The Captain, Blake Wheeler, leading the way!!
(C) Geoff Brookes
Last summer, I predicted that the Winnipeg Jets would finish second to Nashville in the Central Division, with 105 points:
After watching the Jets blowout 2 teams this past weekend, It makes you wonder if the Jets can hold on to take first place in the Central Division , despite the Predators having 2 games in hand.
The problem is that the Predators have 8 games left against the league’s weaker teams. Although the Jets can help their cause with wins in the 3 games that remain against the Predators (2 are at Bell MTS Place), the Jets would also need the Preds to drop a few games down the stretch. While it’s possible, it doesn’t seem likely. The Jets would need some help from the Buffalo’s and the Arizona’s of the NHL.
Next best on the wish list is for the Jets to have home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. This is something that is clearly within reach for the Jets. They have a 7 point lead over their nearest Central division rival, with roughly even games played. The Jets face a lot of good teams through the end of March, including a 6 game Eastern road trip, but they have 4 of the last 6 games of the season against non-playoff teams. How big were those 4 early season victories against the Stars and the Wild!
Chuck is hearing rumours that Lowry’s injury could take him out of action indefinitely. This is a really unfortunate loss for the team, with Lowry maturing into a terrific shutdown centre. In my opinion (and I know Chuck agrees), this really forces the Jets hand, to acquire depth at Centre for the stretch run and the playoffs. See my trade deadline blog here:
How about Tomas Plekanic, as a depth centre for the Jets? He’s a “rental player” on an expiring contract, which helps on the money side of things. It would also intrigue me if the Jets could somehow make the salary cap work for acquiring either Pacioretty or Grabner, on left wing. I want to see the Jets go “all in” for the Cup this year!
Enhancing depth at centre is a “need”, not a “want”, for a playoff run. As good as Wheeler was filling in at centre, the Jets are clearly better with Scheifele, Wheeler and Connor together on the top line.
Connor is emerging as a great compliment to Scheifele and Wheeler, adding speed and forechecking to his resume, along with a knack for finding that open space to take superb passes from “Wheels”. Connor had 2 sniper goals last night, putting him over 20 goals so far in his rookie season!
It sounds like both Mason and Hutchinson are slowly but safely making their way through the concussion protocols, including recent skates on consecutive days. They are about to start facing shots in practice. So the Jets depth at goal might be replenished without having to make a trade at that position.
Speaking of goalies – Sunday’s game illustrates the massive impact that goaltending has on a hockey game.
Midway through the second period, with the game tied at 2, Florida had a rare 2 on 1 rush after a missed attempt at a hit near the Jets blue line. The play went according to script. Hellebuyck played the shooter while the remaining Jets D-man played the pass. But the pass got through, resulting in a glorious scoring chance for the Panthers.
Hellebuyck was not cheating toward the Panther forward in the slot. In fact, he was almost hugging the near post when the pass was launched.
What happened next will be one of those plays that gets shown time and time again on highlight reels.
In perfect form, “Bucky” pushed off the near post, extending his left pad and glove toward the far post, suddenly covering a vast area that had been open net just a moment before. The shot was high to the far side, maybe 2 feet inside the post. Bucky gloved it for a spectacular save!
Wheeler later commented that this was a big momentum swing in the game. “There are saves that you expect your goalie to make. That wasn’t one of them.”
By contrast, Florida’s goalie, Manitoba-born James Reimer, had a forgettable night. He started well, but had some tough goals, with pucks being deflected and falling loose behind him. As the game wore on, the Jets playmaking and shooting seemed to overwhelm him.
The toughest moment for Reimer was not a goal by the Jets, but a great rush by big Buff. As Byfuglien made the shot, he appeared to make the routine move of swinging his big body behind Reimer and the Florida net. Reimer had moved to the top edge of his crease to make the save. As Buff skated around Reimer, some part of Byfuglien’s body appeared to make a glancing contact with Reimer’s head. This is debatable from the replays, but it wasn’t full on contact, in any case.
Reimer froze in position for a moment, and then (a second later) did his best imitation of a European soccer player, simultaneously convulsing in agony, while tumbling backwards like a bowling pin on the back corner of a strike. Within seconds, Twitter was full of acidic takes, while Bell MTS Place erupted with jeers and taunts.
The game just kept getting worse for Reimer, as the Jets piled on with one beautiful goal after another. By the midpoint of the third period, they were playing the polkas during the commercial breaks, and the party was on!
After a couple of shaky losses, it was a relief for Jets fans to enjoy a few big wins this past week. If the Jets can keep up this recent momentum, this could be one of the most memorable Jets seasons ever!