It’s only October, but already there are many in Manitoba feeling cold and bitter because of the way the Winnipeg Jets have started the 2014-15 season. While it would be foolish to expect a playoff appearance this season — take a quick look at the Central Division — there was an expectation that this team would show signs of progress. It’s still very early, but with a 1-4-0 start the Jets look like a team that could regress.
The Jets went into Arizona for their first game of the season and silenced the Coyotes with a sound 6-2 victory. Since that game, the Jets have lost four straight, managing a grand total of just two goals. They rank 27th in the NHL with an average of 1.60 goals per game.
First thing to consider is the loss of Evander Kane. He has the potential to be a 40-goal scorer and he hasn’t played since colliding with Mark Scheifele early against the Coyotes. He is still a week away from being reevaluated and there has been nothing said that would make you expect he’d be ready after this weekend.
Kane update is lower body injury-out 2 weeks then will be re-evaluated
— Shane Hnidy (@ShaneHnidy) October 11, 2014
It’s a tough blow to deal with one game in, but the Jets were capable of scoring that night against the Coyotes. Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little have contributed a combined five goals. Not great, but acceptable. Captain Andrew Ladd has yet to find the back of the net, Scheifele’s first and only goal came against the Calgary Flames in a 4-1 loss and as you might have figured, the bottom two lines have done very little to create offence.
The problem isn’t generating shots, as the Jets rank in the top half of the league averaging more than 30 shots per game. Creating more quality chances is key, rather than throwing pucks on net that have little chance of going in or even allowing for a rebound. Whether it’s entering the zone with speed and driving hard to the net, having a hard forecheck or working the puck effectively off the cycle, the Jets need to play a more exciting style of offence.
Power Play Not Helping
The power play could help jump start the Jets forwards in a game. Unfortunately, they need to find a way to jump start the power play first. The Jets are dead last in the NHL on the man advantage as they have yet to score a single power play goal. They’ve had 14 chances, but like the Rangers, Wild and Connor McDavid-seeking Sabres, they have come up empty.
The Jets lack depth at forward and defence, but their top power play unit is stacked with dynamic offensive weapons. There is no excuse for its lack of production and it’s only a matter of time before it breaks out. Dustin Byfuglien and/or Tobias Enstrom need to be more of a factor from the point, getting shots through traffic and making quick passes to the wingers.
It’s Not All Bad
On one side of special teams is the struggles of the power play, the other side is the spectacular penalty kill. The Jets rank third in the NHL with a 95.2 percent penalty kill. Only the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets — who have yet to allow a goal shorthanded — rank higher.
A little bit of luck always factors in on the penalty kill, but don’t take anything away from what the Jets have done shorthanded. Blocked shots have been crucial; Mark Stuart and Jacob Trouba lead the way for the team with nine and eight blocked shots, respectively. Both players are averaging well over three minutes per game on the penalty kill. Ladd hasn’t contributed on offence but on the kill he’s been a physical factor and put good pressure on the points. And, of course, some credit to Ondrej Pavelec who has been average overall to start year, but perfect on the penalty kill.
If Winnipeg can find a way to play consistent defence five-on-five as they seem to when down a man, they would at least keep games close. Scoring is a different beast. Five games in and we have yet to see the speed and skill of the top lines take over for any stretch of time.
The quicker Evander Kane returns, the better.
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.