The Winnipeg Jets are within striking distance of a playoff spot once again after picking up five of six points over their past three games. They are currently one point behind the Calgary Flames for the Western Conference’s final wild card spot and two points behind the Arizona Coyotes with a game in hand.
The Jets are home after a one-off in St. Louis and will begin a six-game home stand on Saturday afternoon. It’s a stint that will make or break their playoff aspirations.
Here’s a look at what needs to happen for the Jets to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Top Guns Need to Get Going
At the beginning of the season, who would have thought the Jets would have sustained struggles on offence?
Strangely enough, their deficient defence has actually been pretty stingy of late; recent losses have been due to the guys that are paid the big bucks to find the back of the net not doing nearly enough twine-tickling.
What they’ve mostly been doing is shooting blanks. While their point totals are respectable enough, they simply need to score more goals.
Over the past 10 games, the (supposedly fearsome) foursome of Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler have combined for just eight tallies, and two of them have been empty-netters. The Jets as a whole have scored 22, and are 3-6-1 in that span.
Patrik Laine, with five goals in his last seven, can only do so much.
The Power Play Needs to Start Producing
Connor, Ehlers, Scheifele and Wheeler would have more points if they were converting on the power play, but their performance with the man advantage has been a disaster recently; the Jets have gone a paltry 2 for 30 in their past 10 and have dropped to 18.5% efficiency on the season.
Nothing they’re doing is working. Wheeler hasn’t connected the cross-ice seam pass to Laine consistently, nor has he been able to work it to Scheifele in the slot. Neal Pionk hasn’t been making anything happen from the point and his passing has been noticeably poor. Connor hasn’t factored into much of anything at all.
Despite this, the Wheeler/Scheifele/Laine/Connor/Pionk unit continues to command nearly all the power play ice time. Ehlers — on the second unit —got just 33 seconds of power play time in Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators.
Meanwhile, Connor played every second of the 5:33 they had, Pionk played 5:22, Scheifele played 5:21, and Wheeler played 5:02 (from ‘Power Outage,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 02/05/2020.)
Going forward, the second unit must get more time, if simply to provide some different looks.
The Jets Need to Avoid Adding to Infirmary
Anyone know how a hockey team can avoid injuries? If so, please drop the Jets a line.
They’re missing Carl Dahlstrom, Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Mark Letestu, Mathieu Perreault, and Tucker Poolman, and now Luca Sbisa. The 30-year-old defenseman took a David Perron shot to the knee in the second period of Thursday’s game against the St. Louis Blues and won’t be available Saturday.
Whether they need to find a lucky rabbit’s foot or make some sort of sacrifice to a hockey god, the Jets cannot afford to lose any more players if they want to be successful.
No Easy Games in Make-or-Break Stretch
The Jets have been through a lot this season, on the injury front and with the Dustin Byfuglien situation. At the end of the day, though, every team has injuries and adversity.
This is a do-or-die home stand, plain and simple. The time for excuses is over and the time to execute is upon us.
All six games between Saturday and Feb. 20 — versus the Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, the Blackhawks again, and the Los Angeles Kings — are against teams outside the playoff picture.
But that doesn’t mean any of them will be easy. The Jets are also on the outside looking in and have plenty of problems of their own, as we’ve explored.
The Jets’ home record isn’t great either: it’s 12-12-3, with one of those 12 “home” wins actually coming in Regina at the 2019 Heritage Classic. And remember, they’ve already lost to the Kings twice this season and have fallen to other supposed “bottom feeders” in the New Jersey Devils, Anaheim Ducks, and Detroit Red Wings.
They will have to find another gear at Bell MTS Place, as they will likely need 95-plus points to qualify for the post season. This means they’ll need to capture 36 out of a possible 54 points in their final 27 games. It’s a tall order, but one they can start to fill with at least four wins.
While underlying numbers show they’re not built for a long playoff run, strange and magical things can happen in the postseason. But to experience those things, you have to get in first.
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Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.