After a six game, two-week road trip that saw the Winnipeg Jets go 4-2 during that span, the team returns home to the frozen tundra of the Manitoba capital, to prepare for a three game home stand against rivals from the Central Division.
The Jets did enjoy some success on the road, but gained precious little ground in the chase for a playoff spot. Currently the Jets are in sixth place in the Central Division, seven points behind fourth place Minnesota. In the wildcard race, the Jets are five points behind the Phoenix Coyotes for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
While the Jets did show some promise on this swing away from home, concerns still remain with the club. After a convincing 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers in which the Jets probably played their best hockey of the season, the team followed that with an embarrassing 5-2 loss to the woeful Florida Panthers. The Jets still have difficulties in stringing consecutive solid games together, usually teasing fans with an excellent one-off performance, then following it with a dud. Consistency remains an element missing with this team and it must be fixed if the Jets have any hopes for the playoffs. Especially in the tough Western Conference.
With the exception of the Ranger game, the Jets sit back too much and try to protect leads, or even worse ties. In the wins over the New York Islanders and New Jersey, the Jets built early leads with a solid forecheck and dominating puck possession. However, the third periods in both games saw the Jets sit back and try to protect those leads, thus losing their intensity and aggression. Yes, the Jets did hang on for the two points, but that style of hockey could prove costly in the long run. Don’t believe me? Ask the Toronto Maple Leafs on how hanging on for dear life in the third period can be costly. On the last game of the road trip, the Jets gave up a late second period goal to the Lightning that tied the game. In the third period, the Jets were clearly playing for overtime as the Lightning outshot the Jets 12-6. The Lightning had 22 shot attempts in the third compared to 9 shot attempts for the Jets, as the Lightning won the Corsi battle 50 to the Jets 35. Fortunately, the Jets prevailed in overtime.
There were positives on this trip as well. Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Evander Kane all broke long scoring droughts on this east coast excursion. Kane notched his first goal in 12 games against New Jersey. Scheifele scored his first in 25 games against the Devils, then followed that up with the overtime winner against the Lightning. Wheeler, who has been the subject of criticism in the Winnipeg media, scored his first in 14 games against the Rangers, and was the best player in the win over Tampa, recording a goal and setting up Scheifele with a lovely cross-crease pass in overtime. There is a concern with Kane’s health as he missed the last three games with a lower-body injury. The Jets are hoping that Kane will be ready for Tuesday’s tilt against St. Louis.
The Jets will get a quick reminder that they will be playing the Western Conference again with the Blues on Tuesday. While the Eastern Conference teams play a more run-and-gun style, the West is filled with hulking, nasty teams who concede little space and pressure the puck carrier. The Jets will need to ramp up their intensity as the Blues, Colorado and Dallas invade the MTS Centre. This will be a big challenge for the Jets that could be a turning point in the season. Win all three games, and the Jets are right in the thick of the playoff chase. Lose all three, and the talk of next year will begin in earnest amongst the fans and media. Too early? Perhaps, but the West is so tough this season that any slump or losing streak could be the difference between playoffs and golfing in April. The Jets must pay heed.
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