Every team in the NHL has a crystal clear idea of how they want to play on any given night.
Staff often dictate how successful teams can be in terms of implementing the above plan and eventually become the calling card of the group concerned.
Although each season is different – even though many core pieces are the same – forging an identity is one of the most important pillars when it comes to team building.
The word is often tossed around in conversations with players and coaches and the answers are often similar, but the reality is that the best teams in the NHL are usually the ones who play to their identities more often.
That brings us to the current fate of the Winnipeg Jets, who dropped six consecutive games (0-4-2) after Thursday’s 5-1 defeat to the Vancouver Canucks.
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When the topic of identity was touched on recently, defining the way the Jets want to play was the easy part.
“I think we are moving in the right direction. I really want this group to be a fast, physical team. “I want us to be a tough team to play against,” Jets Interim head coach Dave Lowry said Thursday morning.
“If you say you want to be a difficult team to play against, it is different. There are some guys we have that my expectation for them is their first thought is contact, then separation.
“Then I have some skilled guys that I expect to be tough guys to play against by using their speed, by controlling hands, and climbing in and turning heads. When the opportunity arises to divorce, they have to find a way to go into the corner and come out with the puck. ”
Lowry does not ask his team to abandon the concept of making skilled plays or to expect every single player in the series to become a leg-puniser hit.
Being difficult to play against goes far beyond completing your checks or dropping the gloves.
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“Absolutely. I can not expect Kyle Connor to go into the corner and chase guys around. “I do expect Kyle Connor to climb into a corner and come out with the puck,” said Lowry.
“If he can come in quickly and if he can divorce, it becomes difficult to play against. He uses his speed, which is one of his biggest strengths. Using his speed is hard to defend.
“You want your team to have an identity. Part of that identity is that we want to be a fast team, we want to be a tough team to play against. We also like the physical component. The expectation is that I do have a few guys who have to play like that. ”
The execution or ability to play to that identity was a big issue for the Jets.
Right now, the Jets are a group that seems to have a lack of confidence, at least in terms of delivering results.
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“There’s just a bunch of different facets where we’re only half a step away,” Jets forward Andrew Copp said. “So, it has to be cleaned. We just have to play better. ”
RAW: Winnipeg Jets Copp & Wheeler Interview – January 27
Sure, there were regions when the group showed signs of life and even delivered long stretches of steady play, but after a goal was allowed, things seemed to get out of hand.
Nor is it a matter of the usual ebb and flow of the season.
It looks like the Jets are struggling with what type of team they are going to be.
Despite a nice collection of skilled forwards, the Jets are not scoring enough goals.
Some of it can be linked to a low shooting percentage, but the lack of finish was a surprising twist.
Certain individuals are experiencing strong seasons in that department, but a lack of secondary score has contributed to the problem and there are many guys on the list with the ability to find a higher level of production.
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Despite a few veteran additions during the off-season, the Jets have also not yet turned into a defensive juggernaut.
No one expected the group to suddenly be among the league’s best in that division, but there have not been enough steps forward in that category and that is another thing that has contributed to this mid-season trance.
The combination of injuries and players in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol has contributed to the Jets already using 11 different defenders in games this season, including Johnny Kovacevic, who made his NHL debut on Thursday.
That’s an extraordinarily high number considering there are 42 games left.
Nor does it point the finger at the defensive corps, it’s a collective issue in coverage for the Jets.
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The five-man unit has not done a good enough job and there is no argument that can be made to suggest otherwise.
Until a greater commitment is made to strengthen this area, it is hard to imagine that there is a noticeable change.
Special teams also contributed to the Jets’ struggles.
A penalty death that leaked at the start of the season has seen an increase of nearly 20 percent efficiency since Lowry took over, but giving up two power play markers in a total of 17 seconds was definitely a contributing factor. factor in Thursday’s defeat.
On the other hand, the power play has generated about 25 percent since the coaching change, which is a steady number that the Jets have in the top third of the league for the season – but there have been situations lately when a timely marker with the man-advantage in a fierce game lately could have shifted the momentum.
This brings us to the fold, where Connor Hellebuyck was tasked with starting 13 consecutive games and was between the pipes for 34 of the 40 games played.
Even with a spread schedule up to this point, thanks in part to the postponement, it’s a high number – but it was a manageable one.
With the Jets playing 40 games in 81 days coming off the NHL star breakaway, it is safe to say Hellebuyck will continue to be heavily leaning on the piece in an effort to make a playoff game.
Hellebuyck is a Vezina trophy winner and although no one is trying to blame the man behind the mask, he has yet to play at that superhuman level, people have become accustomed to testifying since he became the starting goalie.
A big part of the Jets’ identity in recent seasons – even if it’s not officially part of the mission statement – was Hellebuyck’s ability to cover many of the team’s defensive warts with his star game.
Knowing how driven Hellebuyck is to achieve success and seeing how much ownership he has taken in terms of growing into a leader with this group, you can be sure that he is going to do his part to turn things around.
But for the Jets to give themselves a chance to do that as a group, Hellebuyck is going to need a lot of help.
Establishing an identity firmly and playing regularly thereafter would be a wise place to start.
Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for Sportsnet.ca and is a regular contributor to CJOB.
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