2019 NHL Playoffs, Connor Hellebuyck, Long Read, Winnipeg Jets

Five Storylines From Jets’ First Two Playoff Games

The Winnipeg Jets’ first two Round 1 Stanley Cup Playoff games — a pair of one-goal losses to the St. Louis Blues that has them down 2-0 in the series — has created a number of storylines.

While there are always dozens upon dozens of things to scrutinize in any given game — even more so at this time of the year when teams are chasing the Stanley Cup — here are just five of the many Jets’ storylines that played out at Bell MTS Place in Games 1 and 2.

5: Jets Have Been Physical — Sometimes Too Physical

The Jets are a big, heavy team, and came out in both games hell-bent on hitting every Blue in their sights, stepping up at every opportunity.

In Game 1, that was a positive, and one of the reasons the Blues didn’t get many scoring chances through the first 40. Ben Chiarot especially was on the war-path, dishing out six of his team’s 36 hits. Dustin Byfuglien, Dmitry Kulikov, Tyler Myers, Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault, and Blake Wheeler also had three-plus each.

Ben Chiarot - Winnipeg Jets
Ben Chiarot used his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame from the get-go in Game 1, leading the Jets with six hits. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In Game 2, the Jets employed a similar strategy, especially since Brandon Tanev — who led the Jets with 278 hits in the regular season — returned from injury. However, in the first period, the Jets played over the edge rather than right on it, leading to three first-period infractions.

The usually disciplined Mark Scheifele was sent off for a pair of dunderheaded infractions — one for setting a pointless pick when his team was on the power play and another shortly after for hitting Ryan O’Reilly in the numbers. Before Scheifele’s second penalty expired, Andrew Copp took his turn burying the Blues’ No. 90 with a cross-check to the back, putting the Jets down five-on-three.

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele
Mark Scheifele didn’t pick good times to try and get physical in Game 2 and got slapped with a pair of first-period penalties as a result. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

The Jets would go on to deliver 32 in Game 2 — check out this huge hit on Oskar Sundqvist by Adam Lowry — and have outhit the Blues 68-47 thus far. Grinding the Blues down physically will be key if the Jets have any chance of getting back into the series, but so will avoiding needless penalties from overaggressive plays. It’s a balancing act.

4: Jets’ PK Has Been Pretty… Pretty… Pretty Good

The Jets are down 2-0 in the series, but you can’t hang that on their penalty killers.

The group has done yeoman’s work and killed off all seven of their combined penalties in Games 1 and 2. This includes the three aforementioned first-period infractions in Game 2 that came in a span of 4:41 and put the team down five-on-three for a spell. They also killed an early third-period penalty shortly after the Blues took a 4-3 lead, which kept the team in the game.

In Game 2, they bent but didn’t break (the Blues had a post and some good zone time), and in Game 1, they didn’t bend at all, chasing down pucks quickly and sending them out of the zone, not allowing the Blues to set up or generate meaningful pressure.

Lowry and deadline day addition Par Lindholm have been especially good and lead the team in shorthanded ice time with 4:58 and 4:49, respectively.

Jets center Adam Lowry
Adam Lowry and the rest of the Jets penalty kill haven’t allowed a goal so far. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

Penalty killing and the Jets’ passive approach was an issue during the regular season (they fell to 22nd overall and posted a 79.2 per cent efficiency rate this season from ninth place and an 81.75 per cent efficiency rate last season) so good penalty killing is good to see and will have to continue if the Jets want a chance.

However, PKs don’t usually generate goals (obviously), nor do they indicate success in other situations. Despite their 100 per cent kill rate thus far, the Jets have been outscored 6-2 at even strength.

3: Hellebuyck Isn’t Making the Stops He Should

Connor Hellebuyck had an up-and-down season and his numbers were nowhere near the ones he posted in his Vezina-nominated 2017-18 campaign. His inconsistency and penchant for allowing soft goals was on display again.

San Jose Sharks Joe Pavelski Winnipeg Jets Connor Hellebuyck
Connor Hellebuyck’s been inconsistent — he’s made incredible saves but also allowed a trio of weak ones. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan)

In Game 1, Hellebuyck was one of the best Jets. In Game 2, he made a number of solid saves, but they were overshadowed by the undeniable fact three of the four goals he allowed were absolute softies.

With the Jets up 2-1 in the second and pressing for more, Hellebuyck couldn’t corral a floater from Alex Pietrangelo, and just a few seconds later, Pat Maroon stuffed it in the net. This completely killed their momentum.

Later in the second, Hellebuyck allowed a Sundqvist shot to leak through his wickets. Early in the third with the game tied 3-3, he allowed a harmless-looking O’Reilly wrist shot to beat him under the blocker. That goal turned out to be the game-winner.

The goalie’s job is really simple: stop they pucks you’re supposed to stop,” TSN’s Craig Button said after Game 2. “You want to go from bad to worse to awful? That’s what Connor Hellebuyck did.”

“There is no way, no way, that shot from Ryan O’Reilly can go in. No way,” Button continued. “He is getting beat by his counterpart (Jordan Binnington) at the other end of the ice.”

He simply needs to find a way to make the saves every NHL goalie must or the Jets won’t be long for these playoffs.

2: Old Habits Die Hard

Despite all the platitudes that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a “new season,” a “fresh start,” a “clean slate,” or an opportunity to “flip the switch,” it turns out habits cultivated for six months don’t just end because the regular season does.

The Jets’ oldest and absolutely worst habit — blowing third-period leads — reared its ugly head again in Game 1.

They came into the third with a 1-0 lead and having played a very solid and physical first 40, but the Blues dominated at five-on-five in the third, with David Perron tying the game a few minutes into the final frame and Tyler Bozak scoring the game-winner with just 2:05 left on the block.

Winnipeg Jets vs St. Louis Blues
The Blues celebrate Tyler Boak’s Game 1 game-winner, which represented the 10th time in 2018-19 the Jets have lost when leading after two periods. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

To call it a shocker would be inaccurate, because the Jets blew third-period leads and lost nine times through the regular season, five in regulation and four in overtime/shootouts.

“Surprise, surprise, some of the same things that haunted this Jets team at various points this season made a return appearance, this time on a much bigger stage…” wrote the Winnipeg Free Press’ Mike McIntyre after Game 1.

“When the obituary is finally written on the 2018-19 season — and judging by Wednesday’s rather painful 2-1 loss, that may not be too far away — it will be Winnipeg’s inability to lock down a game that may be the primary cause of death,” McIntyre continued. (from ‘Inability to protect lead dooms Jets once again’, Winnipeg Free Press, 04/10/12.)

Fans on Reddit didn’t seem shocked by their team’s loss, either.

“Good 40, sad last
20,” one commented. “I’ve seen this movie before. I feel nothing,” said
another. “Disappointed, but not surprised,” commented yet another.

1: The Winnipeg Whiteout Is as Wild as Ever

You can’t accuse Jets fans of being fair-weather. Despite their team’s less-than-stellar ending to the 2018-19 regular season, they’ve showed up in droves and brought a blinding blizzard to Bell MTS Place and downtown Winnipeg streets once again.

Related: Jets and Fans Ready for the Winnipeg Whiteout’s Return

The energy in the rink itself has been palpable and electric, with decibel levels exceeding 110 at times, fans frantically waving their “We are WPG” rally towels, and reacting to pretty much everything a little more viscerally. Unfortunately, the Jets couldn’t send them home happy either Wednesday or Friday night.

Winnipeg Jets Fans White Out
This playoff’s iteration of the Whiteout has not disappointed. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)

The raucous Winnipeg Whiteout Street Parties, which brought Winnipeg into the national spotlight in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, also raged again this week, with fans standing shoulder-to-shoulder clad in the creative and often-outlandish get-ups everyone’s come to expect them to dream up. The first party had nearly 10,000 people in attendance and the second sold out all 15,000 tickets.

The Winnipeg Whiteout Street Parties have been in full effect again.

A new $5 entry fee didn’t deter them (it was free last playoffs, but the fact all the money goes to United Way Winnipeg is likely the reason most were willing to pony up.) Nor did the chilly temps or the late 8:30 p.m. Central start time — the mercury at the time of Friday night’s puck drop hovered around plus-three Celsius and had plummeted to below zero by the time the final whistle sounded — seem to freeze the enthusiasm.

More Storylines to Come

The series now shifts to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Tuesday. Some of the most compelling storylines for the Jets until Game 3 gets underway will be whether they can pull themselves back into things or if the Blues will take a 3-0 series stranglehold, and what the lineup changes head coachPaul Maurice promised in his Game 2 post-game presser will be.

Jets right wing Patrik Laine
The Jets next two games in St. Louis will create more storylines — will they be triumphant (like when Laine scored five against the Blues) or will they be the final ones of the season? (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

It won’t be easy and the odds are against the Jets — teams with home-ice advantage that fall behind 2-0 in a series only go on to win it about 18 per cent of the time — but that doesn’t mean things aren’t worth watching.

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