You could call it the Jets’ nuclear option.
Like the Blackhawks do with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the Pittsburgh Penguins with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin or the Edmonton Oilers do with Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, the Jets turn to the combination of Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler when they absolutely need an explosive reaction. Having gone that route two weeks ago, Jets head coach Paul Maurice has achieved exactly that.
Since reuniting, Scheifele and Wheeler have combined for 19 points in less than seven games. But it’s not just the points. They were the best line on the ice in recent games that included the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, dominating play for long stretches against some of the league’s best.
Scheifele and Wheeler are the razor sharp tip of the Jets’ spear. The problem is what comes behind them. Winnipeg’s secondary scoring has all but disappeared since the two best players have headed to the top line. The numbers are glaring.
Schiefele and Wheeler were reunited in the second period of their Feb. 18 game against the Los Angeles Kings. That line scored its first goal 18:33 into that period. Since that goal the Jets have scored 14 at even strength, a whopping 10 of which have come from the top unit. Of the four that weren’t scored by that line, two were scored by Kyle Connor. He was on the Jets’ second line at the time, but has since been co-opted on to the top line. Talk about a consolidation of power.
It’s a stark turnaround for the Jets. You could argue secondary scoring was Winnipeg’s greatest strength over the first half of February as they halted a terrible stretch of hockey and rejoined the playoff race.
During that time the Jets had a balanced attack with their third line chipping in about half the goals and the second and first units splitting rest. The Jets went 5-2-1 over that stretch.
Since loading up on the top line, however, the Jets are playing .500 hockey with a 3-3-1 record.
Maybe it’s their opposition. The Jets’ early-February schedule was littered with teams below the playoff line. The quality of opponents has been much stronger of late.
Maybe it’s personnel. Patrik Laine’s injury absence hasn’t helped and trade deadline acquisition Cody Eakin may take time to click as the second line centre.
And maybe it’s too small a sample size. Results don’t always tell the full story and that’s Maurice’s belief. When asked about the Jets’ lack of secondary scoring of late he sounded far more optimistic than concerned.
“Your top end guys are always going to carry the bulk. Yeah, I know I’ve got them all loaded up on one line. But what’s happened is those other lines are starting to play in the other teams’ end. Our expected goals over our last 10 or 12 games has really gone up from where it was. We’re putting more pucks to the net, we’re getting more zone time. So whether, the chicken or the egg… the style of game is going right.”
Maurice has a point. Since loading up the top line the Jets typically outshoot, earn more scoring chances and win the possession battle against their opponent. It’s a winning formula. Now all they need are the wins to go with it.