Currently the owners of a 5-5-1 record, the Winnipeg Jets have played the kind of hockey that is typical of a .500 team so far this season. At times the Jets have looked like a solid unit capable of skating among the top 8 teams in the Eastern Conference, but there have also been times where the team has taken on the feel of a team more destined for a high lottery position rather than the post-season.
So what do we make of these Jets? Is it merely a case of them not being as good as they play on some nights, and at the same time not being as bad as they play on some nights? Perhaps, but lucky for them it does not matter how you win. And as long as the Jets continue to possess this often defiant ability to scratch and claw their way to points, they should continue to hover around the playoffs.
They can however become more than a .500 team, because the fact that they have been able to win as many as they’ve lost is pretty remarkable given how little consistency they have played with on a game-to-game basis.
For starters, the team’s two best offensive players, Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler have both been the epitomy of inconsistent through the 11 games this season. Prior to a humbling 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on February 1, Kane had been on a tear registering at least a point in five straight games and totalling eight points. His numbers in the two games prior and the four games since? Nothing but zeroes and minuses.
For Wheeler, the club’s leader scorer last year, it has been much of the same. Pointless in his first two games, followed by a five-game point streak, to now having just a single goal in the past four games as well as carrying a -5 rating. When Kane and Wheeler were streaking, head coach Claude Noel was praised for pairing the two together on the top line but their current struggles forced him to again juggle his lines and split his top guns up.
The move seemed to work in a 1-0 win on Saturday afternoon in Ottawa, but its hard to put much stock in a game where the lone goal came from the third line on a turnover and an accidental deflection. In that game the third line consisting of Alex Burmistrov, Kyle Wellwood and Alexei Ponikarovsky was the best line on the ice, giving the Jets a huge lift that needs to continue in order to help relieve some pressure from the top two lines.
In the past few games the Jets have stumbled across a nice problem to have, with much of their offense coming from unlikely sources on the back-end. The likes of Paul Postma, Zach Redmond and Grant Clitsome have found their way onto the score-sheet, and although any offense they provide is welcomed, it certainly can’t be relied on like it strangely has been of late.
While the injuries to Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien have been both positive and problematic, it has allowed the aforementioned players to find a comfort level in the NHL to the point where they have exceeded expectations. With Byfuglien set to return and Bogosian not far off, the chance for the team to regain it’s identity seems to be getting closer. Backup Al Montoya came through with a massive start in the shutout win over Ottawa and the club will hope that it can rub off on Ondrej Pavelec who had looked sluggish in his recent starts.
With three very challenging games at home this week against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Boston, the Jets have the chance to shake off their inconsistent ways and gain some big momentum. Although it is probably still too early to start talking about season defining moments, it is not a stretch to believe that their success or failure in those three games will go a long way in judging what kind of team they will be the rest of the way.
Two wins could very well be a sign that they are on the upswing, two losses and that annoying 13-letter word may continue to plague them.