If only it was April. The Winnipeg Jets are in a surprising position in the standings as they currently hold a playoff spot. They have played 20 games in the 2014-15 NHL season and sit third in the Central Division and seventh overall in the Western Conference. They are 10-7-3 and with 23 points are just one back of the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings, although the Jets have played more games.
The season started off dreadfully. The Jets lost five of their first seven games, with an offence that was nearly invisible. Since then they’ve managed to pick up at least a point in 11 of 13 games going 8-2-3.
So, which team are we more likely to see over the next three 62 games? The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle. There are a number of things the Jets are doing very well and some other areas they are absolutely dismal in.
It doesn’t happen often.
As you’d expect, the Buffalo Sabres are dead last in the league by a good margin with an average of 1.60 goals per game. The Jets rank 29th, with 1.90 goals per game. It’s bad, but it becomes more alarming when you consider the team in 28th is nearly .30 ahead of them with 2.19 goals per game. Yeah, the juggernaut that is the Florida Panthers are well clear of the two-goal mark.
In large part it’s still the usual trio leading the way up front. That’s Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd. However, Mark Scheifele and Michael Frolik have stepped up in recent weeks. Frolik is particularly hot of late, with four points in his past four games.
But, before we get to the good let’s not forget about the atrocious power play. The fact that the Jets have a record above .500 with a power play that’s operating at less than 10 percent is a feat in itself. Once again it’s the Buffalo Sabres in 30th at 6.8 percent and the Jets 29th at 9.0 percent. There are only three teams with a power play below 12 percent.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum statistically is the Jets’ ability to keep the puck out of their net. Winnipeg ranks fourth in the NHL allowing just 2.05 goals per game. And, their penalty kill has been dynamite killing off 86.7 percent of the team’s penalties.
The @NHLJets are 4th in the NHL in GA/G (2.05). Over the last 4 years all teams but one who finished in top 8 in GA/G made the playoffs.
— Troy Westwood (@TroyWestwood) November 19, 2014
This is due in part to improved team defence under Paul Maurice and some spectacular goaltending from both Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson. Everyone has bought into Maurice’s system. The forwards are backchecking, they are physical when they need to be and they are playing smart with and without the puck.
On defence Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom have led the way. Often matched up against the league’s best forwards, they’ve work effectively to limit the number of quality scoring chances the Jets’ netminder face. Enstrom has 32 blocked shots and Bogosian has 25 to go along with 40 hits. Jacob Trouba hasn’t produced on offence as many had hoped, but he and Mark Stuart have made up for it with their defensive play. And, remember the third pairing deserves some credit as well, especially Paul Postma, who at times looks like a completely different player than last year.
I've said this before but Paul Postma is the most improved Winnipeg Jet in my opinion.
— Ezra Ginsburg (@ICEzzyG) November 14, 2014
In goal Pavelec has silenced his critics (at least for a few weeks) and Hutchinson has proven worthy of the backup role.
- Pavelec is 7-6-2 with a 2.14 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and one shutout.
- Hutchinson is 3-1-1 with a 1.38 goals-against average, 9.48 save percentage and one shutout.
Pavelec’s positioning is solid, his rebound control is greatly improved and he’s making some desperation saves that may be a combination of pure luck and athletic ability. Goaltending has been the key to Winnipeg’s success. Without these consistent performances in goal, everything falls apart. It’s a patch that covers up the forwards inability to score. The second that Pavelec plays down to the level many expect, the Jets will drop out of the playoff race.
The Jets next game is at home against the Detroit Red Wings who have been inconsistent of late, losing 4-1 to the Habs and then shutting out the Blue Jackets 5-0. Following that it’s another home game and it’s a big one with the Blues in town. St. Louis is two points up on the Jets with two games in hand.
From there the Jets open up a three-game road trip against the Blue Jackets, Sabres and Bruins. Anything less than four points should be considered a disappointment.
Eric is a postgraduate public relations student at Humber College. Prior to that he obtained a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor. He covers the Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers and is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.