On many nights, it has been the missing link — a piece that hasn’t been prominent in nearly enough games this season for the Winnipeg Jets.
While there have been plenty of impressive individual performances, the lack of secondary scoring is one of several reasons the Jets find themselves below the playoff line in the Western Conference heading into Friday’s pivotal tilt with the Dallas Stars.
Much of the discussion around the Jets has focused on the inability to have more than one of the top two lines clicking in the same game — a trend that was interrupted as the Jets posted victories over the Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes for what was just the third stretch of consecutive wins in 2022.
The Jets haven’t had enough production from the third and fourth lines on the whole, but that concern has also been alleviated of late, thanks in part to the offensive resurgence for centre Adam Lowry.
Lowry’s responsibilities have always stretched beyond his offensive contributions, given his role on the penalty kill and as the third-line centre.
And while his underlying numbers have remained steady, the scoring slump during the first half and change was real. Lowry had three goals through the first 23 games of the campaign, then endured a drought of 25 contests before finding the back of the net again.
The shorthanded marker against the Edmonton Oilers ignited a hot streak that has now included four goals and six points over the past seven games.
Lowry is skating well, has been involved physically and is providing some quality minutes at a time of the season when the Jets are trying to make a push.
When he signed a five-year contract extension that carries an AAV of $3.25 million on April 16, 2021, Lowry opted to commit to the core group rather than test the open market as an unrestricted free agent for the first time.
Part of what makes him a valuable part of this group is his ability to impact the game in a variety of ways, but Lowry also takes pride in chipping in offensively, as someone who has hit double digits in goals four times in his past seven seasons.
In the midst of the offensive struggles, Lowry openly discussed the importance of needing more from the third and fourth lines.
“It’s going to be critical. It’s going to be critical for the other guys playing those minutes to find a way to contribute, not just trying to play net even,” said Lowry.
“Sometimes the other two lines aren’t going to be going. You need some goals at key times from some unlikely people so I think it’s something we’re all pretty aware of.
“We haven’t had a lot of production pretty much the entire year from our group, so I think it’s something in the second half we definitely need to improve upon if we want to be a team that’s going to push for the playoffs and a team that’s ultimately going to get in.”
Lowry isn’t the only forward enjoying a resurgence, as Evgeny Svechnikov has taken advantage of his opportunity to be reunited with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor after Cole Perfetti was sidelined with a suspected shoulder injury.
After a few other options were tested out, Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry gave Svechnikov another shot and he’s delivered goals in three consecutive games, consecutive multipoint games and five points over the past four full games he’s been back with Dubois and Connor.
Technically speaking, Svechnikov is playing on one of the top two lines, but considering much of his time has been spent bouncing around the lineup, he’s a complementary player and his offence falls into the secondary scoring pile.
Svechnikov has shown well in an enhanced role, but as a guy still working to establish himself as an NHL regular, this recent streak of raw production should only bolster his push for more ice time — and a bit more security.
Signing Svechnikov to an American Hockey League contract with the Manitoba Moose and bringing him into training camp on a pro tryout offer has proven to be a shrewd move for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.
He’s up to six goals and 15 points in 44 games this season and he’s another guy whose underlying numbers show a player that is contributing, even during the times when he’s not always making his way onto the scoresheet.
Dominic Toninato has also done a nice job of chipping in during his time on the fourth line and while shorthanded, as he’s up to five goals and 10 points in 49 games.
There are other players on the third and fourth lines, like Jansen Harkins, Kristian Vesalainen and Winnipegger Adam Brooks, who the Jets will be looking for more from down the stretch, but if this recent production from guys like Lowry, Svechnikov and Toninato is a sign of things to come, things could get increasingly interesting leading up to the NHL trade deadline on March 21.
Going into Thursday’s action, the Jets are six points behind the Stars in the chase for the second wild-card berth in the West.
This is the fourth and final meeting between the two clubs and the first three have required extra time, with the Stars taking two of three of those so far (including the prior two meetings in Dallas).
With both the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild in a bit of a funk, the Jets are seven and eight points behind their Central Division rivals.
However, the Jets won’t threaten any of the aforementioned teams unless they can go on a remarkable run.
Friday’s game represents an opportunity for the Jets to string together a three-game winning streak for the first time since early January.
Getting more production from members of the supporting cast is one way of raising the likelihood of achieving that goal as this four-game homestand continues.
“Usually when you have scoring throughout, you’re on the right side of the game. It’s always a nice bonus,” Dave Lowry said after Sunday’s 5-3 win over the Coyotes.
“You’re always looking for depth scoring. We talk about it, but it’s nice to see it happen and be rewarded for it.”
Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for Sportsnet.ca and is a regular contributor to CJOB.