Jets Need a “Next Man Up” Mentality

by | Dec 16, 2023

Jets Need a “Next Man Up” Mentality

by | Dec 16, 2023

Professional sports teams always have team leaders who are the physical and often emotional cornerstones of their organizations and when those team leaders go down to an injury, teams tend to either fall apart or find themselves with the “next man up” mentality.  This mentality is truly necessary for Winnipeg right now after losing star winger Kyle Connor last Saturday night after a major knee-on-knee collision with the Ducks’ Ryan Strome.  While the prognosis for Connor is grim with a minimal six to eight weeks out due to a right knee MCL sprain and multiple bone bruises, the Winnipeg Jets already seem to be working on a solid “Plan B” with other top-tier talent on this team stepping in to fill the gap left in Kyle Connor’s absence.

Jets fans need to face the music and accept the fact that Kyle Connor will not be back (unless miraculous healing occurs which may be risky with a rushed return to play) until the scheduled All-Star break when Winnipeg is scheduled to be off from January 28th through February 5th.  Connor will likely miss at least 20 games if not more but a return after the All-Star break could be fortuitous for the Jets as well when push comes to shove during a playoff run in the Central Division.  However, Connor’s 17 goals and 11 assists in his previous 26 games before last weekend’s injury will be missed.

Kyle Connor is on the IR: Next Man Up.

This week the Jets continued their California trip with a disheartening loss to the San Jose Sharks and a return home for former Los Angeles Kings players Gabriel Vilardi and Alex Iafallo..  The first period at the Crypto.Com Center looked like a looming disaster but new Jet Gabe Vilardi became an unlikely hero with two goals in a 4-2 comeback victory that symbolized that the Winnipeg Jets need to find players to step up in Kyle Connor’s absence. Villardi has only appeared in ten total games with his new team this season but his fortuitous goals against his former team bring him to a total of seven points in those ten appearances (and the key to the win in Los Angeles this week.)

Vilardi now joins the first line with Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers as this shift now accounts for a total of 58 points on the season.  The first line has plenty of support for the “Next Man Up” mode the Jets are now in with plenty of offensive firepower coming from youngster Cole Perfetti (nine goals, ten assists) and Nino Niederreiter (seven goals, nine assists.)  The recent contract extension of Niederreiter is looking like more of a win-win situation given the loss of Kyle Connor and his presence should pay dividends on a nightly basis for the Jets.

The “offensive defense” strategy espoused by head coach Rick Bowness adds even more firepower with the use of blueliner Josh Morrissey in the offensive zone with five goals and 19 assists to add to the Jets scoring machine this season.  While not a goal-scoring machine, fellow blueliner Neil Pionk has added another goal and eight assists but his presence is always felt when adding defensive pressure along the boards.

Connor Hellebuyck continues to bring stability.

With a star guarding the crease, the Winnipeg Jets have instant stability defensively with Connor Hellebuyck proving yet again to be the workhorse of the Jets organization.  Hellebuyck has a 14-6-1 record with a 2.42 goals-against average and a truly solid .916 save percentage. Hellebuyck’s work ethic and plain toughness no doubt have led partially to the Jets’ winning ways in the first third of the 2023-24 NHL season so far as he leaves one less area for Rick Bowness to worry about.  While the addition of backup goalie Laurent Brossoit from Vegas didn’t garner any immediate payout, Brossoit seems to have settled in his new role with Winnipeg and his 3-3-1 record with a 2.57 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage underlines his presence as a solid-backup netminder. This goalie tandem continues to protect the crease as the Jets rank 4th in the NHL in goals against (73) which means that Winnipeg is a tough opponent to score on with the Hellebuyck-Brossoit tandem patrolling the crease.

Overall, the Jets are average on paper.

On paper, the Winnipeg Jets are a marginally mediocre team as we enter the next phase of the NHL season as Christmas rapidly approaches.  A hockey team that ranks 24th on the power play (16.3%) and a paltry 27th on the penalty kill (75.3%) certainly can’t be that solid of a team, right?  Well, numbers don’t always tell the story because this season’s Jets are hard to score on, and with 91 goals for (13th), they are in the top half of the NHL  in terms of overall scoring percentages.  Remember, you don’t have to score a lot each game, just prevent your opponent from scoring more than you and you win games.  This season’s Winnipeg Jets probably won’t lead in any statistical category, but with a Next Man Up mentality after losing Kyle Connor, they may surprise fans and pundits alike and make their case to bring the Stanley Cup to Manitoba.




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