Benny and the Jets
It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that the excitement of the impending return of the NHL to Winnipeg was at a fever pitch – opening night was imminent, and the eyes of the hockey world were turned toward the MTS Centre for opening night puck drop against the Montreal Canadiens. The 5-1 drubbing the Jets endured barely mattered, and the Nik Antropov’s lone Jets goal of the afternoon - the first in Jets 2.0 history - was celebrated as though Winnipeg had just won the Stanley Cup.
And so it began – a season of ups, downs and everything in between. There was the Jets’ magical play in December followed by a collapse/return to reality down the stretch. For the most part, however, the team was decidedly average – bolstered at home by a newly voracious crowd and still the same old muddling Thrashers of old when on the road.
Last night on CBC’s The National they had a piece on the Jets’ “inaugural” season - the exact kind of piece that makes me want to crawl under a rock and never emerge. Click “continue reading” if you dare…
Finally, officially, it’s over. The Winnipeg Jets’ playoff chances were slimmer than slim going into last night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but an overtime loss courtesy of Steven Stamkos’ 56th goal of the year dashed what little hope was left of making the postseason. Infamously weak in the second of back-to-back games and notably bad on the road, the Jets were lucky to keep things close against the Bolts in Tampa following the previous night’s win in Carolina.
A Jets win last night wouldn’t have been enough anyhow – Montreal needed to beat the Washington Capitals for the Jets’ meager chances of the playoffs alive, and they failed to do so in a shootout loss. With just three games left and only four points up on the Toronto Maple Leafs (14th in the Eastern Conference), it’s plausible that the Jets could lose all three games and pick in the top five at this year’s draft. Which, at this point, is what Jets fans should be hoping for.
So I’ve had full write-ups of both the Jets’ recent home games (Ottawa Senators Monday, New York Rangers Wednesday) done but have scrapped both. I feel like a broken record at this point - ineffective special teams, an inability to play 60 solid minutes, bad defensive coverage, etc. I scrapped ‘em both. Instead, I’d love to hear what people think the Jets need going forward now that the Winnipeg Jets have a 0.02% chance of making the playoffs.
Score a high draft pick? Trade the high draft pick for someone that can make a difference next year? If so, a top 6 forward or a top 4 d-man? Which of the UFAs should come back? Is there a UFA out there this summer that the Jets should target? What to do with RFAs like Evander Kane? How do the Jets get better on the road?
So many questions, so few answers.
The Winnipeg Jets dug deep on Friday night and did what most thought was impossible, overcoming a 3-0 deficit against the Washington Capitals and winning the game 4-3 in overtime. A regulation win would have been cleaner in terms of the standings, what with Washington only a few points ahead of the Jets, but it was an important road win nonetheless and kept the team’s slim playoff chances alive.
Another visit to Pennsylvania, another 60 minutes of hockey spiralling out of control resulting in big numbers on the scoreboard. This time, though, those numbers didn’t work in the Winnipeg Jets’ favour, as they were doubled up 8-4 by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Bryan Little scored twice for the Jets, both off nice feeds from Andrew Ladd. Spencer Mahachek played well in just his second game for the Jets, picking up two helpers and finishing the game as one of the few Winnipeg skaters that wasn’t a minus player. Ben Maxwell did well enough after being called up to replace an injured Nik Antropov (who did not make the road trip).
For 40 minutes, the Winnipeg Jets-Carolina Hurricanes game was a slightly loose and fairly unpredictable game. Then, like they have many times before this year, the Jets came out completely flat in the third period, gave up two goals and lost – in regulation, no less – 4-3. To say this was a must-win game for the Jets is akin to using one any hockey cliché – redundant and/or completely obvious.
With a regulation loss, the Jets remain tied with the Buffalo Sabres with 76 points, and two points back of the Washington Capitals. The Capitals lost against the Chicago Blackhawks, so a win by the Jets would have evened them in the points department. The loss means the Jets’ playoff chances just got much slimmer.
The intensity in the MTS Centre last night was as high as it’s been all year – playoff level, almost. Perhaps that’s fitting, as the Jets may only almost make the playoffs. But their 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals was crucial in any attempt to claw their way back into the mix – they’re now two points back on the Caps and a point ahead of the Buffalo Sabres for that eighth playoff spot.
Sometimes life gets in the way of staying on top of all things Jets for this little corner of the Internet, and the past week has been a perfect example of that. My five year-old daughter had strep last week, which threw my work/writing/life schedule into a state of disarray – hence the fact that I never got around to writing about the Winnipeg Jets’ dismal road trip out west. Apologies.
The team came away with little to show for the jaunt, at least on the positive side of things. The Jets lost their grip on the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, dropping below Washington and Buffalo as those teams managed to put up points when they most needed ‘em. The special teams on that two-game trip were brutal, with the power play going 0 for 5 and the penalty kill giving up a goal on each of the Flames’ three power plays Friday night. Oh, and Ryan Kesler potted a shorthanded goal the night before. Ouch.
While Monday night’s tilt against the Buffalo Sabres was anything but memorable when it came to the play on the ice, there was certainly more of a buzz than normal at the MTS Centre – if that’s possible. The Jets were up against a red-hot Eastern Conference rival whose goalie had just earned the previous week’s first star.
The Sabres managed to tie the game with less than a minute left in the second period, sending the Jets to the dressing room for the intermission in a position that had, in previous games, seemed to prompt a third period meltdown. But these Jets seem to have finally found a way to compete for a full 60 minutes, to paraphrase a bad hockey cliché, and beauty goals by Blake Wheeler and Chris Thorburn resulted in a 3-1 Winnipeg win that stopped the surging Sabres in their tracks and kept the Jets in the eighth playoff spot.
About Benny and the Jets
Fifteen years ago, Ben's beloved Winnipeg Jets left town. He begrudgingly turned to the Montreal Canadiens for comfort and found none, and is now struggling to find a place in his heart for the Winnipeg Jets v2.0.
Ben is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer that writes a lot about wine and beer. Expect his son to be drafted into the NHL in 2025.