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With less than ten minutes left in the game and the Winnipeg Jets down 1-0 to the Calgary Flames, I was about done with the Jets being in outdoor games. Outdoor games – as I’ll note in a moment – aren’t exactly good TV to sit through and not seeing my team score through one and a half of them made it twice as bad.

What fun is having a game that the Jets have now been the home team of twice, with 30 thousand plus people attending, if you don’t get to hear them roar after a Winnipeg Jets goal? I was done.

And then Josh Morrissey scored to bring Mosaic Stadium to it’s feet and at least we finally had a goal. Bryan Little and Kyle Connor combining on the game winner was icing on the cake, and now I’m ready to see the Jets in another outdoor game again.

Just, not for a while. We’ve had our fill of them for the last three years. Let’s just let the nice memory of this one linger a little.

The outdoor spectacle? Great! The actual game? Not so much.

Let’s get this out of the way right now. Outdoor games are brutal.

Not the whole spectacle and “event” as that’s all fantastic and fun and breaks up the monotony of a long regular season (even though we just started this one), and I am willing to bet hockey fans in Saskatchewan wouldn’t mind doing that again in the very near future. The snow falling, the special jerseys made just for the event, the bands performing at intermissions (man, I love me some Sheepdogs), the fireworks… All of that stuff is always great and fun.

The actual game played on the ice in these things though? It’s always brutal.

Both Bryan Little and Matthew Tkachuk commented on how great the conditions were and they weren’t wrong, but I feel like that’s more of a comment on the conditions relative to how bad the weather and ice surface *could* (and has been) be in one of these things. The layer of snow still slowed up play and you could tell players struggled with vision with wind and snow blowing in their face. It was a sluggish, sloppy game at times last night and really didn’t pick up until the three on three overtime and even that felt muted.

The NHL isn’t going to stop doing these outdoor games. They are a great money maker and grab eyes of the casual fans (that is when it is marketed properly which I’d argue this one wasn’t) so for the fans who wish they would, maybe just learn to embrace the pomp and circumstance of the games and then put up with the sub-par hockey.

Ville should have been in this game.

Paul Maurice’s official explanation to reporters when asked why 18 year old defenseman Ville Heinola wasn’t in the game was that he wanted to “delay” the decision the Jets were going to have to make about his year as soon as he plays in his ninth NHL game. During the game, in talking about players who were healthy scratches for the game it was revealed by Sportsnet (Craig Simpson I believe) that Maurice lamented that he went with some of his younger players in the 2016 Heritage Classic which ended up being a loss and that the veteran players missed out on the experience.

Either way the reasoning for why Heinola wasn’t in is bad. Maybe I (along with everyone else really) are biased because we’re all fans and it worked out in the end, but Heinola’s play was good enough to earn a spot in that game.

Special teams still not that special.

I’m going to preface this point by stating that we can’t fully judge how either unit truly did because of the game and the environment they played in.

The Jets power play – up until the Josh Morrissey goal of course – looked simply awful. It wasn’t that good in overtime either when the Jets had a four on three advantage. The players are too stationary and the puck doesn’t move a whole lot and when it does it’s not with any kind of speed that opposing teams can’t handle.

The penalty kill also continues to remain bad, but to be fair the one power play that they did allow should have never happened as the Jets did properly clear the puck, only for it to be knocked down with a high stick by Matthew Tkachuk. (Sorry NHL, Tkachuk is 6’2″ and even if he’s “bent over” it’s only by a matter of a few inches and that puck is still at head level. To quote a wise man on a different TV show: Figure it out.) 

The Jets at least killed the penalty that came after the failed review as well as the penalty at the start of the third for Adam Lowry’s rather stupid hit on Kyle Kylington, so those are positives.

Like I said, we won’t gloss too much over it in this game, but there is still reason for concern on special teams.

Tucker Poolman’s hustle saved the day.

Obviously the Morrissey goal stands out as a huge moment in the game and without it we’re not talking about a Jets victory today, but I also feel like we can say the same thing about the hustle play Tucker Poolman had just after that goal was scored.

Sam Bennett had a the puck all alone mere feet in front of Connor Hellebuyck… Until he didn’t. Such a heads up play by Poolman which almost didn’t happen because it looks like initially he was going to go back less a stick and defend without it, but took a quick side detour. Either that was the bench yelling at him to get one or just an instinct kicking in, whatever it was is was such a smart play and one that not only saved a potential goal, but also a potential late penalty as trying to break that play up without a stick would have surely been called by the refs.

Connor Hellebuyck also saved the day.

Both goalies, Hellebuyck and the Flames David Rittich were great under what had to be very trying conditions. Snow flying, pucks in the air against a dark background, both teams throwing pucks on net looking to score ugly goals as you do in an outdoor game usually.

Hellebuyck posted a .967 save percentage and was fantastic yet again and for a moment there it was looking like the Jets were going to lose in spite of a fine effort from their goalie. Thankfully that wasn’t the case.

But I do worry that some will look at how little the Jets have given up in terms of goals against and equate that to good defense overall. Compared to very early in the season, yes the defense is better but that’s not a very high bar to clear. Hellebuyck’s work is covering up a lot of defensive mistakes right now, and the team is still giving up 30 or more shots per game. That needs to get tightened up a little bit more.

But for those that suggested that the Jets lone chance of doing anything this season rested with Connor Hellebuyck returning to his Vezina-worthy form of a couple of seasons ago, you may be seeing it…

Bryan Little is better than you think

It’s a small sample size of three games, but Bryan Little has had a very good start to his 2019-20 season. He’s played mostly with Kyle Connor in those three games while the other wing has been a mix of Nikolaj Ehlers, Laine and Blake Wheeler which at this point seems to be more about Maurice trying to get Wheeler going than anything related to Connor and Little who seem to be doing fine together. Little’s numbers would suggest that he’s getting a lot more scoring chances than he’s giving up and he’s been doing it while having most of his zone starts begin in the defensive end of the ice.

For the few that have suggested Little has a hard time keeping up with younger, faster linemates… He certainly kept up on that two on one to end the game didn’t he?

Again, small sample size and it’s worth keeping an eye on, but early indications are Bryan Little could be a productive top six forward for the Jets this season.


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