By Scott Taylor
Photos by James Carey Lauder
For the Winnipeg Jets, the first period is over. The Jets have passed the one-third mark in the 2016-17
campaign and from a still-reasonably small sample there are a handful of things we know for sure:
- Patrik Laine has already lived up to the hype.
- The goaltending is middling, but certainly not championship caliber.
- Injuries have wreaked havoc with a lineup that is already relatively thin.
- Mark Scheifele is a very good hockey player and, arguably, Kevin Cheveldayoff’s best draft pick (assuming, of course, that any casual hockey fan would have taken Laine with the No. 2 overall pick).
- When the Jets play responsibly and with some motivation, they can play with any team in the NHL. When they don’t, they can get hammered.
- They have enough skilled players to play very entertaining hockey.
- They can make enough mistakes in their own zone and take enough dumb penalties to lose games they should win.
The Jets have just passed the one-third pole (which is about 27 or 28 games) and they are 13-13-3 (29 points). Mediocre, but in a professional league that is, generally, mediocre, the Jets are third in the Central Division and still in the playoff conversation with two-thirds of the season remaining. They are not close to the first two teams in the Central – Chicago (37 points) and St. Louis (34 points) – but they just came off a two-game road trip in which they beat both of them.
And therein lies the problem. They simply aren’t consistent enough to be a viable threat come the post-season.
That’s not to say they won’t learn. There are, after all, 53 games remaining to play. If the injured players get healthy and all the good young talent starts to get it, the Jets might just take a legitimate run at going past the first round of the post-season. I wouldn’t count on it, but stranger things have happened.
Here are some numbers that pretty much tell the story of the first 30 games of the season:
- The Jets are 8-5-1 at home this season and 5-8-2 on the road. Their longest losing streak is five straight games and they all came on a single road trip.
- Winnipeg is 1-0-2 when tied after two periods and 1-1 in shootouts this season. The Jets are perfect when leading after the second period with a 9-0-0 record
- Winnipeg is seventh overall in the West, but has played more games than every other team except Calgary.
- Last year, Minnesota finished with 87 points and was the final Wild Card team to make the playoffs (the Jets had 78). Calling 90 points the playoff goal, the Jets need to accrue 61 points in the final 53 games. Considering the start, that’s rather daunting.
- The Jets currently have five regulars on the injured list – Scheifele, Shawn Matthias, Tyler Myers, Joel Armia and Nic Petan. Alexander Burmistrov was hurt on Tuesday and his status is still in question.
- On the upside, the Jets are 9-6-1 against the West and 7-4-1 against the Central Division. Confidence against your own Conference and Division should bode well in the second part of the season.
- The Jets are 4-5-1 in their last 10 and that has to get better.
- This road trouble is a mess. The Jets are 5-8-2 away from MTS Centre and have been outscored on the road 47-32. Granted, one of those losses was 7-0 in Nashville, but this team must figure out how to win away from Winnipeg.
- In a league that counts on special teams, the Jets are at 15. 2 per cent on the power play (21st) and 80 per cent on the power play (24th). That’s not good enough to compete on a regular basis against the NHL’s better teams.
- Winnipeg is 8-3-3 in one-goal games this season and four of its last five games have been decided by one goal (3-0-1).
- The Jets have outscored their opposition 36-27 in the third period and overtime this season and the 36 goals for is tied for the NHL lead.
- Here’s the big one: The Jets have been outscored 39-19 in second periods this season. The 39 goals against is the most total goals an NHL team has allowed in a period this season.
The biggest story of the first period of 2016-17, of course, is the play of Patrik Laine. With another goal on Tuesday night against Detroit, Laine is tied with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for the NHL goal scoring lead with 17. He has five goals in his last five games and leads all NHL rookies with 17 goals and 25 points and is the only rookie in the NHL this season to reach the 20-point mark. His four multi-goal games have him in a tie with Crosby for the league lead. However, of his 17 goals, 14 have been scored at home and that also leads the NHL.
On the upside, the Jets have had some tremendous performances from Laine, Scheifele, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler and lately, Bryan Little. But Little was hurt for most of the first one-third of the season and that certainly had an effect on the Jets consistency.
As the season moves forward, the Jets have to clean up the number of dumb plays they make in their own end and in the neutral zone, they need better overall defensive play and, thus, better goaltending, they need to play 60-minute games (those second periods have often been ugly) and they need to (a) cut down on the number of penalties they take and then play better when they’re down a man (where is Phil Sykes when you need him?).
A shot at the playoffs is not impossible, but the Winnipeg Jets are probably going to need 61 points in the final 53 games and after the first one-third of the season, there is so far no indication that they’re capable of making that happen.
We shall see.