After posting an embarrassing 1-8-0 record in their last nine games, the Winnipeg Jets entered the final week of the regular season, limping towards the playoffs. With just three games to go, the Jets didn’t have much time to generate any momentum heading towards the postseason and were even in danger of slipping to the fourth seed in the North Division.
However, the Jets team that showed up on Monday and Tuesday looked vastly different from the Jets team that we’ve seen over the past week and a half. Turning in what was arguably their most complete performance of the season on Tuesday was the icing on the cake as Winnipeg secured the third seed in the North Division, setting a date with the Edmonton Oilers in the first round.
Yes, critics of the Jets will likely point out that this team is now just 2-9-0 in their last 11 games, but I’d prefer to look at it as a promising sign of things to come. While the Jets did split the mini-series against the Canucks, the positive takeaways from the team’s performance were abundant, something that had been severely lacking during the seven-game losing streak.
In Paul Stastny’s 1000th game, with his wife and two children on hand, the Jets seemed to turn a symbolic corner, as if they finally put the past couple of weeks behind them. To analyze the Jets’ impressive performances a little further, here are three things that stood out to me as they continue preparing for the postseason.
Jets Offense Shows Resiliency, A Promising Sign as the Playoffs Near
When people talk about the North Division, what usually comes to mind? High-scoring games? Yes. Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid running away with the Rocket Richard and Hart trophies, respectively? Yes. So out of all the goals scored, there’s a reason goaltending isn’t really a topic of discussion whenever the North Division is brought up.
However, there have been moments where goaltending has proven to be the difference-maker, and this two-game series was the epitome of that narrative. Thatcher Demko was brilliant in game one, answering the bell repeatedly in a masterful 39 save performance. Robbing Kyle Connor not once but twice in the same sequence were two of the many impressive saves on the night, en route to a 3-1 Canucks victory.
Despite the loss, things weren’t all bleak from a Jets perspective. Winnipeg still managed to direct 40 shots on net, one of their highest totals of the season, all while being turned aside in a masterful performance. The lesson here? Goaltenders will find hot streaks embodied in Demko’s performance on Monday night, and the onus falls on the players to bounce back in the next game.
The Jets certainly rebounded the following night, as results came quickly in Tuesday’s affair. Braden Holtby didn’t see nearly as much success between the pipes as Winnipeg’s top offensive weapons took over in a dominant 5-0 shutout. It’s important to note here that even though the Jets played a similar style in both games, the results were wildly different, an outcome that’s more than likely to occur in the postseason.
For Jets fans, this is more than a promising sign. Winnipeg has tended to lose track of their game plan when adversity arises, something that has come back to haunt them on more than one occasion. But now, following back-to-back games where the offense has looked determined more than anything else, this is hopefully the start of an entirely new offensive mindset, one that rises to the occasion instead of crumbling beneath it.
Kyle Connor Steps Up, Scheifele and Wheeler Follow Suit
After going goalless in seven straight games, Connor found the back of the net in both contests against the Canucks, effectively returning to centre stage amongst the Jets offense. Both goals were quite different from one another, with Connor burying a pass from Mathieu Perreault in game one and later finishing a breakaway off of a nifty feed from Wheeler in game two, which is nothing short of an encouraging sign when it comes to Connor’s offensive awareness.
This is a welcomed sign for the Jets, as Connor had struggled immensely across Winnipeg’s losing streak. Getting him back on the scoresheet doesn’t only impact his own state of mind but also restores confidence in the Jets offensive structure, as he’ll undoubtedly play a crucial role down the stretch.
Alongside the Jets’ top goal scorer, Wheeler was one of many standouts on Tuesday, collecting four points and exemplifying why he’s been one of the league’s best playmakers in recent memory. In a season where his point totals have been relatively average compared to past years, Wheeler has battled injury and inconsistency more than most. Nevertheless, the role that he plays, both on and off the ice, continues to be invaluable to the Jets organization and his latest performance proves just that.
Mark Scheifele also seemed to find a higher gear against the Canucks, finding the scoresheet three separate times and adding nine shots on goal across the two games. Averaging just over twenty minutes of ice time, he has continued to dominate this season, leading the Jets in three separate offensive categories (assists, points, power-play points).
As Jets fans remember all too well, Winnipeg folded in last year’s play-in tournament following injuries to both Scheifele and Patrik Laine. Connor struggled to find his footing and Wheeler couldn’t support an increased offensive responsibility. This year though, it feels different. Connor and Scheifele have looked better than ever, with Wheeler still carrying his weight. Thus, with Winnipeg’s top-six preparing for an increased workload, seeing their star players performing efficiently should bring a sigh of relief to Jets country.
Mathieu Perreault Effective In New “Sparkplug” Role
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the series was Perreault’s newly discovered role, playing game one alongside Andrew Copp and Pierre-Luc Dubois on Winnipeg’s second line. In analyzing his performance, I’ve found that the word “sparkplug” best describes it (think of a Zach Hyman or Connor Brown type, but without as many goals), as his effectiveness across the two games shouldn’t go unnoticed.
For one thing, I was surprised to see his name etched alongside Copp and Dubois, yet after a brief moment, I understood the rationale behind it. Perreault adds physicality and grit to a line with plenty of it and is a player that drives the net hard, something that can create space for more offensively-minded players.
Perreault certainly made his presence felt against Vancouver, setting up the lone tally in game one while also drawing the primary assist on Mason Appleton’s marker in game two. Not only that, but Perreault was seemingly more noticeable playing on the Jets second line, getting in on the forecheck and aggressively joining the rush. Being a net-front presence with lineup versatility could provide the Jets with some much-needed flexibility during the postseason.
While I’m not saying that Perreault will be an x-factor when the playoffs roll around, I’m also not ruling out the possibility that he’s reached his full potential with this particular Jets team. Remember, this is a player with multiple 40 point seasons under his belt, a player that can be injected onto a power-play unit and kill penalties, and a player that has accepted his role on a contending team. So while he may not be that flashy scorer that Jets fans are used to seeing, I would keep an eye on his usage in the playoffs, especially if injuries dominate headlines once again.
Jets Welcome Maple Leafs to Town to Close Out Regular Season
The Jets’ final game of the regular season is scheduled for Friday, as the “Kings of the North” (aka the Toronto Maple Leafs) pay one final visit to Bell MTS Place. While the matchup itself may not be as exciting as previous contests, the game should still serve as an important measuring stick to see if the Jets are truly out of their funk or if these two matchups against the Canucks were just a one-off.
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Expect no regulars to be out of the lineup, as most playoff-bound teams have said that they aren’t planning on resting any of their players ahead of the postseason. Stay tuned here at The Hockey Writers for upcoming playoff schedule updates and series previews.
What are your thoughts about Winnipeg’s performance against the Canucks? How do you feel as the Jets enter the postseason? Let me know in the comments below.
A sport media student at Ryerson University, Josh Kim is currently a photographer with Ryerson, the ECHL and OHL and has covered a variety of events ranging from the PWHPA to the NCAA. In addition to being a Winnipeg Jets writer, World Junior contributor, and NHL Draft columnist with THW, he is the host of the Get Your Head in the Game podcast, which connects mental health and sport and is available on all platforms. If you’re interested in seeing a full display of his work, please visit his website: joshkimphoto.com