Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/11/2021 (288 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler have combined for zero goals. The pitiful penalty kill is tied with the disastrous desert dogs in Arizona for worst in the NHL. They are still giving up too much offence, stuck in the bottom-third of the league in goals-against-average. And they've played exactly one game so far with their full healthy roster.
Add it all up and life must be pretty bleak these days for the Winnipeg Jets, right?
Hardly. When the club hits the ice Friday night at Canada Life Centre for a Central Division clash with the Chicago Blackhawks, a shot at history is staring them in the face. With a 5-2-2 record through nine games, they are one point away from matching, and two points away from surpassing, the best 10-game start in 2.0 history. (They went 6-3-1 last year, in 2018-19, and in 2015-16).
And yet, it feels like they truly haven't even hit their stride, or reached their full potential. But opportunity is knocking, especially here just one game into a season-long seven-game homestand. Keep taking care of business in their own backyard — as they have with a perfect 3-0-0 record so far this year at the downtown rink — and these Jets could soar to new heights.
"We feel good right now," forward Nikolaj Ehlers said following Thursday's practice. "We’re home for about two more weeks, I think. We just have to keep it going. You want to win your games at home, playing in front of our home crowd again is pretty incredible. It’s a great feeling. It’s exciting and we have to keep it going."
So how, exactly, have they got to this stage despite a litany of things that, as described above, could surely be better? Smoke and mirrors?
Offensive depth has been key, with Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois leading the charge. Both have seven goals, which is the first time teammates wearing a Jets jersey have hit that mark through nine games since Teemu Selanne and Keith Tkachuk did it back in 1994.
"We’re home for about two more weeks, I think. We just have to keep it going. You want to win your games at home, playing in front of our home crowd again is pretty incredible. It’s a great feeling. It’s exciting and we have to keep it going." — Winnipeg Jets' Nikolaj Ehlers
Dubois, who seemingly couldn't buy a goal as he struggled to adjust to his new surroundings last season, is now seeing them go in off his skate, as was the case in Tuesday's 4-3 shootout victory over Dallas that extends Winnipeg's point streak to seven games (5-0-2) after dropping the first two games of the year in regulation. Dubois has points in eight straight games, as well, which is a career-high.
"I played with Ian Cole my first year and he told me the top players get so many chances that goals like that you think are lucky sometimes, but they get so many and they'll miss a breakaway chance in overtime like that and they'll score a goal with their skate that's kind of lucky, but also just the more you do it, the more you get scoring chances, the more it goes in," said Dubois. "So that's kind of what I've been putting in my head since the beginning of the season since he's told me that, and I want to keep on with that."
There's more than just the dynamic duo. Andrew Copp has nine points through nine games, while veteran Paul Stastny has seven. The boosted blue line has jump-started things as well, with Nate Schmidt and Neal Pionk among the league-leaders with eight assists each in that span. And the power play has been potent, trailing only Edmonton and St. Louis for tops in the league. Josh Morrissey leads the way with three goals. Throw in a pair of solid spot starts from Eric Comrie, who has won them both, and you have the recipe for success on a team that is talented, and deep.
"There were probably three or four things we wanted to make sure we got better at, and I think we have," said Jets coach Paul Maurice. "Our gap at the line, the number of dumps we force, breakouts and our exits. We’re still rounding into an offensive game, I think we’ve hit pieces of it. We’ve had quite a bit of change here, Scheif and Wheels out of our lineup. That’s obvious, we go 11 (forwards) and seven (defencemen), that’s a change. We have changed a number of the things that we’re trying to do in our game. And it’s not there yet, but it’s in a good enough spot that we’re going to just keep working on it."
"We're at Game 10 now, but these are the games that matter at the end of the year. These games, these extra points here and there, that's what makes you make the playoffs at the end of the year." — Winnipeg Jets' Pierre-Luc Dubois
The depth is illustrated by the fact Scheifele and Wheeler, who both tested positive for COVID-19 within the first week of the new campaign and missed five games each, are now back in the lineup and playing on what is basically the third line with Adam Lowry, who has been moved to the wing. Jets coach Paul Maurice hasn't wanted to disturb his new look top six of Copp between Ehlers and Stastny, and Dubois between Connor and Dubois' former junior teammate in Evgeny Svechnikov.
"When (Wheeler and Scheifele) were out at first, some guys have to step up," said Dubois. "There's a good opportunity for some guys. And we win three or four games in a row, we lose one in overtime against San Jose, but the team's playing well. You never know what the coach is going to do when guys come back in the lineup. But I thought we found good chemistry with our line. We have so many good players out here that it doesn't really matter who you're playing with, you can find chemistry with pretty much anybody."
Now if they could just get the penalty kill figured out (62.5 per cent through nine games), that would help trim a bloated goals-against-average (3.22) that is currently ninth-worst in the NHL. But as the old saying goes, don't let perfection be the enemy of the good.
"For us to get our confidence in a homestand like this and string together wins at home it's really important," said Dubois. "We're at Game 10 now, but these are the games that matter at the end of the year. These games, these extra points here and there, that's what makes you make the playoffs at the end of the year."
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.