March 09 2013 06:57PM
The Winnipeg Jets have officially hit the halfway point. Twenty four games deep and the boys are very much still in the playoff race. Holding a 12-11-1 record the Jets are currently sitting in 9th in the Eastern Conference, a single point back of the Rangers for 8th, and two points behind the division leading Carolina Hurricanes. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the team has set themselves up for an end of the year push that could potentially see them make the playoffs.
This article will review each of the major positions (forwards, defensemen, and goaltending) as to their performance and roles thus far this season, as well as cover some major points on the team, and give a look forward to the second half of the year.
So far this year, as is with much of the team, it’s fair to say that the Jets forwards have been consistently inconsistent. According to leftwinglock.com, the only line that the Jets have iced together more than 10% of the time, has been the Ladd-Little-Wheeler line at 16.55%. (For comparison sake, Chicago’s top three lines are rolled out at a frequencies of 18.9%, 18.03% and 16.42%)
Why is this occurring?
The Jets have been an extremely streaky team as no two lines have seemed to really be clicking at the same time, and it is the coaches job to fix that problem. Mixing up lines is the only method Claude Noel can use to shake things up and attempt to motivate for better play. That is of course, until the team can draft and grow its depth. Players like Nik Antropov, Bryan Little, and formerly Alexi Ponikarovsky currently have no true threat to their place in the lineup without sacrificing wins. All that Noel can do is attempt to move guys around and put them with others that might be able to get them going. It will take time for players such as Mark Scheifele to develop into constant NHL caliber players and until then, Claude has to work with what he’s got.
That being said, there have been some forwards who I think have been standouts.
Evander Kane has played with everyone from Jokinen to Burmistrov to James Wright, yet has still been a force almost every night. He has been rewarded for his efforts, playing an average of 20:01 minutes/game which leads the forwards in that category. He has also contributed 18 points this year, which is good enough for 3rd on the team. He sits third on the team with his relative corsi rating, and has a PDO of 989 meaning he is bound to start getting a bit more puck luck as the season progresses so look for his goal and point production to continue rising as we move forward.
Kyle Wellwood has been an interesting case. He has found himself watching a load of games from the press box this year, yet I honestly do not see why. He may not have the greatest personal stats (3 points: 1 goal & 2 assists) but he provides many intangibles that provide great value to the team. Our friends at Arctic Ice Hockey’s (in this case arby_18) provided a great breakdown of what exactly it is Kyle Wellwood brings, looking at factors such as his corsi numbers and his offensive zone starts/finishes in comparison to the rest of the team. Be sure to check it out here.
Andrew Ladd has been the type of captain this team really needs. He has been one of the few members of this team who has brought his best every night, he pushes the play down into the other end of the rink (As seen by his OZS [51.0%] and OZF [56.2%] numbers), and currently leads the team in points (24), goals (13), and assists (11). It’s scary to think of what this team would look like without him, and I am always proud to rep his jersey whenever I watch games.
The Jets defensemen have been quite the story to follow. Within the same week this year I managed to write 2 separate pieces on the Jets defensive situation. The first of which explained the plethora of defensemen and trade options that they had created due to the emergence of Zach Redmond, and the next breaking down how the heck they were going to cover for the lack of blue line depth. The back end is where the injury bug has bitten this team the hardest, but surprisingly enough the team has been able to remain relatively solid defensively. They currently sit 12th in the league with only 28.6 shots against per game and manage to keep the majority of shots from a decent distance, as they rank 16th in the league with an average distance of 34.2ft. That’s not to say there haven’t been some interesting moments, as I still feel Ron Hainsey is not a top four defenseman and the Clitsome - Byfuglien paring has been scary to watch at times, but they have been able to hold down the fort for the most part.
Where the production has really gone down is in the offensive side of things. As silly as it may sound to some, the Jets normally rely heavily on points from the point, and the departure of Enstrom has really hampered that. TSN Jets mentioned an interesting stat on this during the Panthers-Jets game on Friday night explaining how in the first 8 games, the D-men produced 31 points (mainly on the back on Enstrom), but since, have only contributed a mere 22. This has had a direct impact on the power play, and is probably something that will be difficult to improve with both Redmond and Enstrom out for what will continue to be extended periods of time.
Then there were the goalies. It has been a struggle for Ondrej Pavelec thus far between the pipes, although to his credit he has been better over the last five games. It seems as if the book has officially been released on him, as night after night you see teams going non-stop for his glove hand. In fact, Tuesday night in Florida he was beaten cleanly 3 times in a row in that exact spot. He is sporting a very mediocre .901 SV%, a scary 2.87 GAA, and leads the league in goaltending losses at 11, despite the mid-ranked defense play that is going on in front of him. The real kicker to it all is the 5-year $19.5 million contract he signed this offseason. That contract sees him getting paid more than current SV% and GAA leader Craig Anderson, and a comparable number to goalies such as Cory Schneider, Jaroslav Halak, and Corey Crawford.
It simply appears to me that Pavelec is a master at getting people to forget his bad games. Take the last two match ups against Florida for example. On Tuesday night, he let in a couple stinkers, wasn’t great, and twitter was a buzz ready to kick him out of town. Friday night on the other hand, Ondrej put the team on his back and was the reason that the team managed a win in overtime. He manages to make highlight reel saves at least once a week, and last year was deemed by TSN1290 as the creator of “Pavlectricity” for the team when they needed a big moment. The truth of the matter is that Pav has never really put up great numbers (his career SV% is .906 & GAA is 2.98) and his contract is one that the Jets may still seriously be regretting.
Short term should things not improve, I am confident in giving Al Montoya more of the workload this year. He holds a 3-0-0 record, has a shut out, and has a better save percentage (.909%) and goals against average (2.33) than Pavelec. He sports similar career numbers (.906% SV% & 2.73 GAA) to Pav, and has been a career back up between Phoenix and Long Island (which is bound to bring down your save%). It may not work, but it would be nice to see what the Jets really have in Montoya if things aren’t looking great anyways.
It’s a major story to track going into the remainder of the season and the trade deadline. The Jets do have both of their buyout options available going into the offseason, and although the franchise may not be in the financial position to throw away that kind of money, it may end up being the smartest move for long term success. Especially when you consider that Jonathan Bernier will very likely be available when free agency hits this summer.
Struggling Special Teams
The Jets have been absolutely horrific on the special teams for the majority of the season. They have spent most of the year in the league basement in both penalty killing and power plays, and have just recently started to kill penalties more effectively. I won’t get too deep into this though, as later this weekend there will be a feature here on JetsNation.ca covering these areas specifically.
The Jets... A Road Team? & Looking Ahead
Believe it or not, the Jets are much improved on the road this season. In fact, they have the 4th best road record in the Eastern Conference at 8-5-1. If you were to tell Jets fans at the start of the season that this was going to be the case, you can be sure that none of them would have thought the team wouldn't be sitting in a playoff spot. Yet, as surprising as the Jets road record is, their home record is equally unexpected. They are an Eastern Conference worst 4-6-0 at home this year. Now in their defense, that stat is slightly tainted as they have played the fewest games at home. Regardless, it appears as if the intimidation factor of the MTS Center has gone away. Teams have come prepared to play against the excited, emotional, and loud crowds Winnipeg brings every night and it has, on more than one occasion, left the Jets looking unprepared and lacking effort.
Looking at the Jets schedule, the team plays 14 of the next 24 at home and have only one 3 game road trip left ahead. Normally, that would be music to fans ears, but this year that may actually be problematic. You often hear from teams how extended road trips can help them get over the negativity surrounding a struggling team, so should the team continue their problems at home, that relief may not be possible. The Jets next 6 games are all against opponents who are currently sitting ahead of them in the standings, so the next 7-10 days the Jets could either vault themselves up the standings, or come tumbling down.
Recently our own Brett Martin pointed out in an article titled “Lucky, Lucky Jets” that the Jets have an opportunity to benefit from the misfortunes of the other teams in the Southeastern conference. Division leading Carolina recently lost Cam Ward for what will be the majority of the season, Florida is missing about half of their line up, Tampa has been struggling immensely over the last few weeks (3-7 in their last 10), and Washington has dug themselves in a hole that may be too deep to get out of. Should the Jets play at their best and manage to avoid too many more vital injuries, they could really start to climb and claim the Southeast division of their own. (Imagine trying to explain that one to your kids in a few years)
There is most definitely some room for improvement should the Jets want to accomplish such a goal. The trade deadline is just under a month away, and at this point it is truly hard to read how the Jets will approach it. Should things go south, they do have pieces they could “sell” in Ron Hainsey, Nik Antropov, and Olli Jokinen. Should things improve and the Jets rise in the standings, those same players could be moved to address goaltending issues or add some scoring stability and support. It is in such a situation that the impact of injuries to Redmond and Enstrom really show their effect, as it truly limits what the Jets can give up if they want to acquire more valuable and productive pieces.
The Jets have been an interesting team to follow through the first 24 games of the season, and have left themselves right in the thick of this going into the home stretch. Here’s hoping they can push through, and in 2 months from now I can check back in with a preview for their first round playoff match-up.