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Photo Credit: © James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets Day After: Hellebuyck Sensational Again

The Winnipeg Jets downed the Vancouver Canucks last night 4-1. It was an all around effort from Winnipeg as the forwards generated a number of chances, the defense played well enough, and Hellebuyck smothered everything else. You can check out our recap of last night’s game here.

While last night’s recap will provide you with the facts of the game, today’s post is meant to go a little deeper into the action. Who has good? Who was bad? What important things can we learn from last night’s victory? Here are a few key takeaways from the victory last night.

1) Hellebuyck is more than boring

By now we all know the strategy of Connor Hellebuyck. Play big, cut down angles, and move efficiently around the crease to gobble up pucks. While we certainly saw that for most of the game, Hellebuyck reminded everyone that he can make the highlight-reel saves as he stoned Horvat on the goal line.

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It’s nice to see the scrambling ability from Hellebuyck because often that is the largest critique of his game. Some people think that he’s only a positional goalie and can’t make the desperation saves. Hellebuyck is tossing all of these things on their head this year as he continues to be the best Jet night in and night out.

2) Does Connor have the most skill on the team?

One of the reoccurring themes this season is Kyle Connor’s insane puck skills. He routinely makes extremely difficult puck pick-ups and his work to get the puck off the wall is sensational. He can do many things with the puck, but the most important one is beat goalies one on one. We saw it last week as he scored the game winner in overtime. He made a nice little deke and slid the puck five-hole against the Golden Knights.

In this one, he scored the insurance marker near the end of the third on a gorgeous breakaway move. He stole the puck from Tyler Myers in the defensive end and was off to the races. Myers had no chance to catch the blazing speed of Connor as he sped up the ice. Connor even got far enough ahead that he could slow down as he entered the zone and take a bit of extra time to fake backhand before roofing the forehand shot.

After seeing plays like this, nobody can argue Kyle Connor’s tremendous skill. While Ehlers, Laine, and Scheifele each have their own unique skill sets, I’m not sure anyone can compare with Kyle Connor’s high end puck skills.

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3) Kulikov – more like confusikov…

Ok, bad joke. But the point is that Kulikov had another game where he struggled with bad turnovers and making the right defensive read.

It happened specifically on the first goal as Kulikov started to move towards the player behind the net instead of the more dangerous player in front of the net. As you can see, the player in front of the net is the one who tipped it past Hellebuyck for the only Canucks goal of the game.

Maurice ended up defending Kulikov after the game when asked about the play. He mentioned that the play began with a missed assignment up the ice and the forwards didn’t offer enough help coming back into the defensive zone. That being said, Maurice did say that he would appreciate if Kulikov took the more dangerous player who ended up scoring on the play.

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It’s not that Kulikov is always making bad reads, but they are magnified this season because of his increased ice-time and larger role in the top four. He was sheltered last year on the bottom pairing with Tyler Myers and this year his mistakes are much more costly.

4) The early returns are great for the new look PP

The Jets threw a massive curveball this game in regards to their powerplay. It featured two entirely new units and provided a fresh look with the man advantage. The ‘first’ unit featured Scheifele, Ehlers, Connor, Copp, and Morrissey, while the second unit featured Roslovic, Wheeler, Laine, Perreault, and Pionk.

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It was an interesting turn of events in this game as the Jets had back to back powerplays. This gave both units a chance to showcase their new look. The first unit spent an entire two minutes on the first man-advantage and they looked exceptionally dangerous with tons of puck movement and a few dangerous shots.

The first unit didn’t end up scoring, but the Jets went right back to the man-advantage as the Canucks took a second penalty right as the first one expired. This allowed the second powerplay unit to go to work and try to prove their skills. The second unit also worked the puck around very well and generated some really good shot attempts, specifically by Laine. Demko stopped one of them, and another was blocked by Chris Tanev who was visibly hurt on the play.

The second unit did end up scoring the only powerplay goal of the game as Roslovic found some time and space in the crease and shovelled home his own rebound. The early signs are looking good for both new units.

The main takeaway from the two powerplays is that the Jets are moving the puck much quicker around the zone. The old powerplay was extremely stagnant with the puck often sitting on Wheeler’s stick for far too long. The new powerplay seems to move the puck a lot quicker and utilizes all five players much better. We will have to wait and see if both units continue to play at a high level.

5) Wheeler looked comfortable at center ice

In last night’s game, there were only four forwards who finished with a CF% over 50%. Three of those players were Roslovic, Ehlers, and Wheeler who played on the second line together. Based on the shot attempts, Wheeler’s line was the most dominant force in the game. In addition to out-shooting the opposition, this line also had an xGF% of 58.20%. This means that the second line not only had more shots than the opposition, but they also had the more dangerous opportunities.

I’m not saying that Wheeler should transition to centre-ice full time, but the small sample size indicates that he has a positive impact when playing in the middle. Things could get really interesting if Wheeler continues to excel at centre until Little returns. The Jets could choose to keep the top six intact and move Little down to the fourth line. Having Little in the bottom six would certainly boost their scoring ability and it would provide much more depth among the entire team.