The first period is over. The Winnipeg Jets have played 28 games this season: That means one-third of the 2013-14 NHL campaign is finished and to paraphrase former NFL coach Dennis Green, “The Jets are exactly who we thought they were.”
That’s right. They are 12-12-4, sixth in the Central Conference (although the seventh place team, Dallas, has four games in hand) and 11th in the West.
Because they are such a mediocre Western Conference team (they are 6-2-1 against Eastern opponents), it is easy to understand why fans of the Jets — and their media followers — get so upset at times. Not surprisingly, Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, Ondrej Pavelec, Olli Jokinen and head coach Claude Noel do have the ability to give their followers fits of pique.
Friday afternoon, only moments after the Jets lost a tough one against the Flyers in Philadelphia, we heard the following from people who actually LOVE the Jets:
“TV caught Kane yawning before the game. He wasn’t ready to play. And then he got hurt. The Jets should just trade him.”
“Wheeler is way too soft for a guy who is 6-foot-5. He’ll put on the brakes and let his opponent go into the corner first. He’s gotta get tougher.”
“Jokinen does nothing but take dumb penalties and get in the way. He’s the worst. We pay him way too much money. I think Antropov was better. Burmistrov was definitely better.”
“Noel has to go.”
Now, let’s be honest, some of that stuff is nonsense, but where there is critical smoke, there is often critical fire. To me, it appears the Jets simply can’t handle (a) 11:30 a.m. start times — 10:30 a.m. to their bodies and (b) prosperity.
The Jets played two solid road games to beat New Jersey and the Islanders. They had raised their season mark to 12-11-4 and could actually see the playoff teams ahead of them.
But because they’re in the West, they can’t afford to lose. Ever. Through the first third of the season, the last team in the Western Conference playoffs has 34 points. At that pace, a team would need 102 points to grab the final playoff spot in the West.
Now, it’s unlikely 102 points will be required. In 2011-12 (the last NHL full season), the final playoff spot in the West went to the playoffs with 95 points (40-27-15). For the Jets to get to 95 points, they’d need to go 28-15-11, not impossible, but certainly unlikely. That’s 34-15 without any overtime losses. That’s a .693 percentage.
So let’s say 95 points is the goal. That makes the rest of this six-game Eastern road swing even more important. They are 2-1 in the first three, but had way too many passengers in the 2-1 loss to Philly on Friday.
That’s probably why their fans are worried that important, highly-paid players such as Kane (who has one goal in his last 14 games), Wheeler (who hasn’t scored a goal in 14 games) and Jokinen (who has one goal in his last 10 and two in his last 20) are not playing as well as they expect.
Monday night, the Jets play the 13-13-0 New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. For Winnipeg, it’s a must win.