coaches love Josh Morrissey
When it comes to shutting down elite opposition the Jets have the best of both worlds: Scheifele’s line to counter skilled, speedy opponents, and Adam Lowry to handle heavier competition. But in most cases the constant is the defensive pairing of Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba. Night in and night out they are tasked with shutting down the opposition’s best.
The Jets’ coaching staff often leaves the bench after a game impressed by Morrissey’s play only to be wowed as they break the game down further in the film room afterwards. Success is in the details and few play the game as detailed as Josh Morrissey.
Credit to the fourth line
Watching Jack Roslovic rip a perfect shot to open the scoring against the Devils I couldn’t help but marvel that this is the Jets’ fourth line. What an embarrassment of riches. That line remained a threat through the entire game, including Nic Petan, who has played just three games this season.
It’s a credit to Roslovic and his linemates that they’ve stayed sharp and ready to contribute despite low ice time — Roslovic has played more than 10 minutes just three times this season — but that’s the task of an NHL fourth liner.
In the past, Paul Maurice has said it’s the players’ job to find something they do well at the NHL level that is useful for the team and that will help them stick in the league. Joel Armia’s prowess on the penalty kill was a perfect example of this in past seasons.
The Jets’ fourth line has impressed over these past two games, which makes it unlikely they will be broken up when Brendan Lemieux returns from his suspension. It’s not a glamorous assignment for obviously skilled players such as Roslovic and Petan, but it bides them time to gain confidence that is needed to climb the depth chart towards more difficult assignments on possibly the NHL’s most stacked roster.