There is a feeling of hopelessness this year for many fans of Western Conference teams, albeit for different reasons. For an under performing Los Angeles Kings team, a playoff spot is likely, but catching the Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific Division? Not a chance. The two teams from Alberta — the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers — are at the bottom of the standings and will almost certainly remain there come April.
It wasn’t long ago that the Winnipeg Jets were just barely ahead of the Flames and Oilers. That’s not the case anymore, as the Jets have surged under head coach Paul Maurice. The question now is whether there really is reason to hope, or will this be yet another season where the Jets come up just short of the playoffs.
The Hot Streak
The Jets find themselves just two points out of the playoffs heading into the break, having gone 9-3-1 since Paul Maurice took over. That includes wins over the mighty Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs. The offense has taken off, with Bryan Little and Mark Scheifele having a major impact in nearly every game. The Jets have managed to score three or more goals in eight of their past 14 games. This has been done largely without the help of Evander Kane, who has an infected hand and will return sometime after the Olympic break.
The power play is showing signs of improvement, but still has a ways to go before it can even be considered average. The penalty kill is a very different story. The Jets are among the league’s best when down a man. They rank sixth in the NHL having killed off 84.3 percent of their penalties, not to mention they’ve notched five shorthanded goals.
Overall the Jets appear more poised and confident, but there is still plenty of work to do, especially in the defensive zone. Turnovers and missed assignments continue to occur, as we saw Saturday in a 4-3 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues.
Of course, those defensive zone mistakes aren’t as noticeable when your goaltender comes up with timely saves. Which is exactly what Ondrej Pavelec and Al Montoya have done in recent weeks. They may not be spectacular each and every night, but they’re making tough stops in crucial moments to keep the Jets alive in games.
The Break and Remaining Schedule
The break may have come at a bad time. The Jets are currently in the midst of one of their best stretches all season. However, on the positive side, this two week break gives Evander Kane, Jim Slater and Matt Halischuk time to recover without missing more games.
In speaking with Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun prior to Saturday’s game in St. Louis, Maurice talked about the upcoming break.
“Thinking about that, you’d say, ‘Geez, at 9-3 we want to keep it rolling.’ And there’s some truth in that. But it’s on us to use the break properly, the players to take care of themselves, the coaches to prepare them right coming out of the break and I think they do need it.”
He went on to say the break should be a good thing if handled properly. The Jets will have 22 games to play after the break, most of which will be against teams that currently hold a playoff spot.
Two games against the Kings and Avalanche, as well as showdowns with the Penguins and Bruins. The Jets will have two three-game home stands, but also a five-game western road-trip. This will include games against the Stars, Ducks and Sharks.
The Jets will probably need to take the majority of points from these games and win in regulation against teams such as the Coyotes, who are also battling for a wild-card spot. And, while there is reason to hope, the Jets still have a lot to prove before they can be considered a legitimate threat to make the playoffs.
A solid 14-game stretch is one thing, but how far can they extend it?