I wouldn’t think it an exaggeration to describe the Winnipeg Jets offseason priorities as goaltending, discipline and defensive depth, and in that order, too.
To the credit of Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, he was uncharacteristically aggressive in addressing those ills. The Jets signed Steve Mason as a plug-and-play starter to leap forward from the Ondrej Pavelec era and added defenceman Dimitri Kulikov to give the Jets three competent NHL pairs. You can’t throw money at a discipline problem, but the Jets did get proactive, inviting former NHL referee Paul Devorski to training camp.
And if you had the misfortune of watching the Jets host the Toronto Maple Leafs to kick-off the 2017-18 NHL season last night, you couldn’t even tell.
It was another chapter in the same story Paul Maurice has been writing ever since joining the Jets halfway through the 2014-15 season.
"This was just embarrassing. I'm ashamed" -Patrik Laine
— Sami Hoffrén (@shoffren) October 5, 2017
The Jets could have won this game in the first ten minutes. They made a home of the Maple Leafs zone and appeared to be in the driver’s seat. Winnipeg had 27 shot attempts by the time the Leafs converted on their sixteenth to opening the score with just under five minutes left in the opening frame.
Of course, the Leafs don’t get there if Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba doesn’t hook Tyler Bozak for a two-minute minor. The Jets have been a bottom-five team by minor infractions in each year of Maurice’s tenure, and the Trouba minor that set the stage for the Leafs goal and the tone for the Jets night isn’t a good indication that due process is paying early dividends. The Jets made another three trips to the box.
The Jets have been a bottom-five team by minor infractions in each year of Maurice’s tenure, and the Trouba minor that set the stage for the Leafs goal and the tone for the Jets night isn’t a good indication that due process is paying early dividends. All told, the Jets had four penalties on the night.
And when poor discipline meets a porous penalty kill, well, I don’t need to tell you how this ends; you’ve been watching this movie for years. Last year, for example, the Jets boasted the fifth-worst penalty kill in the entire league.
Nylander was mildly open on this one. pic.twitter.com/jUvMpzaAcB
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) October 4, 2017
Watching the Jets in their defensive zone tonight, it’s not hard to see how they get to that point. On this goal, for example, Dustin Byfuglien chases his man from the low corner to the opposite point, leaving a William Nylander sized hole for the Leafs to convert into an easy, uncontested goal.
If the Jets are playing strict man-to-man coverage, that’s a problem worth an article unto itself. Assuming they are, and Byfuglien is within his right to canvas the entire defensive zone in pursuit of the puck carrier, the centre has to support Byfuglien and pick up the floater. The centre, Mark Scheifele, is at the point. Everyone is out of position.
Patrick Marleau scores his second goal in his Leafs debut, putting Toronto up 5-0 over Winnipeg pic.twitter.com/JUjpPCBWp5
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) October 5, 2017
This time, it’s Josh Morrissey who’s the culprit. The Leafs, a quick-strike team in transition if there ever was one, catch Morrissey puck-watching as his partner pursues a puck in the corner and the trailer, Patrick Marleau, gets the 5-0 goal for the Leafs.
I could go on and on. There’s a week’s worth of defensive miscues in this one game.
Sometimes the goaltender bails you out, and it doesn’t matter. Mason just wasn’t up to the task last night. I don’t think this an instance where one could reasonably apportion some or even most of the blame on tonight’s score on the goaltender, but it’s never a good look when one surrenders five goals in their season debut with a new franchise.
According to the Corsica.Hockey xG (expected goals) model, Mason let in five goals on just over two expected goals. He could have been better. And for the Jets to make the playoffs this season, he will need to be better in the future. They can’t do this without goaltending. They’ve been trying for years, and look what that’s earned them.
The good news is, it’s just one night. And as Patrick Laine alluded to after the game, there are another 81 on the schedule to turn this ship around. The Jets have the talent to, but we’ve been saying that for years. All that stands in their way is a past and the habits borne of it.
Last night proves they haven’t exorcised those demons. Not yet.