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Photo Credit: © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

What To Watch For: New Look Jets Defense Takes On Penguins

Three games into the regular season and a two things are becoming very clear. The Jets need more from their defense and the Jets need more from their goaltending. Often these two areas go hand in hand, but the Jets are struggling with both aspects in the early going.

With so many story lines swirling about in the opening week of the season, here are some of the key items to watch as the Jets finish their opening road trip against the Penguins tonight.

1) Hellebuyck’s bounce back potential

It’s been a weird week for the Jets goalies as Laurent Brossoit got back to back starts in game two and three. Most people expected Connor Hellebuyck to play against the Islanders but Maurice threw a curveball at the last second. This was an interesting move and it might pay off in the long run. Hellebuyck might need a little extra motivation to get him going early in the season. Two years ago, Hellebuyck started as the backup before he pushed himself into the starting role a few weeks into the season.

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Then last year, with no real competition in the crease, he didn’t play all that well. One would think that Maurice is trying to light a fire under Hellebuyck to try and push him to be better.

It’s an intriguing idea that everyone hopes will pay off sooner rather than later. Healthy competition is always a good thing between netminders and hopefully splitting the first few games will allow both players to settle in and push each other.

2) No Morrissey + No Kulikov = Very Little Experience

Paul Maurice announced on Monday that while Dmitry Kulikov was going to be leaving the team for a “family matter” the Jets fully expected Josh Morrissey to draw back into the lineup after missing Sunday’s game with a slight injury suffered in the pre-game warm-up. They Jets explained that his absence on Monday was overly precautionary, but this morning we have found out that Morrissey will also miss tonight’s game in Pittsburgh as well.

With Kulikov and Morrissey out, the Jets defense is severely under-staffed and severely under-experienced as our friends from Daily Faceoff have pointed out…

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3) Niku’s season debut

With Kulikov out, Sami Niku was called up from the Manitoba Moose and will play in his first game this year.

Winnipeg Jets Roster Notes: Niku Recalled, Little Closer, Kulikov Leaves For “Family Matter”

The Jets are really hoping that Niku can be a stabilizing presence on the back-end with his exceptional skating ability. If Morrissey had been in the lineup then  would have been likely he would have been on the top pairing, but now in order to balance things out, Niku could be on the bottom pairing with Carl Dahlstrom. After battling a groin injury out of training camp, Niku’s game will be interesting to watch, especially because he relies so heavily on his skating.

4) Connor’s ready to break out

It’s been a great start for the high-end talent of the Jets. Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, and Patrik Laine all have at least three points through the first three games. The notable name not on that list is Kyle Connor who only has one goal through the first week of the season. That shouldn’t last long given the sheer amount of scoring chances Connor has had so far. His exceptional speed will continue to give him great looks nearly every game. Connor’s too fast and skilled to be held of the scoresheet for long. Look for Connor to breakout in this game and potentially score a couple goals.

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5) Laine’s wish came true

Midway through the Islanders game, Patrick Laine was granted his wish, he moved up to play with Scheifele and Wheeler on the top line. In a sheer bit of irony, he managed to score his first goal of the year just moments after switching lines with Ehlers.

This wasn’t done for Laine’s sake, rather the Jets needed anything to be changed as they struggled against the Islanders. It appears the Jets will stick with Laine on the top line for the foreseeable future, so the time is now for Laine to put his money where his mouth is and light the lamp as often as possible.

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6) Tanev’s now the enemy

Remember Brandon Tanev? The really fast guy that loved to block shots and hit people? The type of guy that everyone hates to play against?

The Jets will get their first ever taste of playing against Brandon Tanev after he signed a huge contract with Pittsburgh in the off-season. It’s been an interesting opening week for the Jets who got to see Jacob Trouba and Brendan Lemieux from the Rangers in addition to Tanev in Pittsburgh.