Tonight, on October 10, the Winnipeg Jets will play its home opener. The team is coming off a four-game road trip to start the season, losing to both New York teams and beating the New Jersey Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although the team started 2-2, it has a chance to improve its record at home – seven of the next eight games will be played in Winnipeg.
That possibility hasn’t been lost on the Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice, who noted: “You play .500 on the road and win your home games and you’re a good team.”
Good News About the Road Trip
So much of the season’s talk about the Jets has been about Dustin Byfuglien’s hiatus from the team for personal reasons, as he ponders the possibility of retirement. That leaves the Jets without the kind of strong defense the team has boasted over the past few seasons. Defense was a question mark because, in addition to Byfuglien’s status, several players left the team: these included Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Ben Chiarot.
The team has tried to plug the holes these players created with young defensemen Ville Heinola and Carl Dahlstrom, but with moderate success. Until the 4-1 victory over the Penguins on October 8th, the Jets had struggled. In the Penguins’ game, 18-year-old rookie Heinola scored his first NHL goal – one of three goals scored by Jets’ defensemen. That might just be a good sign for moving forward.
The win in Pittsburgh snapped an 18-game team-losing streak that went back almost 13 seasons. In fact, these Winnipeg Jets had never won in Pittsburgh. It was their previous-edition (the Atlanta Thrashers) who had beaten the Penguins.
After the Penguins’ game, Maurice noted, “Those guys are working really hard back there,” Maurice said of his inexperienced backline. “They’re learning every shift. I thought they were great.”
Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck allowed a Sidney Crosby goal right at the start of the first period, then was perfect. It was his first win of the 2019-20 season. He’ll start the team’s opener at home tonight.
Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit each had two starts during the team’s four-game road trip. Although Brossoit held on so his team could score a comeback victory in New Jersey, Hellebuyck impressed in Pittsburgh. He’s seen as the team’s top goalie going forward.
Mark Scheifele had three assists in the Jets’ 4-1 win over the Penguins. He played more minutes than any other Jets forward (18:49) and now has six points in four games this season. If he stays healthy there’s a chance he’ll become a point-a-game player. Sadly, he hasn’t the best of luck with injuries. Last season was only the second time in his career that Scheifele was able to play the entire full 82-game schedule.
CBS Sports reported that Bryan Little was still practicing in a yellow “no-contact” uniform at practice. Without the ability to take contact, Little won’t play – so he’ll miss tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild. There’s no word on whether he’ll play on Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago. I’m guessing he’ll stay home to ensure he’s ready.
Patrik Laine, like teammate Scheifele, had three assists in the Jets’ win. It was an odd game, given that the young defense (Ville Heinola, Tucker Poolman, and Neal Pionk) did most of the scoring. Nikolaj Ehlers scored the other – his first of the season.
Laine now has points in every game this season and has six points to begin the year. It’s interesting that Laine has done most of his scoring in 5-on-5. Usually, he’s a terror on the power play, but this season only has a single power-play assist through the team’s first four contests. He scored the Jets’ only goal in the 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders.
The 24-year-old Carl Dahlstrom has now played two games with the team after being picked up off waivers from the Blackhawks at the beginning of October as little more than insurance for the Jets’ defense. However, in the Penguins’ game, the young Swede played almost 25 minutes. That’s tons of minutes for “insurance.” There must have been something Maurice must have liked.
What’s Next for the Winnipeg Jets?
As noted, the Jets play their home opener against the Minnesota Wild tonight. I predict a high-scoring game and am thinking the shutdown defense of the Penguins game is an aberration. Still, I am predicting the home team – Jets’ 6 – Wild 4.
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