Although they have fallen five points back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and also five points back of the division lead, there is still enough games remaining in the season for the Winnipeg Jets to avoid having to press the panic button just yet. With 36 games remaining in their schedule, the club has ample oppurtunity to get back into the race and with some very winnable upcoming games, now might be a better time than ever to make up some ground.
Whether those games are in fact winnable is a different story.
Starting tonight when they will host the struggling Buffalo Sabres, the Jets have a number of games in the next two weeks against teams that they are either ahead of in the standings or are neck and neck with for playoff positioning in the East. The only problem is that we are all well aware of the parity in the NHL, and no matter who you face, there is really no such thing as a “gimme” game; particularly for a team like Winnipeg who is struggling in their own right.
After tonight’s game against the Sabres, the Jets have two divisional games against Florida and Carolina, followed by two major challenges to close out January in contests against the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. In a perfect world, the Jets would set themselves up for success by winning tonight and the games against Florida and Carolina before embarking on those two challenges, but with the injuries that the Jets continue to deal with, their world is far from perfect.
Without their two best defencemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Zach Bogosian and arguably their best forward in Blake Wheeler, the Jets have gone from a legitimate playoff threat, to a team now scratching and clawing just to keep their heads above water.
Their failures in recent games hasn’t been due to a lack of effort, but rather the effect that the absence of those three players has had.
The injury to Wheeler is one thing, but playing without your top two defencemen, who are just as integral to the offense as they are defensively, has been the biggest reason for the team’s struggles. While the defensive side of his game often comes under fire, Byfuglien’s offense is something that simply can’t be argued against and it his absence that is being felt the most; particularly on the power-play where the Jets badly miss his point-shot and poise with the puck.
With Buffalo coming off another ugly loss in Chicago last night, the Jets may very well be catching their opponents at the right time. With Wheeler and Bogosian possible for a return tonight, they could receive the boost of life that they badly need for the final five games of the January schedule, but as we’ve seen in their recent games, simply looking at games as being “winnable” is much easier to do than actually going out there and getting the job done.
Although many of their upcoming games will appear to many as being winnable, it is up to those who can control the outcome to decide whether or not they are.