Reader the last time we spoke I was in my red leather pants listening to Mike Reno’s Loverboy and lamenting the fact that I couldn’t wait for the weekend. Now it's the day after my Turkey feast, two days after the first Jets home game and I'm back at work. My bubble has somewhat popped. All the hype, reminiscing, hoping, dreaming, and praying has finally paid off and now we as fans have to get back to the work of being fans. Just like the players, we have to settle in for a long 82 game schedule and get ready to cheer, jeer, complain, poke and prod until this bunch delivers what we all want; A winning season and a chance at the Stanley cup in the playoffs.
Sunday was full of celebration and a release of anxious energy that had been building for years. The city of Winnipeg had collectively started their party on Thursday with the opening of the NHL season and was carrying it to a crescendo with the first home opener of the Winnipeg Jets. Everything was in place, the fans were nuts (as expected), David Thomson was a fountain of Canadian prose, Mark Chipman was beaming like a proud papa, and Don Cherry was on the ice with a picture of the queen. There was only one problem, Les Habs where looking for two points.
Before I even get going I’ll roll out the standard disclaimer, yes I am very very grateful to just have my Jets back, and yes I know it was a tall order to play under that kind of hype. But unfortunately from a hockey perspective the Jets kind of stunk.
The first thing I noticed is that the Defence needs work. If Byfuglien wants to be a forward he needs to let the rest of the team and the coaching staff know. While he looked good in the offensive zone, he was terrible defensively, causing at least two turnovers and looking pretty sloppy. Johnny Oduya won’t be having many more games like that one before he’s sightseeing at signal hill. Oduyas play was as sloppy in the defensive zone as Byfugliens except without any of the offensive upside. There where however some shinning lights as Enstrom and Stuart had some impressive shifts standing up at the line against the Canadians forwards. Hainsey worked hard and was effective, although Bagosian had a couple of mental lapses. It seemed evident that when the defence simplified their game and played physical in their own end, that was when things started to happen for the Jets. If I where coach Huddy, “Keep It Simple Stupid” would be pasted on all of the D core’s jerseys during the next practice.
Much has been made of this teams supposed inability to score goals, and the prognosticators will no doubt be on their soap boxes again after Sunday’s performance. However the forwards are what gave me the most hope going forward. Although the first line certainly underperformed (with the exception of Ladd), the second and third lines continued to look dangerous throughout the game. If Scheifele, Kane and Wellwood can gel a little more and get some of that timing down they will produce. Antropov who looked like a dump truck during the pre-season, was probably the best forward of the day. Working hard along the boards and in front of the net, he was rewarded with the Jets only goal for his effort. Again when the forwards got physical and worked hard, good things seemed to happen. In a footnote, Patrice Cormier better get his bags packed, because I’m pretty sure the Brett Maclean experiment is about to come to an abrupt end.
The fourth line was outstanding. As all grinders do, they brought their lunch pails to work and simply out worked the Canadians at every turn. They did exactly what the fourth line needs to do; keep the other team’s first line in their own zone. If the fourth line work ethic and simplified game can infect their peers, we’ll have something special on our hands. They played above their pay grade, which is something the rest of the team is going to have to do to find success in this league.
This brings us to Pavelec, who was solid, but not money. Most of the goals that got by him where lasers shot by bonafide snipers, but here’s the thing; money goaltenders in the NHL need to make at least a couple of those stops. For this team to be successful they will need to ride Pavelec at least part of the year. He needs to be money or it’s not going to happen. By the way they’ve booked him high glove side, there’s day light there and the vultures are going for it.
The Canadians were also a depleted team, with three of their top six defensemen out of commission and Mike Camalleri making an early departure. If the Jets have trouble handling this weakened Canadians team then there are certainly dark storm clouds ahead.
Now that I’ve said my peace, I also have to acknowledge something. This game was an anomaly, with expectations through the roof. Phrases like “History will be made”, “Hopes and dreams”, and of course “15 year wait” where being thrown around like rice at a wedding. Personally I would have balled up in the fetal position, rocking back and forth sucking my thumb under that kind of pressure. Over the course of the next five to six games, we’ll see what this team is really made of.
So here we go Jets fans. The regular season has begun and we can put away the “what ifs” and “maybe’s”. The Jets are playing in the NHL again. With that we need to realise that the big leagues are merciless and mistakes will always be costly. Our teams need to be better than ordinary to meet a standard that Winnipeg fans deserve. So now as all the superfluous stuff is stripped away we are left what we have always wanted, a hockey team playing in the best league on the planet. That realization also comes with a certain reality check. Pop goes the world.
Go Jets Go