WINNIPEG – Say so long to the dress rehearsal. From this point onwards the stake will be considerably higher.
Some elements of rust were inevitable when the Winnipeg Jets played a real hockey game for the first time since March 11, and although it is important to remember that this was just an exhibition game, there were some issues that followed after one The Vancouver Canucks won 4-1 on Wednesday evening.
It’s impossible that goalkeepers aren’t a storyline, as the Jets compete against the Calgary Flames in the best-of-five play-in round.
In the red corner, Flames interim coach Geoff Ward may know that he’ll be between the tubes in Game 1, but he’s still not ready to share the information publicly, whether it’s Cam Talbot or David Rittich.
In the blue corner, the jets have no such debate.
Hellebuyck in Vezina form
Connor Hellebuyck is the leader of the Vezina Trophy for a reason.
If there were concerns that Hellebuyck could take a little more time to find his shape, this should be alleviated after Wednesday’s performance as he finished 37 saves.
The jets made life a little bit more difficult than it had to be in the first phase as they struggled with puck management and turned the puck around too often, but Hellebuyck was there to save his teammates.
That’s a set that was typed several times this season, but it had to be comforting that the Jets could see Hellebuyck in the middle of the season.
“Connor was excellent,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “He looks like he hasn’t missed a beat.”
Whether it was stopping Bo Horvat on a rebound chance, being in the perfect position to stop a Tanner Pearson redirection, or refusing Brock Boeser on an outlier, Hellebuyck noted that at the start of the real one Games will be hard to beat.
“I thought it was great to achieve this playoff combat mentality and level,” said Hellebuyck. “So this game was not just an exhibition for me, it increased the intensity of the fight.”
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Of course, the jets will spend some time in the next few days concentrating on the importance of taking better care of the puck.
One thing they won’t be worried about is whether their elite goalkeeper is ready to answer the bell.
Ehlers sets off
Only Pierre-Edouard Bellemare of Colorado Avalanche (31) and Carter Rowney (26) of Anaheim Ducks have a longer active playoff drought than Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers, who has seven assists in 21 postseason games.
As I said, this is a fact, but not an indictment of Ehlers’ abilities, and any suggestion that he doesn’t have what it takes to appear on the big stage is nothing more than a hot air narrative.
While Ehlers downplayed the importance of this statistic when asked about it, you can be sure that he looks forward to getting rid of this goose egg in the target column.
His second-half goal on Wednesday won’t count on this front, but it did depend on the type of game that is likely to result in Ehlers scoring multiple goals when the games matter most.
After defender Josh Morrissey started the game with an intelligent outlet pass, Ehlers drove to the long post and quickly lunged for a rebound after a hard, low shot by Linemate Patrik Laine.
Ehlers has done something like this all year round, using his speed and going into the hard areas. That’s why Jets head coach Paul Maurice expects Ehlers to break through.
“It’s a five game series, so there’s not much time left for it. But his game has changed this year, ”said Maurice. “He’s tougher in pucks, he’s driving the net, he’s on a different level than ever before, so I think he’s definitely a scorer in the playoffs.”
There was a worrying element when Ehlers left training early last week and spent time with the second group the next day. However, when he was dealing with a minor illness, he had shown no signs of lasting effects.
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Shortly before the middle of the third period, however, Ehlers got involved with Canuck’s striker Adam Gaudette and went down the tunnel.
Maurice made sure that his departure was “100 percent precautionary” and that he expected Ehlers to fully participate in the training of the jets on Friday after the team used Thursday as a day off.
Jets striker Jack Roslovic was striking on Wednesday for the right reasons, and that could be a sign of the future.
Roslovic threw Dmitry Kulikov an assist with a nice backhand pass without a look, as if it looked like he had a clear path to the net.
The first round player from 2015 showed his speed and ability in several other layers of the competition. After achieving top career goals for goals (12), assists (17) and points (29), Roslovic was prepared for a productive playoff.
The duo of Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp are known for generating a lot of time in the offensive zone of the cycle, and Roslovic has the potential to be a strong finisher on this unit to follow his game.
The secondary rating is a must for the teams to go deep. Given the responsibility the trio will have on the defensive side of the equation, an additional offense would help reduce the pressure on the top two lines.
“I don’t just consider it a shutdown line, they can do it because they’re built for it. But there are certainly some insults, ”said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “You can use them to check, and you can also play them against the heavy line. That frees your other boys from it. It is a very diverse group. “
Don’t worry about the D.
Yes, there were a few shaky moments at the start – including two sales of Neal Pionk in its first shift – but it’s the first real game action for this group since the beginning of March.
While the Jets fought defensively for part of the season, they did a better job as the season progressed, and this unannounced bunch strives to attack the narrative that the D-Corps could be seen as a weak link.
The Jets lost a lot of trouble and a substantial bite with the overhaul of the blue line, but on Wednesday Tucker Poolman and Kulikov scored two goals.
You also got a physical game from Nathan Beaulieu, who leveled Zack MacEwen in the first period.
The top pairing of Morrissey and Dylan DeMelo will have to record many important minutes in a shutdown role, but as Maurice said during the training camp, he feels much better in the group than on the first day of the training camp.
And for a good reason.
Wildness of the fourth line
One of the criticisms of Maurice during his jets tenure is that he often relies too heavily on his top guns and hasn’t used his fourth line enough.
Some of this is related to the staff, but he has confidence in the lines of Nick Shore, Mathieu Perreault and Mason Appleton, and Wednesday showed that all three players were over 11:26 in the Ice Age, scoring four shots on goal and three goals .
Of course, building a four-goal pillow on this front helped, but it’s no surprise that these players routinely have two digits (or at least almost two digits), especially since Perreault is on the second Powerplay unit and both Shore and Appleton are on Penalty shoot-out used.
Perreault has been limited to 49 games this season due to an injury, but he appears to be energetic while Appleton is an up-and-coming player who has shown he can play the lineup when asked to do so.
This line is asked to do more than just kick water and not be scored. You could also intervene aggressively and create some momentum by creating chaos on the foredeck.