ANAHEIM – No, the Winnipeg Jets aren’t exactly burning up the NHL right now, leaving opponents in their dust. A modest one-game winning streak, which they’ll put on the line Tuesday night here against the Anaheim Ducks, will have to suffice as progress after a few recent stumbles.
But you know what? Take a glimpse around the league and you’ll see they’re not alone. Which is why being consistently inconsistent out of the chute and far from perfect is perfectly fine for a young club that has undergone plenty of roster turnover.
If misery loves company, than so, too, does mediocrity, especially early in the season.
Social media and my email inbox are regularly lit up with calls for change:
“Swing a huge trade!”
“Play this player over that player!”
“Blow it all up!”
Despite the sense of impending doom on the outside, there has been a pretty calm, Southern California-like vibe inside the Jets’ bubble, so far.
And for good reason. With a 6-6-0 record and 70 games left, we still have no real idea where this team is headed.
Don’t believe me? How about the fact they began Monday just one point out of a wild-card playoff spot, and with only one team to leapfrog. They’re also just three points out of both second and third in their own division, and five points out of top spot.
Hardly cause for celebration. But also no reason to push the panic button.
Winnipeg has very little salary-cap flexibility right now to do anything significant. But general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is wise to take a slow, steady approach, allowing further evaluation rather than adopt a “sky is falling” mentality.
Time is on their side. Patience really is a virtue, no matter what the armchair GMs might be saying.
That’s why the few moves we’ve seen so far — such as waiver wire pickups of defencemen Carl Dahlstrom and Luca Sbisa, and Monday’s recall of forward Logan Shaw from the Manitoba Moose to replace the injured Mason Appleton — have mostly generated a collective shrug around the league.
Kind of like the team’s overall play.
Yes, the Jets have been mostly “meh” so far this season, with a little bit of good, a little bit of ugly and a lot of in-between. But so has most of the league, where I see plenty of potentially good teams but very few, if any, that appear elite.
It becomes harder to gauge Winnipeg’s current lot in life when you consider they have barely dipped their toes in both the Central Division and Western Conference waters this season.
They’ve faced off against only two divisional foes so far, registering wins against Minnesota and Chicago, and won’t see another Central club until the 18th game of the year. But from that point on, it’s going to be a fairly healthy diet of the Wild, Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche. (The Jets play 26 of their 82 games within their division).
How they fare against their fiercest rivals will go a long way to determining whether it’s feast or famine this season.
Winnipeg also played just three of its first nine games against the West — the two aforementioned wins over the Wild and Blackhawks, and a loss against Arizona. The other six contests were against Eastern opponents, with a 2-4-0 record in that span.
The Jets are now in a stretch of six straight against the West (they’re 2-1-0 so far, with wins over Edmonton and Calgary and a loss to Los Angeles), with three more to come on this week’s road trip. Overall, the Jets are now in the early stages of a stretch where they’ll play nine of 10, and 17 of 21, against the West. (The Jets play 50 of their 82 games within their conference).
Once again, until Winnipeg starts mixing it up with some of their most familiar foes on a regular basis, it’s tough to get a read of exactly how this team really stacks up.
Nobody is running away, with current front-runners in Colorado (8-2-1), Edmonton (8-3-1) and Nashville (7-3-1) allowing everyone to stay within range.
Throw in defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis (6-3-3) learning Monday that sniper Vladimir Tarasenko will be out with an injury until at least March, and both the Central and the conference appear to be as wide open as ever.
Minnesota (4-7-0) looks old and slow. Dallas (4-8-1) has disappointed. Chicago (3-5-2) doesn’t appear ready for prime time.
We’ll learn a bit more over the coming days as the Jets face three teams who are feeling pretty similar about their games. Anaheim (7-6-0) got off to a hot start but has faded, of late. San Jose (4-7-1) was expected to be a powerhouse again this year but has underwhelmed and Vegas (8-5-0) has also been up and down more than coach Gerard Gallant would like.
From a glass half-full perspective, there’s reason to believe some brighter days could be around the corner if Winnipeg can take care of a few existing problems.
When it comes to special teams, the power play likely won’t continue to be this ineffective, not with all the weapons the Jets have. And the woeful penalty kill can’t get any worse, with all kinds of room to improve.
The team’s five-on-five scoring woes, and lack of offence in general, is probably just a temporary blip given all the proven firepower up front.
On the blue line, they’ve weathered a big early storm. Nathan Beaulieu is on the verge of returning, Sami Niku is on the mend with the Manitoba Moose and getting closer, and the door, of course, remains open for an eventual Dustin Byfuglien return.
So far, the Jets have been surviving, not thriving. But when it comes to the Mild, Mild West, that’s really all they’ve needed to do to keep their heads above water.
As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And this race, somewhat slow out of the blocks, is only just begun.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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