It was the condensed and distilled version of Winnipeg Jets history in the first quarter of the NHL season.
For a team that improved their defense corps in what was supposed to be momentum toward a return to contender status, a 9-3-3 record put the Jets on top of the Central Division mountain, but this streak of five consecutive defeats pushed them back down to bubble status.
This sparked questions about what type of team the Jets are – or perhaps more importantly – what are they actually going to be?
Is he a serious contender as we’ve seen for a while, where the Jets managed to take at least one point in 13 of 15 games after the two outright losses to open the campaign?
Or is this most recent stretch a better indicator of what might be on the horizon?
There are going to be ebbs and flows over the course of 82 games, but will the real Jets want to stand up?
This is a team that spends over the salary cap and is back in the Long Term Injury Reserve.
When expectations are higher, there is pressure to meet them.
The Jets started the second quarter of the season Saturday night in Calgary against the Flames and managed to put an end to the agonizing slippage, thanks to a pair of goals from Kyle Connor and a masterful goaltending performance from Connor Hellebuyck in a 4-2 victory.
Whether this serves as a starting point for figuring things out or just provides temporary relief remains to be seen, but it shouldn’t take long for things to start to get clearer.
Here are three questions the Jets must answer as they advance to midpoint and the Olympic break that follows shortly thereafter:
When will runtime support consistently return?
One of the strangest developments of the first 20 games has been the top-down nature of the Jets’ spray offense.
With just five goals scored in the five-game skid, the Jets suffered during a period of struggling against a low percentage of shots, but that’s an overly simplistic explanation and was only part of the equation. .
It is a subject that can be delicate for Maurice, because he wants the Jets to continue to focus on a better defensive team, which would be the bedrock of the group.
So when time and energy is spent trying to go offensively and a level of cheating creeps into the game in an attempt to achieve that goal, that is what might be at stake. the origin of this crisis.
Connor got off to a flying start, scoring 12 goals (and just one on the power play) in 15 games, but had played five scoreless games before Saturday’s offensive explosion, which included the game-winning goal.
Not only is Connor still among the league’s leaders in scoring, but he’s fully graduated from the role of gaming pilot.
Pierre-Luc Dubois was a revelation and he already has up to 11 goals and 18 points in 21 games – huge numbers that were reinforced by excellent play both ways.
Andrew Copp is also off to a good start (contributing almost a point per game), although he played 13 scoreless games before providing the empty net on Saturday.
Some other consistent point producers have gone for below average offensive starts as well.
Wheeler has no goals and seven points in 16 games, while Scheifele has two goals and eight points in 15 games.
Both of these players appear to be working on issues possibly related to the treatment of Covid-19 symptoms, but one thing is quite clear, even with the emergence of some additional pilots, the Jets need to roll Wheeler and Scheifele.
Perhaps Saturday’s game – which saw the combined trio of Wheeler, Scheifele and Connor produce a pair of goals – will be the starting point.
Nikolaj Ehlers found himself demoted to third row this weekend and he also did not take the high-flying start that was planned.
Ehlers envisions a shooting percentage well below his career average, but his work suggests he should get back to his normal productivity levels as soon as possible.
While Maurice is correct that it may be more important to focus on improving without the puck, the sooner the Jets can start scoring with a little more consistency, it should help take the pressure off Hellebuyck.
After allowing 14 goals in the first three starts of the season, Hellebuyck has played at an extremely high level.
Hellebuyck had allowed two goals or fewer in nine of his last 10 starts – including eight straight games before Friday’s early withdrawal – but what’s scary is that the Jets have only gotten a 4- record. 2-3 in these matches.
That’s not enough support for the run or wins, given the level of goalkeeper provided by the 2018-19 Vezina Trophy winner.
It’s one thing to rely on a workaholic, it’s another to ask him to be nearly perfect, especially when you consider the offensive talent the Jets employ.
Scoring evenly three times against Jacob Markstrom on Saturday was a big step forward, but the Jets fell to 2.81 goals per game (tied for 18th in the NHL) after the recent cold streak.
What happened to the renewed defensive engagement?
Improvements to staff on the blue line were meant to ensure the Jets would be better defensively.
And while members of the defensive body have done a good job offensively, the five-man unit’s defensive structure has shown more than its share of cracks lately.
There was a time when the Jets seemed to settle into a good pace in terms of puckless play, but they’ve lost way too many high-risk chances and weird rushes and that’s a trend that can’t continue – even with Hellebuyck as the last line of defense to hide many of those defensive gaps.
Part of that has been linked to mismanagement of the puck, coverage in the zone and at other times the Jets are struggling to clear the front of the net.
One thing the Jets have done a better job of is executing cleaner breakouts and breakouts, which has allowed them to spend less time in the defensive zone.
Even with some notable improvements, the process is still in the early stages – with the bulk of the work still to come.
It was never going to be an overnight transformation, but the Jets have to buckle down if they want things to change completely on this front.
Right now, the Jets are tied for 21st in the NHL in goals against per game (2.76) and that number is way too high considering how well Hellebuyck has played and the numbers Eric Comrie shows in a backup role (2.49 goals-against average, .913% savings in five starts and six games).
While the offensive play should come from the zone, the Jets won’t be able to consistently win without paying attention to the details in the defensive zone.
Are special teams really as bad as they have been so far?
It was a Jekyll and Hyde start to the power play, which was good and third in the NHL before Paul Stastny missed eight games with a foot injury, then moved up to 1 for 23 before Dubois did provide a front scorer that shattered Cam Talbot’s shutout at the end of the third period on Friday.
But thanks to that frustrating stretch, the Jets fell in the middle of the pack, tied for 15th with the Washington Capitals with an efficiency of 18.6%.
In an era where goals have often been tough to come by, power play should be an area that can provide a bit of a pickup, but it just hasn’t been.
It will be interesting to see if moving Wheeler to the right half-wall and Scheifele in the lunge, with Ehlers on the left side, will have the desired effect as the Jets continue to search for solutions.
As for the penalty, the fight is real.
Sure, the numbers can be skewed by giving up 10 goals in the first five games, but those still count – and have dug the hole the Jets are trying to dig a little deeper.
The Jets have had a great streak in the last four games (11v13), but part of the reason the losing streak went on for so long was directly related to special teams, especially the penalty kill.
There have already been six games this season where the Jets have allowed two or more shorthanded goals and they have given up at least one game in 11 of the 21 games – making it difficult to win the special teams battle every night.
Currently 30th in the NHL, this is an area where the Jets need to improve quickly – otherwise the process of trying to make an effort to challenge the top Central Division teams is going to be much more difficult.