Kukla's Korner

Benny and the Jets

Reality check - reality bites

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.

Saturday night’s game against the Nashville Predators was a different story, as the Jets couldn’t muster up the energy needed to win consecutive road games, falling 3-1 to the Predators. Sportsclubstats now has the Jets with just a 5.1 per cent chance of making the playoffs – even a Washington loss to the Minnesota Wild and a Florida Panthers loss to the New York Islanders today wouldn’t do much to improve the team’s odds. Even if the Jets go 6-1-0 in their last seven games, their playoff chances would currently only go up to 42 per cent. With 78 points and seven games remaining, the Jets are four points back of the 9th place Capitals and six points back of the 8th place Buffalo Sabres, who have strung together four consecutive wins and look to be destined for the postseason.

One constant in both the Jets’ win and loss over the weekend was the tenacity of the bottom six forwards and the relative silence of the top six forwards on the scoresheet. Head coach Claude Noel has said more than once that the team’s best players have to be the team’s best players – a Classic Claude-ism if there ever was one – and on neither night was this the case (goalie Ondrej Pavelec aside). The clutch guys aren’t scoring - Blake Wheeler only has one point in his last four games, Evander Kane is pointless in his last three and Andrew Ladd is scoreless in two. Yeah, Tim Stapleton has picked up his game, with three points in two games (including the game winner in Washington and the lone Jets goal against the Preds), and St. John’s call-up Spencer Mahachek has five points in his last three, including the crucial tying goal against the Caps on Friday. But these aren’t the guys that will lift a team into the playoffs – it’s your “heart and soul” players that need to step up, and they’ve done anything but.

While the Jets are only six points out of the playoffs, they’re also only seven out of the Eastern Conference basement. At this point it would be more beneficial if the team lost a few straight, dropped down in the standings and scored a high-ish draft pick. This team isn’t playoff material - one need only look at their dismal road record (12 wins) for proof. If they make it in to the postseason near the bottom of the pack they wouldn’t have home ice advantage, which this team would desperately need to have any chance of making the second round (where they wouldn’t have home ice advantage yet again).

Pavelec has been great, and has started 11 straight for the Jets, but he’s not at that Jaroslav-Halak-circa-2009/10 level of brilliance where he could take the team on a Cinderella run if the postseason was achieved. It’s not just that he’s not there skill-wise – it’s also that some of his defensemen have hung him out to dry repeatedly. Sure, Dustin Byfuglien likes to wander off the blue line, but the Jets have adapted to his play as best as they could. Randy Jones – seeing action instead of Grant Clitsome – has been arguably the team’s worst player, taking inopportune penalties and providing some pretty brutal “coverage” when needed. Despite Clitsome playing well against Alex Ovechkin in the Jets’ previous tilt against the Caps, he sat in favour of Jones. Big mistake.

The Jets play two more games at home before hitting the road for four straight, then closing the season out at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning. A couple of home wins might give the team and its fans a false sense of hope before they hit the road. Right now winning decreases their chances of a high draft pick while keeping a dim, false sense of hope alive that this team is making the playoffs. Finishing in 9th or 10th place in the Eastern Conference is the worst possible result and, at present, the most likely outcome.

Filed in: Winnipeg Jets, | Benny and the Jets | Permalink
  Tags: buffalo+sabres, florida+panthers, minnesota+wild, nashville+predators, new+york+islanders, washington+capitals

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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.

Send him an email at bmswpg@gmail.com and/or follow Ben on Twitter: @bensigurdson