Concerning trends emerging for Jets ahead of home opener

Minnesota Wild's Kirill Kaprizov (97) sends Winnipeg Jets' Nate Schmidt (88) to the ice during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, in St. Paul, Minn. (Jim Mone/AP)

WINNIPEG - The self-inflicted wounds are starting to pile up.

As a result, the Winnipeg Jets remain in an unenviable position with a record of 0-2-1 as they welcome the Anaheim Ducks for Thursday’s home opener.

The latest lost point came on Tuesday night, as the Jets built a two-goal cushion in the third period and appeared to be pulling away from the Minnesota Wild in what was a spirited Central Division affair - only to surrender three unanswered goals to fall 6-5 in overtime.

On a night where the Jets seemed to take an important step toward fixing a power play that opened the season 0-for-8 and had given up a shorthanded goal by going 2-for-6, the penalty kill had another tough go.

By giving up three goals in five chances - including the game-winner from Joel Eriksson Ek to complete his first career hat trick during a 4-on-3 power play in overtime, moments after Logan Stanley nearly ended the game on a 2-on-1 rush with Adam Lowry - the Jets are now operating at an abysmal 53 per cent (8-for-15) efficiency rate while shorthanded.

That’s nearly impossible to survive, even if there is ample time to get things sorted out.

For all the talk about the improvements to the personnel and the commitment to making life easier on goalie Connor Hellebuyck, the Jets have not been good enough defensively so far.

Not even close.

It’s far too early to suggest things will continue down this path, but after allowing 14 goals in three games, it’s clear the Jets need to get things cleaned up in that area.

This is not pointing a finger at Hellebuyck either.

Though he obviously hasn’t gotten off to the start he wanted, there is no evidence to suggest he’s going to be anywhere near a 4.66 goals-against average or .856 save percentage for an extended period of time.

Hellebuyck finding his top form would fall at the bottom of the Jets list of concerns right now, but when he’s playing well, his teammates usually follow.

Sure, there have been a few goals Hellebuyck would like to have back - but he believes he can stop every single shot that he faces - that’s part of what has made him so successful.

But it’s not like the Jets have been sunk by a number of soft goals. That simply hasn’t been the case.

Hellebuyck hasn’t looked completely comfortable, but it’s hard to feel comfortable given the amount of traffic that’s been around his crease.

There have been some highlight-reel stops, like the one he made with his left pad on Jonas Brodin near the end of the second period and that’s a sign he’s getting locked in.

“Yeah, he had some great saves,” Connor told reporters in Minnesota after the game. “Bad bounces, a couple I’m sure he wants back. He’s hard on himself, I know. He’s a competitor, he wants to strive to be the best, just like a lot of guys in that room. So, I thought he was great. He stopped the ones he needed to stop.”

Although the Jets were going to need some time to adapt to their stylistic changes, another thing they need to improve immediately relates to the number of failed clearing attempts that are ending up in the back of the net.

However, had Connor not entered the offensive zone a fraction of a second too early on Mark Scheifele’s empty-net goal that was overturned on a coach’s challenge for offside, the conversation today would be markedly different.

Instead, it would focus on how the Jets battled hard and scored three times in the third period to break a deadlock with a Wild team that started the season 2-0.

How the Jets found a way to rally on a day they learned captain Blake Wheeler would be in quarantine for at least 10 days after he was “symptomatic positive” for COVID-19.

And how those first two losses to California teams that are supposed to be rebuilding were merely a minor blip on the radar.

Instead, the group is left to pick up the pieces and turn the page.

To not lament the point that was left on the table when the insurance marker was disallowed and things unravelled quickly from there.

That sound you hear in the distance is not an alarm bell, this is not yet a blaze that can’t be extinguished.

But there are some themes emerging that need to be attacked head on.

Teams with championship aspirations don’t allow nearly five goals a game.

Given the talent level on the Jets roster, goal-scoring should not be an issue and with nine goals in three games, it hasn’t really been.

However, the Jets must find a way to have more nights when the top-two lines are rolling at the same time.

Although Pierre-Luc Dubois scored for the second time in as many games, his snipe came on the power play, as all three of the even-strength goals were produced by the newly constructed top line of Connor (two goals, one assist), Andrew Copp (one goal, two assists) and Scheifele (two assists).

In what can only be described as an unexpected turn of events, Nikolaj Ehlers has been held without a point through three games, but it wasn’t for a lack of scoring chances as he’s generated 11 shots on goal and 23 shot attempts.

When Ehlers gets going, he often scores in bunches.

This isn’t to suggest the top-six needs an overhaul, the pieces are in place and now it’s up to them to perform.

The open audition on the third line with Adam Lowry remains very much wide open and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Evgeny Svechnikov gets bumped into that role as early as Thursday.

Since Cole Perfetti was assigned to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League to get him more minutes for his development, don’t be surprised to see Dominic Toninato or David Gustafsson recalled to try and give the penalty kill and fourth line a spark.

As for the defence corps, Jets head coach Paul Maurice is unlikely to make a habit of rolling with 11 forwards and seven defencemen like he did on Tuesday, as it’s tough to get into a rhythm for either position group on most nights.

It hasn’t been his preference and there’s nothing to suggest he’s going to change his tune now.

It’s too early to shake up the pairings, so a bit more patience is going to be required before making any drastic changes on that front.

There’s no doubt these early struggles present a difficult challenge for the Jets and how they respond to this turbulence could tell us a lot about how this new season might unfold.

Dealing with those emotional swings is part of the process.

“That’s the way hockey goes,” said Scheifele. “It’s going to test you, it’s going to push you but it’s about the guys that fight back. We’ll regroup and be better next game.”

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