Thoughts About Finland: That Could Have Gone Better

In lieu of our usual “ups and downs” here is a quick look back at the two games the Winnipeg Jets played in Finland against the Florida Panthers and a few things that stuck out.

Hockey does not care who “deserves” to win

A sub-title for this point could also go “goaltending is still important”

In the first two periods of the first game, the Panthers out-shot the Jets by a 32-22 margin and were credited with nine high danger scoring chances playing 5 on 5 hockey while the Jets were only credited with four – all of which happened in that first period. Yet the game was 2-2 after forty minutes.

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The Jets benefited from a stellar power play led of course by Patrik Laine who scored all three of his goals with the extra man and that really was the difference. Connor Hellebuyck of course had his say as well especially in the first period were an early Panthers lead could have made for a much different game.

In game two, the script was practically flipped. The Jets had an edge both in shots and registered scoring chances, yet the Panthers came away with a victory thanks to special teams yet again and the play of Roberto Luongo.

Niku really should have been in Finland with the team

The same maybe can be said for Kristian Vesalainen as well, but honestly Sami Niku (who I’ve already argued would be best served being on an NHL roster right now anyway) should have really been on the trip and playing one or both games or at the very least the emergency defenseman that the Jets brought along instead of Tucker Poolman.

Word had spread on the social media circles after the two game series that Niku wasn’t exactly thrilled to be left behind.

Not to be alarmist, but between this and the fact Niku was sent to the press box for a game this past weekend due to Niku “breaking a team rule” there should be some concern on how this hockey club is handling the development of Niku and how he’s responding to it. Are the two of these events related in any way?

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It’s hard as a fan to watch a player like Dimitri Kulikov or Ben Chiarot on the ice and not wonder how Jets management or coaches don’t see Niku as a comparable selection let alone someone with more puck moving upside than either of those players, so one has to wonder what Niku truly feels when he himself sees them get NHL time and an opportunity to play in his native country.

Maybe Brossoit Should Have Played

Data collected over the last handful of seasons would suggest that starting the same goalie on back to back nights is an ill-advised move that typically backfires on teams under normal circumstances, which is why it was a bit curious that Paul Maurice went back to Connor Hellebuyck in game two, especially when you consider the drastic time change and switch up to everyone’s normal routine and then add the busy night Connor had the previous night against the Panthers in stopping 36 shots.

We’re not even considering the respectable job Laurent Brossoit has done in the backup role early on this season. One would have thought he earned at least a little bit of trust based on his first three starts.

Sure enough though, Hellebuyck struggled in game two against the Panthers with only 22 saves made and an .842 save percentage. Near the end of the game, he clearly looked fatigued and was having issues with his positioning which showed in the last two goals he gave up.

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Hellebuyck hasn’t quite been the Hellebuyck we got used to seeing pretty much all of last season and unfortunately his coach didn’t do him any extra favors in Finland to help get him back in a groove.

Even Strength Play Is Still An Issue

Thank goodness the power play has been rolling for the most part this season because the Jets in 5 on 5 situations have not been very good.

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The Jets are 18th in the NHL in goals for with 41 so far this season, and 10th in the league with fewest goals against with 38 for a decent goal differential of +3. Not awful, but at least it’s on the positive side of things. In even strength situations though, the Jets have only scored 26 goals for (placing them 22nd in the NHL) while giving up 27 which puts them one to the negative.

This past weekend was a great example of it all with the power play clicking as well as it did in game one and then the team struggling to score in game two even with the bulk of the shots and scoring chances. It would be one thing if we could dismiss it as just one or two off games where you could explain it away with a hot goalie or dumb hockey luck, but the issues scoring 5 on 5 even strength goals is starting to become a pretty common theme with this year’s Jets.

Brandon Lemieux Was A Knucklehead

His carless high sticking penalty was bad enough and led to a power play goal against and ultimately helped turned the tide against the Jets on Friday, but then came this hit that earned him a match penalty.

Was there a single Jets fan who didn’t agree this was a blatant cheap shot and worthy of a suspension?

I could go into an extra long rant about the edge that Lemieux plays on and how the Jets really don’t need that in the lineup. Not when they boast players who can handle their own business in a league that is evolving away from that type of hockey anyway.

It would be one thing if Lemieux had talent like a Brad Marchand or even an Antoine Roussel. Then at least with the extra stuff that comes from his antics, you can still justify having him in the lineup, but Brandon Lemieux hasn’t shown that ability to just play hockey at a level higher than the AHL and there are a handful of players in the Jets system that could be seen as fine if not better replacements for him.

It’s one thing to be an agitator in the NHL now, but there has to be some decent amount of skill in there because the days of being Sean Avery are all but pretty much gone and if your entire game is just “hit guys and annoy them” then you shouldn’t even really be on an NHL roster now.