5 food stalls from Jets’ season-long 5-game road trip
The Winnipeg Jets just completed their longest road trip of the season, a five-game swing that saw them face three straight Canadian teams before heading to the States to win a pair.
They finished the road trip 2-3-0, lost two, then won two, then lost one but are still in second place in the Central Division with a record of 31-17-1.
Here are five takeaways from the five games.
1) Jets have a liability structure
The Jets played poorly in their first two games of the trip, but neither the players nor the coaching staff acted like it was no big deal. Unlike under Paul Maurice in the past, there was an accountability structure that helped to ensure that the trip did not turn into a total disaster.
The Jets turned in one of their worst performances of the season against the Montreal Canadiens on January 17th, falling flat and playing very loose on defense. A 4-1 loss is what they deserve and head coach Rick Bowness, who never hesitates to call things as they are, left a big dose of truth.
Rick Bowness did not mince words to start the road after a poor performance against the Canadiens. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
“We didn’t skate. Our legs didn’t work. Our competition was not good. Our execution was far away. There are very few games where we leave the rink and say we don’t deserve to win, but this is certainly the case tonight,” he said. “We didn’t deserve to win this game. We were behind them all night and made it very easy for them to play their game… They looked bad.”
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without this proud group,” continued Bowness. “They knew they had tonight off. Now we’re going to be challenged … in Toronto and we better go to the bell.”
Before Bowness’s aforementioned game against the Maple Leafs, he lied, saying, “I’m not happy with the last five games, I’m not happy with how those lines looked. So we will change it. It’s that simple.” (From “Bowness Brings Out the Mixer” Winnipeg FreePress, January 18, 2023.)
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He brought Blake Wheeler to the top row alongside Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor, promoted Morgan Barron to the second row with Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers, and pushed Cole Perfetti to the third row with Adam Lowry and Saku Maenalanen.
It didn’t pay off as the Jets lost by an identical score in Toronto. They sort of “answered the bell” in the first and third half, but fizzled out in the second and allowed three goals, including one just eight seconds into the frame and another on the power play.
Before the game against the Ottawa Senators, Bowness re-traded Scheifele and Wheeler and Barron and Perfetti, and those combinations helped the Jets get back on track and follow the blueprint for success which served them so well this season when they beat the Senators by 5. 1.
The following night, the lines were the same and they beat the Philadelphia Flyers with a score of 5-3 to equalize the losses. To end the trip against the Nashville Predators, the Jets gave up a great effort for the third game in a row but were clearly exhausted – playing their fifth game in eight days and eight games away from home in their last nine – and fell 2-1.
2) Jets need big guns and depth fighters alike
Before the game against the Senators, the Jets had scored just four goals in their last three games, so Bowness challenged his key point producers to step up their game.
The six above combined for another six points against the Flyers, but the contest also showed the importance of deep scoring – which has been badly dried up lately – in a balanced attack. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, who had an assist against the Senators he opened the door with a clever diversion.
Karson Kuhlman – who scored one goal in his first 18 games with the team – scored the winner[ofthelog[inthemiddle[tal-log[bafin-nofs from the third period to his first actually to a goalkeeper. Kuhlman and Jonsson-Fjallby were picked up from waivers for nothing and have 15 points together. Kevin Stenlund, who was called up by the Manitoba Moose in December, added an empty netter, his third of the season, to ice it.
The Jets didn’t get any big offensive performances from anyone against the Predators. Dubois scored less than a minute into the contest but that was all the Jets could score as Juuse Saros made an excellent impression through a brick wall.
3) Defense continues to bring offense
Bowness wanted more attack than defense this season, and he consistently got it.
The road was no exception as the defenders combined for another 10 points, 25 goals – one more than last season’s total – and are on course to reach Bowness’ goal of 40 goals from the back. . The eight defenders who played this season accumulated 123 points in 49 games.
Of course, Josh Morrissey is still a force of nature with eight goals and 51 points, but Neal Pionk also recently surpassed the 20-point mark, and Dylan DeMelo and Brenden Dillon – two guys not usually known for their offense – have 16 and 20 points respectively 15
The Jets have 123 points from behind, including 51 from Josh Morrissey. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)
“They can all move the puck well enough and they’re all a big part of our offense,” Bowness said after the game against the Flyers. “We emphasized that from the first day of training and we will emphasize this in every game.”
4) Rittich is reliable
The low signing of David Rittich as Connor Hellebuyck’s backup is looking better and better as the season progresses.
The game against the Flyers was the second half of a back-to-back and the 30-year-old was called up for his 12th start of the season. He made 28 saves from 31 shots, with the only questionable goal being Kevin Hayes’ power-play maker from a strong angle, and secured his third consecutive victory.
On the season, Rittich is 8-4-0 and owns a 2.62 goals against average and 0.908 SV%. Those numbers are more than enough for the price and shouldn’t put Bowness at least 20 starts – if not a few more – through the end of the season to keep Hellebuyck fresh.
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A talking point in the campaign was whether going with the cheap Rittich – who has struggled in recent seasons – versus keeping Eric Comrie (and giving him a raise) was a smart move. Comrie was -22 for the Jets in 2021 and got off to a hot start this season with the Buffalo Sabres, but now his numbers – a 4-8-0 record, 3.67 GAA and .883 SV% – validate the Cheveldayoff selection.
5) Ehlers could have had a historic season
Oh, what could have been for Nikolaj Ehlers. Had the speedy, dynamic Dane not missed 36 games with a sports fracture that required surgery, he likely would have broken the Jets 2.0 overall for a season.
After his return in early January, Ehlers quickly created dangerous chances and scored points. In his first 11 games back in the lineup, he scored four goals and added 10 assists for 14 points and has 17 points in 13 games overall this season. His current clip of points per game is 1.3, which translates to 106 in an 82 game season. The Jets’ record for points in a season is 93, set by Kyle Connor last season.
Nikolaj Ehlers, if he had been healthy all season, would have been on the side with more than 100 points. (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ehlers showed his high standards when he said before the game against the Maple Leafs last week that he doesn’t think he’s at his best yet.
“I’m fine with what I’ve done so far, but I’m not 100 percent excited about it. There were many different situations where I definitely felt I was better than that,” he said Winnipeg FreePress. “I know what kind of player I am and what kind of player I will be. I’m happy that we were able to win the games, but I still have a lot more to give to this team than before.”
From ‘Ehlers’ the best is yet to come,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 19 Jan. 2023.
Since then he has recorded one goal and three assists.
While he won’t be breaking any individual records this season, Ehlers will be an integral part of his track and season success. she has it was historical in a sense. With his first power play marker against the Senators – the 168th goal of his career – he became the All-time leading Danish scorer in NHL historyDefeat Frans Nielsen.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a BA in Creative Communication with a major in Journalism from Red River College and a BA in Rhetoric and Communication from the University of Winnipeg.
Immersed in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets left town when he was two and version 2.0 hit the scene when he was 17.