With a strong third period that erased a somewhat sluggish first two periods, the Winnipeg Jets were able to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season on Tuesday with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Boston Bruins.
Had the Jets not mounted the comeback the storyline would have gone like this: Winnipeg slipped into vacation mode early, losing against the Dallas Stars before the all-star break, and returned a little sleepy. It would have been a convenient narrative, but it ignores the reality that Winnipeg has been doing this all season.
Although the Jets are in the upper echelon of teams when it comes to shots on net, they sit near the bottom of the league (26th) in shots allowed per game. The five teams below them — Ottawa, Chicago, Detroit, Anaheim and the NY Rangers — all sit below the playoff line.
Most of those teams sit near the bottom of the league in goals against per game as well. That’s where the Jets differ.
Winnipeg is actually one of the stingiest teams in the league, with the sixth-best goals-against per game rate (2.78). It shows in their results. So far the Jets have allowed 40 shots or more eight times and have an 8-0-0 record in those games.
That tells you a few things about this team:
1. The Jets have great goalies. Connor Hellebuyck has rounded back into the form that saw him challenge for the Vezina Trophy last season and Laurent Brossoit has pushed him at every turn with a 10-1-1 record in the 12 games he’s started.
2. While the Jets do allow a lot of shots, their coaches are usually OK with the lack of quality in those opportunities. Registering a shot against the Jets is one thing, but getting inside for higher quality chances is another. That’s the benefit of a tough, throwback defence core that makes you earn every inch gained in front of Hellebuyck and Brossoit.
3. There’s no NHL team better at the rope-a-dope. Like a boxer biding his time, the Jets don’t panic in the defensive zone and instead wait for their chance to pounce. Nothing is more frustrating than spending long stretches of a game carrying the play only to have your opponent strike quickly when they do get the puck. Boston got a taste of that Tuesday night as Kyle Connor scored two quick goals that turned a 2-1 third period lead for Boston into a 3-2 deficit in a 34-second span.
That’s not to say the strategy hasn’t cost the Jets. Their recent game against the Dallas Stars was a lacking performance in the first two periods before a furious comeback fell short in the third. More often than not the Jets are able to erase sleepy performances with timely scoring in short, frenetic stretches of play. To go back to boxing references, you don’t need many openings when you have knock out power.
Patrik Laine’s struggles continued in Boston as he played a season-low 10:55 and spent the vast majority of the second period stapled to the Jets’ bench. Outside his near-historic 18-goal November, Laine has struggled coming off a 44-goal performance in 2017-18.
Were Laine playing for another team in the NHL, there’s no doubt the urgency to get him going would be a lot stronger. For the most part, head coach Paul Maurice’s attempts at kick starting Laine have been restricted to limiting ice time and moving him down the line up.
So how about moving him up the lineup? So far, Laine’s yet to spend any significant time alongside Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler outside of the power play. And that makes sense. You don’t mess with a good thing and the Jets’ top line (with Connor) has consistently performed as one of the best in the NHL.
Here’s the thing. The Jets have been able to thrive without Laine’s top-end production this season and they’re not going to mess with a winning formula to spark the young Finn’s goal scoring. If Laine’s going to find his way out of this slump, he’s going to have to do it himself.
2015 Draft Bumper Crop
The Boston Bruins got a very good look at what they passed over in the 2015 Draft on Tuesday as Connor not only scored those two third period goals, but the shootout winner as well. If you’ll recall, Boston had three first-round picks in a row in 2015 and used them to select Jakub Zboril (13th), Jake DeBrusk (14th) and Zachary Senyshyn (15th).
DeBrusk is already a major contributor in the Bruins line up, as is 2015 second-round pick Brandon Carlo whose next game will be his 200th in the NHL.
But it’s clear the Jets are ahead of the Bruins when it comes to early results. Winnipeg had four players they selected in 2015 in their lineup on Tuesday: Connor, Mason Appleton, Sami Niku and Jack Roslovic. The Jets may have hit pay dirt in 2016 when lottery luck put them in a position to draft Laine, but their homework in 2015 earned them the kind of young depth that not only helps on the ice, but allows for salary flexibility as their next wave of stars sign big contracts.