Last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled mightily on the road, finishing with a 14-22-5 record, which ranked them 27th in the NHL. Only Edmonton, Tampa Bay and Columbus finished lower than the Jets away from home. Many experts agreed that if the Jets had any chance of making the playoffs, their play must improve away from the MTS Centre.
If the first two away games are any indication, the Jets are well on their way to improving their road fortunes. A shootout loss against a tough Boston side, followed by their first win of the season at Washington has given the Jets new life, and raised expectations with management and the fans.
Head coach Claude Noel even said he was happy with the Jets play on this mini road trip. And that concerns me. No coach should ever be happy with his team’s play just three games into the season. Despite the success on the road, the Jets still have plenty of things to work on.
The power play is still inconsistent, despite scoring twice with the man advantage against Washington. The Jets rank 2oth in the NHL with the extra man, with a 20% success percentage. However, too many times the Jets make that extra pass instead of just throwing the puck at the net. While there is skill, the Jets don’t need to make the perfect play. They just need to direct shots at the net, and get some dirty goals.
The defence still has issues with depth. Dustin Byfuglien has been outstanding early on this season, and has been the Jets best player so far in 2013. However, Ron Hainsey, Paul Postma and Grant Clitsome have all struggled in their own end. Postma in particular handles the puck like a hand grenade, leading to scoring chances for the opposition. There has been talk that Zach Redmond may suit up for the Jets as early as Friday night. Redmond has been having a terrific season for the Jets AHL affiliate in St. John’s and some think he is NHL ready. Noel has been hesitant about using Redmond, but if Postma’s struggles continue, Redmond could see game action in the very near future.
The Jets still give up far too many shots against. After the first three games, the Jets have given up an average of 32.7 shots per game, which ranks 23rd in the league. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec has been solid early in the season for the Jets, but he sees far too many pucks directed towards him. The Jets must do a better job at preventing puck towards their own goal, thus saving Pavelec’s energy.
Penalty killing is also in need of improvement. In three games, the Jets have killed off 75% of their penalties which ranks them 19th in the NHL. The Jets were perfect against Washington while shorthanded, killing off all 4 power play opportunities the Caps had. Noel is hoping that trend continues for the rest of the season.
So yes, the Jets should be pleased with their play on this road trip. The likes of Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler played very well on this road swing. Kane in particular was very strong in the last two games, after a shaky game in the season opener against Ottawa.
But the Jets can’t afford to feel too good about themselves. The Pittsburgh Penguins roll into town on Friday, and they will be in a foul mood, after losing their home opener to Toronto on Wednesday night. Noel and company can’t get too happy now. The road is about to get very bumpy.
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