After a week of mediocre hockey, which was followed by fans panicking in the streets, screaming for drastic changes to the roster, the Winnipeg Jets finally played their most complete game of the season on Sunday, a 3-0 shutout victory over the New Jersey Devils. The win snapped the Jets three game losing streak and at least for the time being, soothed the nerves of the frayed citizens of the Manitoba capital.
Of course this means everything is hunky-dory again and the Jets are a sure thing to make the playoffs. Right? Not so fast there Ralph in St. James. (For those who don’t know, Ralph in St. James is traditionally the first caller through on the Jets post-game show on TSN 1290 and is usually either firing the whole team, or predicting a Stanley Cup this season for the Jets) Sure the Jets won one game over a winless team that can’t seem to find its way, but now is not the time to plan the parade down Portage Avenue. Which seemed to be the case after the Jets won their first two games over Edmonton and Los Angeles.
Now that isn’t to say there aren’t any positives on the Jets. Evander Kane is quickly becoming the face of the franchise and is developing into a superstar right before our eyes. Jacob Trouba has a very bright future and despite some moments of doubt, the 19-year-old defenceman will be a force on the Jets blue line for years to come. Michael Frolik has been a welcome addition to the Jets roster, providing depth to the third line.
So yes, there are bright lights on the Jets. But even after the win over the Devils, the concerns don’t stop. The Jets have yet to see the best out of defenceman Zach Bogosian. Blake Wheeler has also come out of the gate slowly and has been invisible on some nights. Defensive zone coverage has been soft, with far too many scoring chances conceded by the Jets. Claude Noel’s lineup juggling has at times been confusing and confounding.
Yes, Noel’s line juggling worked against New Jersey, splitting up the Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Wheeler line, moving Kane up to join Little and Wheeler on the top line. Ladd was dropped to the second line with Frolik and Mark Scheifele. Frolik was bumped up to the second line forcing Devin Setoguchi to the third line with Olli Jokinen and Eric Tangradi. But what will happen when things go awry like they seem to do with the Jets? Will Noel stand his ground and keep the new lines together and actually force the players to fight through the adversity? Or will Noel panic like he usually does, and either go back to the old combinations, then coming up with head-scratching moves like moving James Wright up to a top six spot? Even though Wright has all the goal-scoring skill of a beer league goaltender.
Speaking of goalies, the Jets have a slight conundrum on their hands. Ondrej Pavelec started the first five games for the Jets, recording a 3.25 goals against average and a .905 save percentage. Pavelec was solid in three of those games, but was shaky in his last start against Dallas, conceding three goals on 15 shots. The third goal was particularly brutal as Pavelec gave up a generous rebound on a soft point shot, that was tapped home by Jordie Benn, to give the Stars the cushion they needed.
On Sunday, Al Montoya made his first start of the season and was excellent in making 24 saves for the shutout. It could be argued that the Jets play better in front of Montoya has there were very few second chances for the Devils. Still, Montoya was sharp all game, and brings an intangible that Pavelec doesn’t have. Montoya is a much superior puck handler which makes life easier for the defencemen tracking back. Montoya’s puck handling skills can lead to quick transition opportunities the other way. Noel has a difficult decision to make before Tuesday’s game against Montreal. Does he go back to Pavelec who is the anointed number one goalie, who commands a $3.9 million per annum salary? Or does he stick with Montoya who is coming off a shutout performance?
While it is early in the season, the Jets better realize that the Western Conference, and in particular the Central Division is fraught with peril. The Jets cannot afford to take nights off, a far too common occurrence in the previous two seasons. The Jets homestand continues with Montreal, St. Louis, Nashville and Washington invading the MTS Centre. After that, the Jets embark on a 4 game road swing within the division. The Jets know these games are important as they can’t fall too far behind in the standings. If the inconsistency continues, changes could be coming.
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