It’s hard as a Winnipeg Jets fan not to be feeling fired up after this past weekend of hockey. Even if you lean towards being a bit more of a cynical fan that may have been eyeing the 2020 draft board more than the NHL standings, the last two games may have given you at least some pause for thought.
And it’s not just because of the last two games the Jets played that is the reason fans are starting to feel this way. The Jets have just felt like a different hockey club since the end of the ASG/Player Break a little over a week ago. They’ve won four of their last six played and in those two losses you can easily make the argument that the Jets were very much in both of those games as well.
Flipped the (fight) switch?
Having lost their last four and six of their last seven games going into that aforementioned ASG/Player Break, I admit I rolled my eyes at the notion from the Jets that the break was a much needed one to help reset the team. It’s not like how they played in those games was any different than how they played most of the season, the biggest difference in how they did in November as opposed to the following two months was the quality of goaltending.
There has just been something different about these Jets the last week. They’ve attacked opposing nets more, or at least gotten bodies there a little more aggressively. They’ve defended around their own net far better and at least get the puck out of danger spots after an initial save or block is made, which isn’t something they were doing the previous two months. They’ve been far more ‘engaged’ in these game – as you would have noticed with all the gosh darn fighting they do.
And hey look, I’m not crazy about fighting in the game as a whole – I tend to like my hockey without intentionally caused brain injuries – but seeing Blake Wheeler take Brady Tkachuk to task for a four stride charged hit on an awkwardly bailing out Neal Pionk along the boards was encouraging. Any thoughts that this team lost it’s toughness without the likes of Dustin Byfuglien or Brandon Tanev should be gone by now. They may not win all the scraps, and maybe they shouldn’t scrap so much, but they won’t roll over and be bullied at all.
The Jets had five fights in the first three months of the season. They’ve had seven over the last three weeks. That at least shows a level of engagement by this team. The mantra by the Jets in the first half of the season was “stay in the fight” which brought up thoughts of a team just barely hanging on. Now it would seem the Jets have decided “screw just staying in it, we are the fight” and the results have shown.
If you’ve scored three game winners in your last five games, you’re a Copp
Andrew Copp has been fantastic since the end of the break and he along with Jack Roslovic and Jansen Harkins have made for a really solid third line. Copp has scored three goals in the last five games and looks every bit the line driver a handful of us suspected he could be at the start of the season when there were suggestions that he be given a shot at the second line center role.
As it is, he’s doing just fine on the third line and they are getting just as much even strength ice time as the top two lines which in turn will be a benefit for the entire club as the month of February rolls along with a game happening every other day from this coming weekend until the start of March.
Of course it’s not just his work at even strength that has been a boon for the Jets. I’d argue he’s this team’s best penalty killer and also it’s best at quick transition offense when shorthanded as we saw from the steal, skate and sauce he delivered to get the Jets on the board during a critical PK.
— JetsNation (@NHLJetsNation) February 10, 2020
This is only a three line team right now, but…
The flip side to the positive of the Jets top three lines all getting even-ish amounts of ice time is the fourth line is a little neglected at this point and when they have been on the ice, they haven’t done a whole lot to stand out.
(One could argue this is both good and bad as they aren’t creating any offense, but they also aren’t getting torched to badly either even though some of the advanced metrics and numbers suggest that they are indeed giving up a little bit more against than they are creating for.)
Nick Shore is a solid fourth line player and also does nice work on the PK, but one really gets the sense that Gabriel Borque and Logan Shaw at this point are just place-holders for Bryan Little and Adam Lowry.
I don’t know how the Jets will go forward once they get those two players back, but it certainly makes for a nice problem. Maybe they can go with Lowry centering a fourth line with Harkins and perhaps Shore, while keeping Copp on the third line with Little and Roslovic, and then just balance out the even strength minutes a little more between all four lines.
The possibilities make it hard not to think that the Jets could very much be a playoff caliber team.