The Winnipeg Jets’ playoff hopes are still dim despite a 3-1-0 homestand.
Jets Mostly Took Care of Business, But Barely
The Jets’ four-game stint at Canada Life Centre last week featured exclusively opponents below the playoff line: the Vegas Golden Knights, Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Arizona Coyotes.
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The Jets captured six out of a possible eight points against those opponents, but none of the points came easily.
Most recently, the Jets eked out a 2-1 overtime victory against the NHL’s worst team in the Coyotes, with Mark Scheifele beating Jets’ Kryptonite Karel Vejmelka in the dying seconds of the extra frame to lift his team to victory.
Scheifele’s goal was the second overtime game-winner of the weekend. Two nights earlier, Nikolaj Ehlers played the hero and gave the Jets to a 4-3 win over the Blue Jackets, perhaps stopping Jets fans from rioting in the streets of downtown — a questionable slashing penalty to Josh Morrissey wiped out an empty net goal that would have iced the game. A 4-2 lead turned into a 3-3 tie as just seconds into the power play, with 14 seconds left, the Blue Jackets scored the equalizer.
On Tuesday, the Jets had a terribly slow start — it took them more than 15 minutes to register their first shot — but found their legs in the second and third periods in a 4-0 win over the free-falling Golden Knights.
Thursday was the only loss of the homestand, as the Jets looked nothing like a team desperate for every point available in a listless 5-2 loss to the Senators (the only good part of that contest was Kyle Connor scoring late in the third to become the Jets’ first 40/40 man in the 2.0 era.)
Jets Face Formidable Foes in Final 15
The two points the Jets should have been able to snag against the Senators may loom large in the chase for the second Western Conference Wild card spot.
The luxury of facing weaker opponents is not one the team enjoy much down the stretch. Their final 15 games this season sees them face off against a number of formidable, dynamic, and dangerous foes.
Between now and late April, they’ll go head to head with the Toronto Maple Leafs (March 31,) Los Angeles Kings (April 2,) NHL best Colorado Avalanche (April 8 and April 24), high-scoring Florida Panthers (April 15,) two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning (April 16) former Jet Andrew Copp and the New York Rangers (April 19), the skilled-and-speedy Carolina Hurricanes, and the Pacific-leading Calgary Flames (April 29.)
That’s a murderer’s row if there ever was one. The Jets are a combined 5-5-0 against those teams this season.
The website Tankathon.com tracks the Strength of Schedule statistic; the higher the number, the more difficult the schedule. The site has the Jets ranked 11th as of Tuesday morning.
Jets Have No Room for Error Against Weaker Opponents
That’s not to say the Jets won’t face some weaker teams as well: they also play the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Seattle Kraken, and Philadelphia Flyers.
Unfortunately, the games against the Senators and Coyotes were just two more examples of one of the Jets’ many recurring problems: they play down to inferior-on-paper (but superiorly-coached) opponents.
The Jets are just a combined 3-3-0 against those teams this season. A demoralizing 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 14 was the last game under Paul Maurice, who resigned before he could get fired; a 3-1 loss to the Flyers on Feb. 1 was one of the Jets’ most moribund 60 minutes of the season.
The Jets cannot play down to these out-of-the-picture opponents now. Conservatively, they need at least 95 points, meaning they’ll need to go at least 10-4-1. That’s not impossible, but due to their underachieving play through most of the season, they have absolutely no room for error.
The Jets are finding decent results currently with a 7-3-0 record in their past 10 games. With 74 points, they sit just two points out of the second Western Conference Wild Card spot, currently held by the Golden Knights.
Unfortunately, the Dallas Stars, who stand in the way, have 75 points and three games in hand. As of Monday morning, MoneyPuck.com gave the Jets just a 4.5 per cent chance of making the playoffs, which shows just how important it was for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to stay the seller’s course at last week’s Trade Deadline and deal his biggest asset in Andrew Copp.
Related: Jets’ Trade Deadline a Success Thanks to Cheveldayoff’s Logical Moves
The odds are long indeed, but the path to defying those odds is simple. The Jets have to win against the strong teams. The Jets have to win against the weak teams. They have to win against just about everybody.