|© Geoff Brookes
Last week I wrote that the Jets had a “must win” game 7 – in October. And yes, they won that game versus the Minnesota Wild last Friday, in their 7th game of this young season.
Due to a peculiar gap in their schedule, the Jets next game is tonight versus the Pittsburgh Penguins – 5 nights after their game 7 victory. The Jets also play the Penguins at home on Sunday, and between that they sandwich in a game on the road versus Columbus, tomorrow night.
Pittsburgh and Columbus are two of the better teams in the NHL. Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup the last 2 years, and their roster hasn’t really changed much. Columbus won 16 games in a row last year, and demolished the Jets in a recent game. The Jets have 4 wins and 3 losses this year. If they lose all three of these games, would it kill this season?
My answer is an emphatic “no”. The Jets will play most of their Western conference and divisional games in November and February this year. Those are the so-called “4 point games”, that are more likely to determine the order of finish in the playoff race.
But the Jets must continue to improve on their recent performances.
While the Wild are a good team, they were missing several of their top players due to injury. And the Jets’ recent victories have come despite some significant ongoing issues:
1. Their third and fourth lines still haven’t scored an even strength goal, after 7 games played!
2. They have not played well in front of 1 of their 2 goalies – Steve Mason.
3. Steve Mason has yet to play 60 minutes of solid goaltending. In my opinion, there are patterns to his play that are creating issues for the Jets, especially when they are killing penalties. Mason has been playing along the edge of the crease, and opposition forwards are getting in the way of his movements from one side of the crease to the other.
4. The Jets penalty killing has been overly passive, providing a free pass to the opposing power play to move the puck quickly.
The most difficult of these to fix is the lack of production from the third and fourth lines.
Realistically, at least one of these “bottom 6” lines must produce some goals. Otherwise, opponents will hound the Jet’s top 2 lines with their best 2-way players and checkers. The Jets’ second line – Ehlers, Little and Laine – are most susceptible to an opponent’s checking line, because they don’t control the puck or drive the play as much as Wheeler and Scheifele generally can.
Think of this like it’s a science experiment. The hallmark of science is that you can test something with repeatable results, to prove that the inputs will create the same (desired) outputs.
Let’s look at who the Jets have on their line rushes as of this morning:
1. Connor, Scheifele, Wheeler
2. Ehlers, Little, Laine
3. Tanev, Copp, Matthias
4. Lemieux, Hendricks, Armia
The third line, above, produced a total of 17 even-strength goals, with regular playing time last year (the 3 players combined for 160 games played).
With respect to the fourth line (above), there is probably more scoring potential than the third line – at least in theory – due to the potential of Lemieux and Armia. But Armia had only 6 even-strength goals last year, and Lemieux is playing in only his second NHL game tonight. Hendricks had just 4 goals last year.
In terms of repeatable results, this science experiment looks like a repeat of the Jets’ ongoing experiences – a lack of scoring when their top 2 lines are not on the ice.
So what can the Jets do to change this? Answer – something different than what they’re doing right now!
1. Players that have not demonstrated a scoring (or passing) “touch” should not be on the third line. They should be on the fourth line. Brandon Tanev and Shawn Matthias should not be on the “production” third line. Tanev, Matthias and Hendricks should be on a designated fourth line that is intended to be a checking line. Any concept of having interchangeable lines “3A and 3B should be abandoned, since it fatally dilutes whatever bottom-6 scoring talent that there is.
2. One or two of the “top 6” players must be moved to the third line. I hate to say this, but if you want something more than 2 scoring lines (as is the trend in the NHL), then you need to do this.
3. Promote players with the potential to score. Kyle Connor is a great example of this, thriving on the first line with Scheifele and Wheeler.
In my opinion, the following are good candidates for playing either on the third line, or being promoted to one of the top 2 lines (similar to Connor), in order of preference:
· Roslovic (I believe he is ready for a promotion to the NHL)
· Lemieux (he’s worth a try – the potential is there)
· Armia (the potential is still there, but he should play only if he consistently hustles)
· Lowry (I’d prefer to see Lowry on the fourth line, with Hendricks in the press box. But I’m curious how Hendricks will look now that he’s getting some ice time. But I’d really like to see Roslovic at Centre on the third line).
Based on this, I propose the following lines (while Perreault is injured):
1. Connor Scheifele Laine
2. Ehlers Roslovic Wheeler
3. Lemieux Little Armia
4. Tanev Lowry Matthias
When it comes to the first three lines, the question should be, can these players produce even strength goals? If not, they should be on the 4th line, in the press box, or on the Moose getting playing time.
With respect to Nic Petan, I agree with the coach’s assessment that he needs to regain his confidence. He looks frustrated at the NHL level. It could be bad puck-luck, but he doesn’t look like he’s “quick” enough to succeed in the NHL. If we works on his game at the AHL level, maybe he can make it work sometime down the road.
As for having to put some players through waivers – so be it. If they haven’t produced yet, what makes us think that they will anytime soon? This could be the fate of Marko Dano, or dare we say it, Brandon Tanev. Matthias or Hendricks are other candidates, if required.
The Jets can’t afford to wait another year or two to find out if Roslovic and Connor can produce at the NHL level. They’ve both had a year in the A. The Jets need to get these guys producing for them, so that they don’t have to play guys like Tanev, Matthias and Hendricks in their “top 9”.
The Penguins have shown that the way to be a contender in the modern NHL is to have three lines that can score. The Jets either have this, or they don’t. There’s no reason to keep repeating the same science experiment, with the same inputs, time after time. Let’s let the kids play at the NHL level, with line mates that can score.
For the first time in Jets 2.0 history, Jets management publicly said that they are here to make the playoffs this year. It’s time to cash in some of their draft and development investments, to make that happen. Try something new, or get left behind.
Go Jets Go!!!
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