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Jets Soar with Road Trip Success

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The Winnipeg Jets are on their way home from a five-game road trip, getting ready to turn around and face the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night after a challenging three game-run against the division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs. In those games, they notched a respectable 2–0–1 record, earning five of six possible points.

These points were crucial in order to keep pace in the highly competitive North Division. In fact, the Jets are within striking distance of first place as they approach the halfway mark of the season.

After the three bouts with Toronto, the Jets haven’t been keen to label the road trip as a must-win. It wasn’t a season defining road trip, but competing head to head against Austin Matthews, John Tavares, and the rest of the talented Leafs did highlight a few areas where the Jets need to improve.

First, the team’s offensive capabilities are masking their defensive deficiencies. They need to find a way to provide better support to goalie Connor Hellebuyck. The Jets appear to rise and fall with Hellebuyck, and anything short of Vezina-like goaltending translates into a tough night for the Jets.

They simply cannot expect to score four or more goals consistently each game like they did in Toronto. It’s not a sustainable game plan in pro hockey.

Next, the first power play unit has gone stale, while the second is emerging as an elite unit and needs more ice time. The unit of Ehlers, Lowry, Perrault, Pionk, and Appleton scored twice with less than five minutes of total power play time over the three games.

Ehlers’ unique ability to gain zone entry and set up the power play in the offensive zone makes this unit a threat every time it steps on the ice. Their success could trickle into even-strength, too, with a potential line of Ehlers, Lowry, and Appleton/Perrault.

Lastly, Mason Appleton has earned more ice time and should be rewarded for his improved defensive and offensive play this season. He’s evolving in front of our eyes and is quickly becoming a very important piece of the puzzle. Appleton won’t ever be as flashy as Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, or some of the team’s other high-calibre top six, but his respectable eight goals rank fifth on the team and would have him on pace to reach 25 goals over a full 82-game season.

Appleton has become an integral piece on a third line that can confidently be deployed to defend against the other team’s top line while chipping in offense when opportunities arise.

The Jets are a formidable force this season, and with a few tweaks they could enjoy sustained results and challenge for the Stanley Cup—both this year and, fingers crossed, for years to come.

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