Heading into the All Star Game weekend, the Jets were unable to muster up a win against the New York Rangers Tuesday night losing 3-0. The Jets’ overall record as it stands now is 22-22-6 placing them tenth in the East five points back of a playoff spot. The Jets are going to have to find a way to win on the road if they are going to make the playoffs. Winnipeg’s road record is 7-14-4. Only the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning have more road losses than the Jets in the Eastern Conference and the Carolina Hurricanes are the only team to have less road wins in the Conference than the Jets. Here’s a break down of the team’s progress:
Ondrej Pavelec has earned every penny of his salary this season. Only four goaltenders have had more shots on them this season than Pavelec (1215) has had. Pavelec has a respectable 2.84 goals against average (GAA). Out of the four players ahead of him in shots against, only two of them have a better GAA. Pavelec up to now is the Jets MVP. He has played better than I could have expected considering the work load he has had to face, especially when so many of their regular defensemen have been absent due to injuries. Backing up Pavelec is Chris Mason. Mason has been a solid back up with a 6-5-0 record and a 2.28 GAA. He know his roll and has done very well.
There is still a lot of work that needs to be done with this defensive corps. Getting Toby Enstrom back from injury has been a blessing and has helped the Jets immensely. Since returning, Enstrom has 13 points in 19 games. Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, Mark Stuart, Johnny Oduya, Ron Hainsey and Mark Flood all have had their good and bad days. When on the attack, they are good…but when they find themselves scrambling in their own zone, it’s not a pretty sight. Too many times this season the defense have left the other team wide open at the side of the net or panic with the puck which usually ends up with a giveaway to the other team.
If it wasn’t for Andrew Ladd’s slow start perhaps this rating could have been an “A” or “A-”. Evander Kane has finally arrived and showing the league why he was selected fourth overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. With 31 points in 46 games he will easily top his career high of 43 points last season.
Blake Wheeler had a slow start to his season but has since recovered. He is currently leading the team lead with 33 points. Like Kane, Wheeler is well on his way to a career best in points this season (his best was 45 points in his rookie season with the Bruins in 2008-09). The Jets had hoped for a little more production from Antti Miettinen after they claimed him of waivers from the Tampa Bay Lighting. So far in 17 games Miettinen only has three assists. The rest of the forwards have played well. Kyle Wellwood (30 points), Nik Antropov (26 points), Bryan Little (22 points) and Andrew Ladd (25 points) all have respectable stats, but things could be better. I have been impressed with the “GST Line” made up of Tanner Glass, Chris Thorburn and Jim Slater. That unit brings the grit which helps set the pace of games.
Special Teams (B-)
The Jets are the third most penalized team in the league (196 total times short handed – TS). Only the Ottawa Senators (207 TS) and Philadelphia Flyers (198 TS) have been short handed more times. The Jets penalty killing (PK) is eleventh in the league at 83.7% success rate. Although it’s respectable, the Jets still have to be more disciplined when it comes to taking penalties. Like their horrible road record, their PK suffers on the road. Overall, their penalty killing has been very good considering how many penalties the team is taking. I wouldn’t be upset if they took less penalties and giving so many opportunities to the opposition. In recent weeks, the PK has improved quite a bit. Winnipeg has a respectable power play (PP) success rating at 17.7% for sixteenth in the league. There is room for improvement starting with the need to shot the puck more during the man advantage. Again, because of their road record, their PP isn’t as strong on the road as it is when playing at the MTS Centre.
When Claude Noel was named as head coach of the Jets I have to admit I was a little disappointed that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff didn’t go with an experienced NHL coach. Now I couldn’t be happier . Noel has done a great job in his first season as head coach of the Jets. He has done wonders with the young players and worked very well with the veterans. His decision in naming Charlie Huddy and Pascal Vincent as assistant coaches has had remarkable results. In particular Huddy. He really has done well working with Winnipeg’s defensive corps. As I mentioned earlier the defense needs work, but the players who has benefited the most from Huddy is Zach Bogosian. In the final year in Atlanta, Bogosian’s confidence was shot. Huddy’s work with Bogosian has paid off. Zach already has 19 points this season and looks like he will top his career best of 23 points from the 2009-10 season. The success he is having, in my opinion, is directly because of the coaching staff.
Front Office (B+)
Prior to the team going to training camp, GM Cheveldayoff didn’t make any “big time” UFA signing. Instead he went with roll players such as Kyle Wellwood, Tanner Glass and Eric Fehr. All three have played well and turned out to be good signings by Cheveldayoff. He did well in drafting Barrie Colt Mark Scheifele who I feel will be in the Jets lineup in a few games next season, but my guess is he’ll be primarily employed in the AHL with the St. John’s Ice Caps. That would be a good move to develop his skills.
With only 32 games left in the season, and half of those games on the road, the Jets are going to have to figure out a way to win away from the MTS Centre. I don’t see GM Cheveldayoff making any block-buster moves at the trading deadline. I feel the organization wants to give this corps of players this year to gel and see what pieces this team requires during the off-season before making a serious run in 2012-13. While I would love to see this team in the playoffs, I don’t think it’ll happen this year. This is a team that is still trying to find it’s identity and establish themselves in their new home. This team has tons of potential to be a good team in years to come. Fans of the Jets have to be patient.