WINNIPEG -- This was a blip on the radar, not a genuine cause for concern
While wrapping up a two-game west coast swing with a 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks was not what the Jets had in mind after taking three of four points in a series with the Edmonton Oilers, the biggest issue was easy to identify (and will include further examination below).
When it comes to structure, the Jets took a big step forward over the past eight days and that’s a big reason they’re sitting at 9-4-4 as they welcome the Pittsburgh Penguins to town on Monday.
Although the Jets ran into some hot goaltending from Thatcher Demko and Stuart Skinner, the volume and quality of offensive chances were there - and they didn’t come at the expense of cheating the game defensively.
That represents the type of progress all teams are shooting for because that’s usually what leads to sustainable success.
The Jets are right in the thick of things in the Central Division, but they’ve got plenty of company and will see one of those teams (the Minnesota Wild) later this week.
With just two regulation losses in the past 15 games and both of those coming in the second game of back-to-backs, the Jets have found a way to keep putting points in the bank - even on some of the nights they haven’t been completely at their best.
There are also going to be times when they come away with nothing despite a solid effort and it’s easy to make the argument that Friday’s loss to the desperate Canucks would fall into that category.
The 22 points accrued so far by the Jets is an impressive number, but it’s merely the starting point in what will be a long and grinding season.
“We found our blueprint, how we need to play,” Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt told reporters in Vancouver after Friday’s game. “You understand what your team needs.”
Finding that blueprint is an important step, but the ability to execute that blueprint consistently is usually what separates the good teams from the great teams.
On to your questions for the November mailbag:
Pierre-Luc Dubois has been night and day compared to last season. He looked disinterested/lazy to me last season away from the puck. Do you feel it was more mental or physical? I need to see him survive and bounce back from an extended slump this year before I can call him 1B Centre. - Craig Zamzow
The inspired play of Dubois is one of the biggest storylines to come out of the first quarter and his ability to play a top-line role - first without Mark Scheifele and then after his return - has been an impressive development, though not an unexpected one for me.
I didn’t see disinterest or laziness from Dubois last season. This is a guy who cares about the craft and about performing, even when the results weren’t there.
He didn’t have the same power in his stride that we’ve seen this season when he’s made a habit of taking defencemen wide.
Last season was a tough one both mentally and physically and the combination of all of the factors conspired to what was by most accounts, a disappointing season.
Rather than let the tough start with his new organization impact his confidence, Dubois put in the work required to have a strong off-season and he’s back to playing at a high level, while adding more layers to his power forward game.
It’s going to be an emotional return to Ohio this week as Dubois faces the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first time since the blockbuster trade.
Although Dubois himself believes there is still plenty of growth to come, you can comfortably call him a No. 1 centre.
What is the likelihood of David Gustafsson being called up to work the PK? Something HAS to happen, whether it's a personnel switch, or a strategy change. I've found (and joked about) that our PK isn't aggressive on the puck carriers and seems pretty happy to let point shots occur, which are being redirected through traffic. You can have an elite goalie (and we do) but stopping pucks through a mess of people isn't going to bode well. - Randy Villaverde
The PK seems to be the Jets’ Achilles heel. Vancouver & Edmonton both recently took advantage of it. What’s the solution? Try other guys? Call up a good but green Gustafsson? Trade for a solid PKer (the cap makes it hard)? Keep working on the system? Duane Woods
Not surprisingly, a number of the questions this month focused on the leaky penalty kill, which is operating at 63.8 per cent and is 31st of 32 teams in the NHL.
As Jets centre Adam Lowry pointed out the other night after the game, being around 60 per cent simply isn’t going to get the job done.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice said that despite allowing 10 goals while shorthanded in the first five games, he’s been encouraged by the work of his penalty killers of late, Friday’s game notwithstanding.
He also left the door open to including other people on the PK and Gustafsson would be one of those players under consideration for a recall.
Gustafsson is off to a strong start with the Moose and is playing in all situations, including the PK, where the team has one of the best efficiency ratings in the American Hockey League.
Gustafsson is off to a strong start and he might also be able to provide a spark to the Jets fourth line, given his skill set.
Because of the salary cap challenges the Jets have, adding Gustafsson to the mix would require placing a more experienced player on waivers, but that might be a consideration as the Jets look for improvement in an area that has been a concern to this point.
You can certainly understand the value of Gustafsson playing a bigger role in the minors, but this appears to be an opportunity to bring him into the mix.
In terms of the system and structure of the penalty kill, it’s more about execution than requiring an overhaul.
When things are going well, it’s far easier to make the read a touch quicker and to be more assertive.
Getting into shooting lanes quicker and picking up a few more sticks in front will reduce the number of redirections.
The personnel and goaltending are there for the Jets to improve in this facet of the game. It will be interesting to see if adding Gustafsson to the mix at some point could be a factor in that happening.
Josh Morrissey was the punching bag of the analytics community last year. How long until those outside of Winnipeg start realizing that he is a heck of a defenceman? Do you think there is still more to his game than we've seen? I'm not sure where that shot of his was last year but I am impressed with it this year. - Cole Grove
Morrissey is off to a strong start to the campaign, both in terms of his offensive production and his defending.
The addition of Schmidt as his new defence partner has been a factor in the turnaround, but it’s a scenario where both players are benefiting, it’s not a one-sided relationship.
Morrissey has spoken about working on his shot during the offseason and that he went back to a previous model of the stick he’s been using. That’s led to Morrissey unleashing a few more one-timers than we’ve seen in previous seasons.
By adding some velocity to his shot, it’s been a weapon for him, especially on the power play, where he leads the Jets with three goals.
But this isn’t just about offensive contributions, Morrissey is defending well and he’s back to doing a great job of distributing the puck.
The Jets' ability to exit the zone effectively with crisper outlet passes has been a massive factor in the defensive-zone improvements for the team.
As for Morrissey’s ceiling, he’s the type of player who is constantly pushing to get better, so yes, there is still room for further growth even after he’s raised his level of play.
Will Andrew Copp be selected for the U.S. Olympic team? @AavcoCup
There’s been plenty of discussion about how Connor Hellebuyck is in the mix to be the starting goalie and that Kyle Connor is looking like a guy who should be one of the key drivers on Team USA along with Auston Matthews, but Copp’s hot start certainly should have him under consideration to join his Jets teammates in Beijing.
Copp’s versatility and defensive awareness would have him on the radar even without the offensive production, which includes five goals and 16 points in 17 games.
He’s the kind of player who could be counted on to do a number of important jobs. Have a line that needs a spark? Copp could move up and try to get them going. Need a penalty killed in an important game? Have a one-goal lead to protect or a faceoff to win at a critical juncture? Copp is ready to answer the call.
Copp has suited up for his country before at both the world junior hockey championship and the world championship, so that should also help his cause. I'm expecting Copp to be on the team, he's deserving of the opportunity.
Do you think the Jets will release Perfetti from the Moose to play at the world juniors this year? We saw what happened with Kirby Dach of course, do you think there’s a concern that Perfetti could get injured in a similar scenario? - Colton Davies
There’s always the risk of injury when it comes to playing, whether it’s during the regular season or in a high-profile international event like the world junior, but that won’t serve as a deterrent in this decision.
The Jets have seen the value of having top prospects participate in the world juniors and are expected to release Perfetti to play for Team Canada once again, recognizing the value of having a top prospect play against his peers on the international stage.
Having the opportunity to suit up for his country at both the world junior and the men’s world championship last season were excellent opportunities for Perfetti’s development.
Perfetti is already seeing the benefits of playing in the American Hockey League this season for a second consecutive campaign despite being only 19 years old, so being able to play an important role (likely as one of the leaders) at this year’s world juniors would also represent an incredible opportunity for both personal and professional growth.
Getting to appear in two games with the Jets was a thrill for Perfetti and being able to have another shot at pursuing a gold medal in Edmonton is something that’s important to the 10th overall selection in the 2020 NHL Draft.
The Jets have a few exciting young players down on the Moose. Do you see anyone forcing their way onto the team at some point? Could cap problems and long-term deals trigger trading a prospect or two while their value is high? - Cory K (@ckulchyc)
Aside from the aforementioned Gustafsson and Perfetti, there will be opportunities down the road for a number of those top prospects, including defencemen Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg (among others).
In terms of when guys can force their way into the discussion, that’s a bit tougher to pinpoint at this stage of the proceedings.
Samberg is just back from a high ankle sprain and is going to try to make up for lost time, but he showed well in his practices with the Jets as his health improved.
Heinola is off to a great start offensively, averaging nearly a point per game. He’s an excellent puck mover and is working to round out his defensive game.
Given the Jets salary structure - and the need for new deals for Dubois (a pending restricted free agent) and Copp (a pending unrestricted free agent) - the Jets are going to need to add several players on entry-level contracts to the mix by next season.
That should open the door for several prospects to make the full-time jump.
Things happen over the course of a season, whether it’s injuries or opportunity, so that’s not to say any of the players mentioned won’t get a chance to contribute this season at some point.
As for using prospect capital to add in a season where the Jets have high expectations, trades are always a consideration but the organization realizes how important those players are going to be moving forward. So it would have to be something that made sense both in the short and longer-term.