As the old adage goes, “time flies” and as we approach the one-third mark of the 2023-24 NHL season, are the Winnipeg Jets truly ready to fly in formation? We are now in Year Two of the Rick Bowness era and as the cold wind blasts down from Lake Winnipeg, the winter is ready to set in over Manitoba and that means the Winnipeg Jets need to get down to business.
Year One of the Rick Bowness era was certainly not a complete disappointment with a 46-33-3 overall record during the 2022-23 regular season and a Western Conference wild-card spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs but an early exit in the postseason certainly left a lot to be desired amongst the fans, players and front office alike. While this past summer could have been filled with discontent in a town eager to claim Lord Stanley’s cup for themselves, the Winnipeg Jets simply reloaded and prepared to take to the air so to speak to start this season out on a positive note. The arrival of rookies such as Cole Perfetti to the Jets’ everyday lineup heralded a step in the right direction under the tutelage of Rick Bowness and Company, and solidifying Perfetti and a second-line center certainly has paid dividends for the Jets this season so far.
The Jets aren’t putting up huge numbers, but they get the job done.
The Jets are now officially 26 games into the current season with a solid 16-8-2 record and sitting in first place in the Central Division (thanks partly to a dramatic 4-2 comeback win on Sunday night in Anaheim.) On paper at least, the Jets haven’t seemed to be overpowering offensively with 81 goals for this season (13th place in the NHL) but on the defensive side of the puck, the Jets have only given up 67 goals this season which moves them up to 6th in the league right now. Even more puzzling for the Jets right now is their special teams with the top power-play unit only having an 18.8% scoring rate (18th place) and their penalty kill works 76.3% of the time (22nd place.) While these total numbers are at best mediocre, the Jets under Bowness have found a way to take care of business and keep their playoff hopes alive for the second year in a row.
Connor Hellebuyck continues to be a workhorse in Winnipeg.
While goalies seem to receive disparate praise or scorn from both hockey fans and pundits, the reality is that a solid goal just finds a way to get the job done every night. The Winnipeg Jets have that kind of netminder in Connor Hellebuyck who isn’t the most eccentric or flashy goalie in the NHL. Nevertheless, Hellebuyck continues to post strong numbers this season with 12 wins and a shutout so far in 19 games played. With a 2.47 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage, Hellebuyck’s numbers don’t scream like the NHL elite but his GAA ranks him in the top ten among goaltenders right now. Again, Hellebuyck and his backup goalie Laurent Brossoit (acquired from Vegas) are not among the top NHL goalie tandems but they’re finding a way to get the job done.
Is Bowness’ Four-Man Rush changing the concept of NHL Offenses?
While the Winnipeg Jets may only seem to be a mediocre team on paper, they seem to be changing the very definition of the offensive rush as a hockey offensive strategy. Under Bowness, the Jets have discovered that the traditional three-man offensive rush with two defensemen stationed like sentinels at the point doesn’t provide enough firepower and disruption for defensive units to contend with. Using an additional blueliner in an offensive attack while leaving one traditional defenseman back to help against quick counterattacks, the Jets are building blueliners such as Josh Morrisey into joining a stellar fraternity of offensive-minded defensemen. What does this mean for the Jets down the road? It forces other NHL opponents to re-think their defensive alignments as they’re forced to face the onslaught of a broader offensive attack every time the Jets clear through a neutral zone.
Along with the Avs’ Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Cancuks, Morrissey has put up five goals and 17 assists already in 25 games played this season (Morrissey currently ranks 8th among blueliners in assists.) While the Jets seem to be plodding along with their season, this switch to a four-man rush is a monumental shift in hockey strategy and causing NHL defenses to prepare for the onslaught of blueliners who pose a dual threat of defending or scoring while on the ice.