© Geoff Brookes
The Winnipeg Jets are having the best season in their NHL history – so far.
I believe that they will continue this amazing run, if they stay moderately healthy. I had predicted 105 points for this season. At game 44, they’re trending towards 110 points.
They had shot out to a tremendous start, but appeared to falter in early December. From December 5 to December 12, their record was 1-3-1. This 5 game stretch was characterized by poor performances on the road against Detroit and Florida, and a stinker at home versus Chicago.
Another cause for concern at that time was that their record against playoff-ranked teams was just 6-6-3 (using today’s NHL’s standings to rank the playoff teams). While their record against non-playoff teams was 17-4-3, with a +21 goal differential, they had a negative goal differential of minus 6 versus the top NHL clubs.
The combination of the December slump and the struggle to win the “big games” led many Jets fans to wonder if they were “the real thing”.
The Jets seemed to be tuned into this question.
Their next 3 games were critical matches against tough Central Division opponents – back to back games against the Blues, and their second road game of the season against the Predators. It felt like it could be a turning point in the season.
In St. Louis, the Jets bombarded to the Blues, outshooting them 48-30, with an even-strength Corsi of 57%. But the Jets lost the hard-fought game 2-0, stifled by the Blues’ hot goalie, Carter Hutton. Nevertheless, it was a vastly improved Jets team compared to the previous 5 games.
Could the Jets turn it around on home ice, the next night?
Over the next 2 games, the Jets dominated the Blues and the Predators, winning 4-0 and 6-4. One of the emerging keys for the Jets’ success was the superb play of Adam Lowry, Brandon Tanev, and Andrew Copp. This third line for the Jets controlled the play of the game whenever they were on the ice. Suddenly, the Jets had four lines (with Perreault, Hendricks and Armia on the 4th line) that were skating hard, and playing “keep-away” with the puck.
Earlier in the season the Jets were winning games despite being outshot. Now they were dominating the shots on goal as well. Starting with the loss in St. Louis (the first of a string of well-played games by the Jets), they would accumulate a record of 8-2-2 through last night’s victory over Buffalo.
Equally importantly, their record against playoff teams during this hot streak includes a record of 3-1-1 versus playoff teams, even with the loss to the Blues included. The main difference for the games against the NHL’s best teams is that their goals against average in those 5 games was just 1.80 – compared to a GAA of 3.5 in their previous 15 games against playoff teams.
And the Jets are winning lately without Scheifele, Tanev and Lowry!
Could it be that the Jets are learning what it takes to beat the elite teams in the NHL? The Jets will need to be able to answer “yes” to that question, if they are to continue their winning ways in the second half of the season. 61% of their games are against playoff teams down the stretch run, compared to just 45% in the first half. And very few of their games are against “bottom feeders” in the second half (e.g. Arizona and Buffalo).
The key is team defense and goaltending. If the Jets can replicate the effort and effectiveness that they displayed against San Jose last Sunday (a 4-1 victory), they’re going to have a lot of success against the top teams. And against the non-playoff teams, the Jets are averaging 4 goals per game – outscoring their opponents like they did against Buffalo last night.
The Jets talent (including great young players like Kyle Connor!) is showing. They can dominate a game like the Oilers of the 1980s. If the Jets can get all of their core players locked up long-term (like Scheifele and Ehlers), it could be a dynasty.
What a great time to be a fan of the Winnipeg Jets!