History does not bode well for the Winnipeg Jets as they prepare for their first-round series against the Edmonton Oilers, which commences Wednesday evening. Not only were the Jets utterly dominated in the season series against the pesky Oilers, but they have also endured a torrid time against their North Division rivals in the playoffs.
Losing six straight playoff series to the Oilers between 1983 and 1990, the odds are well and truly stacked against the side from Winnipeg. It will take a nearly flawless collective effort for the Jets to banish the Oilers for the first in their playoff history, including the following three critical components.
Jets’ Connors Need to Steal the Show
Connor Hellebuyck must find his Vezina form from last season for the Jets to have any chance of upending the favored Oilers. Hellebuyck’s overall stats in the current campaign wouldn’t, had it not been for an abject run of games against the Oilers, be too dissimilar to his metrics that won him last season’s Vezina Trophy. His goals-against average (2.58) is almost identical to last season’s total (2.57), while his save percentage (SV%) dipped from .922 to .916.
Hellebuyck’s underwhelming run of performances against the Oilers contributed most to this season’s inferior numbers. Last year’s Vezina winner has won just two of seven starts against the Oilers this season, highlighted by a swollen 3.96 GAA along with a subpar .877 SV%.
Hellebuyck, for the Jets to have any hope of overcoming the Oilers, must be at his sensational best. While Winnipeg’s success in the forthcoming first-round series is partially predicated on Hellebuyck standing on his head, his return to Vezina form might not, in a silo, be enough to oust the heavily favored Oilers.
By now, we all know there is absolutely no way of completely stopping Connor McDavid. However, come hell or high water, Winnipeg must find a way to slow down the runaway locomotive. With seven goals and 15 helpers in nine starts, the world’s best player has unilaterally decimated the Jets. That equates to an average of 2.4 points per game, almost 0.5 points per game higher than his season average of 1.89.
If the Jets are to overcome the high-flying Oilers, they’ll need to slightly suppress McDavid’s utter dominance. Keeping the league’s leading scorer to a comparatively paltry 1.5 points per game would probably be enough to help pull off the upset.
Let’s not forget about the impact the tertiary Connor must have on this series. Kyle Connor, the team’s second-leading scorer behind captain Mark Scheifele, is another key piece of the Jets’ winning formula. The left winger, who led the way with 26 goals, finished the season on a high note, scoring four goals and adding two helpers in his last three outings.
That was on the back of a seven-game scoring drought. Connor and his linemates – Scheifele and Blake Wheeler — enter the postseason in fine form and must find a way not to be completely overshadowed and upstaged by McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Jets Need to Stay Out of the Sin Bin
Unsurprisingly, the Oilers boast the league’s most prolific and potent power play. Staying out of the sin bin and preventing Edmonton’s power play the opportunity to run rampant is of paramount importance. The Oilers, going into their final game of the season, have a power-play proficiency of 28.1 percent. That’s almost three percent higher than the Carolina Hurricanes, the NHL’s second-best with the man advantage.
The Oilers have scored 48 goals in 171 power play opportunities and, even more forebodingly, netted eight goals in seven games against Hellebuyck with the man advantage.
There’s an incredibly fine line between playing a physical brand of hockey required to derail the Oilers and stepping over the edge into undisciplined territory. The latter could prove catastrophic for the Jets, who have shown a disconcerting inability to subdue the Oilers’ prolific efficiency with the man advantage.
Jets Need to Start the Playoffs With a Clean Slate
The Jets’ ability to start the postseason with a clean slate, forgetting about the litany of issues that could weigh heavily on the team’s collective mind frame, will prove decisive in determining the outcome of their first-round series.
The Jets endured a miserable season series against the Oilers, losing seven of nine encounters against their North Division foes. Along with a dismal 2-7 record against the Oilers, the Jets have sputtered considerably in recent weeks.
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Before dismantling the Flames 4-0 on May 5, the Jets had lost seven games on the bounce, three of which, by a combined 12-2 score, against their first-round opponents. The Jets have improved since the extended losing skid, winning three of five to finish the season.
They’ll need to wipe clean any lingering negative memories accrued over the last month – or harness them as added motivation – to have any chance of exorcising their Edmonton demons. There is some potentially positive news coming out of Winnipeg’s camp that, if realized, will buoy Winnipeg’s chances of advancing past the first round.
The team is optimistic regarding Nikolaj Ehlers’ return to the lineup. As customary at this time of year, the Jets’ stance on the status of their injured winger remains vague. However, there’s a strong chance, after the 25-year-old began skating again on May 10, that he’ll return to the lineup at some stage of the first round.
If he’s fully fit, the top-six forward’s presence in the lineup would surely galvanize a Jets team that is poised to overcome the Oilers and prove wrong a growing populous of naysayers.
A freelance sports writer and content strategist, Gary trains rigorously to avoid carpal tunnel, writing about hockey, footy and all things Jets and Tottenham. He’s freelanced for The Calgary Herald, FanSided, Sports Illustrated, The Canadian Press, among others.