Let’s cut to the chase right off the bat. The Winnipeg Jets are in a hole. Being down 2-0 isn’t insurmountable, but the Jets would have much preferred coming back to Manitoba with a split against the Anaheim Ducks. It didn’t happen so the Jets come back from Orange County empty-handed.
But it isn’t doom-and-gloom yet. The Jets will return home and be welcomed by a rabid fan base who will shake the core of the MTS Centre. The sea of white will be quite a sight and Portage and Hargrave will be an insane asylum for Games 3 and 4. The Jets should feed off a crazed and incredibly noisy crowd.
But that won’t be enough. All that emotion the fans will bring will only last for a short amount of time on the ice. Head coach Paul Maurice knows that. So do the players. Adjustments are needed. Here are a few suggestions.
To put it nicely, the Jets top six forwards haven’t done very much in this series. They’ve been outplayed and outchanced in the first two games in Anaheim. In fact, the Jets are last in puck possession so far in the playoffs. That has to change.
Weakest possession teams after first two playoff games:
SSS and all but sounds about right.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) April 19, 2015
One possible move is to reunite Blake Wheeler with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little. Wheeler was the leading goal-getter for the Jets in the regular season, potting 26 goals but he hasn’t hit score sheet in this series. Wheeler has been on a line with Mark Scheifele and Drew Stafford so far and the numbers suggest things haven’t gone well for this trio. In fact, it’s abysmal.
The combination of Little-Ladd-Wheeler have terrific chemistry and know where each other are on the ice. It has been suspected that both Little and Ladd are playing hurt which is why they have been pointless in the series. Ladd nor the team are going public with it but the captain isn’t participating in morning skates which usually means something’s wrong. Little missed 11 games in March due to an upper-body injury and hasn’t looked right since he returned on March, 31.
Moving Wheeler to the top line would mean Michael Frolik drops down to the second line with Scheifele and Stafford. While numbers suggest Lee Stempniak could replace Stafford on the second line, I like Stempniak with Adam Lowry and Mathieu Perrault and would keep that trio together.
The pairings don’t need to change but the tactics do. Anaheim found success with the stretch pass that seemed to catch the Jets defenders flat-footed. The Jets do like to be aggressive in the neutral zone with their pinches but it might be a good idea to lay back a bit. If the pairings don’t change, and they probably won’t, each pairing will need to realize who is pinching and who needs to stay back.
The forwards have to help out as well. When a defenceman either joins the rush or pinches deep, a forward will need to cover the points or stay back in the neutral zone when a defender goes forward.
The Jets could go with a 1-2-2 neutral zone trap if required, but that really doesn’t suit this team. The left wing lock is a possibility but that still could open up space in the middle of the ice. There are no easy answers here which means Maurice and his assistants will be hard at work scouring the video to solve this dilemma.
Special teams haven’t been special for the Jets in this series. The Jets have yet to score on the power play while only having a 57.1% success rate on the penalty kill. Granted the penalty kill did show improvement in Game 2, it would be advisable if the Jets avoided the undisciplined penalties that haunt this team. (eyes Andrew Ladd suspiciously)
The power play has been inconsistent all season so they’re struggles aren’t that surprising. But with Anaheim matching the Jets hit-for-hit, the Ducks might be a bit more fearless in their approach as they don’t fear the Jets man advantage.
Not much as to change tactically. The Jets just need to direct more pucks to the net and create traffic in front of Frederik Andersen. Dustin Byfuglien has such a cannon from the point, it takes a very brave human to go down for the block. When it goes through, the goalie has trouble containing the rebound. There will be loose pucks to be won. The Jets can’t look for the perfect play. They must get greasy and dirty to break down the Ducks.