© Geoff Brookes & Chuck Duboff
At the 21 game mark the Winnipeg Jets have 13 wins, 5 losses, and 3 OT/shootout losses.
Only 1 team in the history of the Winnipeg Jets, 1.0 or 2.0, or the Atlanta Thrashers, has started with a record as good as the 2017-2018 record, for the first 21 games.
The only team to beat the current 21 game record was the 1986-1987 Jets, when they went 13-7-1. (This would be equivalent to 13-8 for the current Jets. Only 2 games in 86-87 went to OT, and 1 was a win). Even the great team of 1984-85 didn’t start as well as the current Jets.
Think about that. In 35 hockey seasons (including the Thrashers), only 1 Jets/Thrashers team had a better start to the season. Not only is the current Jets roster finding new airspace, but the prospects are getting rave reviews. (Check out Craig Button’s comments between the second and third periods on the LA game TV broadcast).
How far can this team go? What are the concerns that need to be addressed? Here’s a short list for you to ponder:
1.Is there any reason to be concerned that the Jets are getting outshot (and out-Corsi’d) in most games?
This is a point that could be debated for hours, and take up pages of analysis and arguments. My position is that this question needs to be addressed in the context of specific players (below).
2. Will the Jets top line stop getting hemmed in their own zone? The biggest contributors to the Jets shooting deficit are Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Kyle Conner. All that Wheels and Scheif are doing is getting up among the top 15 in NHL scoring, and Conner is doing just fine putting up points as well. They also have a positive contribution to the Jets favourable goal differential.
My personal opinion is that the Jets being outshot/Corsi’d is a temporary phenomenon, that will change as the season goes on. Wheeler and Scheif are usually drivers of the play being in the offensive zone. I’m not worried about this – yet. And they are creating high-quality shots and scoring chances. When they do create shots, they are in prime scoring areas, which ties into their high shooting percentages.
The rest of the Jets are doing just fine, in terms of shooting and Corsi, at even strength. I don’t see this as a problem for this team.
3. What are we to make of the Jets’ second line? Little, Laine and Ehlers couldn’t be more different than the old standard of Little, Ladd and Wheeler, even if they sound the same. As Brian Little recently said, he’s used to line mates that play a North-South game, up and down the ice in an organized pattern. Ehlers and Laine are like a pair of “top gun” freedom fighters, flying all over the ice – especially Ehlers – at great speed.
Unlike my answer for question #2 above, I think that this needs to be addressed. I don’t see chemistry on this #2 line. Despite the decent scoring and corsi for these 3 guys (as a unit), their useage together on a line is suboptimal, in my opinion. The Jets should shake up the lines in a way that optimizes their skill. Maybe – given the puck possession issues for the top line – there should be some adjustments to all of the lines. But if we leave the top line as it is, I think Perreault should move back to Centre, between Laine and Little (on the wing). I would put Copp and Armia together with Ehlers, to try to keep up with his speed. My fourth line would be Hendricks between Tanev and Lowry (or Lowry at centre, possibly).
4. What to make of Trouba? Until Trouba gets his game together, I would do what Maurice did in the LA game. Morrissey and Buff were superb against LA. I wouldn’t hesitate to make that adjustment. I don’t want to speculate about Trouba, but that’s my suggestion for the solution.
5. Goaltending: What’s not to like, here? I would give Mason more starts to keep Bucky rested (maybe 1/3-2/3). If one falters, ride the hot hand with the other guy.
6. Predictions and projected finish. I said 105 points for this team back in August, and I have no reason to change that prediction!
7. Wish list: I’d love to see Roslovic and Lemieux, but, like PoMo, I don’t want to mess with the team chemistry – other than dealing with the adjustments to the lines, as above.
Geoff and I are regularly analyzing the Jets players, team and the progress they are making. Reading Geoff’s analysis, I would say that there are only two things that we differ on: 1) Analytics. I have embraced analytics for baseball…it’s logical and allows for a deeper understanding of what is happening; however, hockey analytics don’t do it for me…when it comes to hockey I still believe in the eye test. Geoff and I were talking yesterday and he mentioned how the Scheifele line analytically struggles getting the puck out of their own end…I totally agreed and said that that is what my eyes have been telling me also. So, though we may look at things through a different set of lenses, the analytics and my eyes are telling the same story. 2) Nic Ehlers…Geoff and I disagree on our assessment of #27. I don’t think he is playing up to his abilities…yes, his rushes are spectacular, but his basic 5 on 5 game is lacking. In today’s Free Press, former Jet Scott Campbell agrees with my assessment. Coach Maurice has had to bench Ehlers a few times this season in order to send a message…”you’ve got all the talent in the world Nic, now get out there and show the team what you are capable of”.
Other than those two points, analytics and Ehlers…Geoff and I agree on everything else. Leave the third and fourth lines alone…they are playing great hockey and providing secondary scoring. The top two lines need some juggling in order to maximize our talent. I would have a first line of Scheifele, Laine and Ehlers and a second line of Little, Wheeler and Conner. Like Geoff said, Roslovic is knocking on the door and I would say, Brian Little really has to pick up his game. Additionally, Geoff and I agree that it’s time to put Marco Dano on waivers…there’s a reason why he’s bounce around 3 teams now and still can’t get regular ice time.
21 games into the season and Jets are sitting at 29 points, 3rd in the NHL!! That projects out to: 116 points!!! Read that again: 116 points!!! Enjoy it Jets fans…we’re in for an exciting ride!!