Before heading into Friday’s contest with the Hurricanes, the Jets had played 21 games, basically the quarter-pole of the 82-game regular season. At 8-9-4 at that point, the Jets need to pick it up if the long-starved fans of the city with the windiest intersection in Canada are to see playoffs as a reality in the Phoenix-like return (Editorial Update: Jets won 3-1 over Carolina to hit .500 on Friday November 25).
So let’s SWOT the team’s first 21 games, shall we? Sure why not!
1. Improvements from Stars:
As pointed out well by Jonathan Willis a couple days back in this article Dustin Byfuglien is picking up the pace as he loses some “junk from his trunk” after the well-documented party-hard off-season. Meanwhile, Jet’s captain Andrew Ladd had a mere 3G + 1A = 4 Points, and -1 rating as his scoreline in 11 October games, but coming into Friday had a nice 4-game point streak going and was 4+4=8 and even in 10 November games. Credit his linemates Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood for getting him going, as Scott Taylor did in his article.
Further, starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec has improved to 7-7-4 with 4 wins, 3 losses, and 3 OTLs in November. His horrid GAA improved after the crazy games in late October (see Philadelphia 9-8 win) and while he is nowhere near a league-leader in any stats, his performance is going in the right direction as the song goes “with a little help from my friends“.
2. Improved Special Teams Play:
Penalty killing has improved to be 18th in the league as of Friday night at 80.4% after a very poor start in which the Jets gave up 9 power-play goals against (PPGA) in 11 October games but were consistently poor with only 3 games where the other team was blanked, leading to a few preventable losses. In November, the Jets also had 9 PPGA in 10 games but 4 came in one horrid effort against Buffalo and they have 6 games of not allowing a PPGA this month up to and including the November 23 game. The power play chugs along with 7 goals in both the 11 October games (after zero in the first 4 games) and 7 goals in 10 November games but 4 PPG for in the last 4 games so consistency is improving…at 19.2% the power play is 9th in the NHL…certainly not bad!
1. Penalties Taken:
Being 103 times-shorthanded in 21 games is not nice as the Jets lead the league in this “bad statistic“. That is where the Jets were sitting after the November 23rd game so no matter if Pavelec or Mason stand on their heads or whatever…continuing this trend is not going to allow the Jets to win. While the penalty-kill has improved as mentioned above, games like October 19 versus Toronto (2 PPGA in 4-3 OT loss), October 24 versus NYR (2 PPGA in 2-1 loss), and November 8 versus Buffalo (4 PPGA in 6-5 OTL) and other nights certainly clearly prove that too many penalties lead to losses for the Jets. Just imagine those 3 losses were wins…the Jets would be much higher in the standings, likely in the top 8 if you do all the math versus the Eastern conference teams they played in these games.
2. Running around too much!
Like the famous song, the Jets need to “A-keep away from a Runaround Sue“…and by Runaround Sue I mean a few key players whom the Jets need to either improve the performance of and/or reduce the time-on-ice of such as Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, and Jim Slater. As I am harping on the “take care of defense first to win” theme, these players are often on the ice when goals for (GF) are scored which is good news.
In fact, among 16 Jets players with 11+ appearances in the first 21 games, their raw GFON (goals for on-ice) numbers are impressive with Byfuglien at 16 (first on team), Bogosian at 12 (tied for 4th), and Slater at 10 (tied for 5th). However these 3 players rank near the back on the Jets in the more telling +-ON/60 which measures On-Ice Team Plus-Minus with Byfuglien’s number at -1.15 and ranked at 15th of these 16 Jets, Bogosian at -0.74.and ranked 13th, and Slater at -0.87 and ranked 14th. Basically this means the Jets are more likely to give up a goal when these 3 players are on the ice than score one (by about 1 goal per game) so that needs to be considered and changed or losses will mount.
1. Home Games A-Plenty Coming Up:
Continuing on this musical theme “Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays“ for the Jets. Winnipeg has a busy December with 14 games starting on the 1st vs Phoenix and ending with the Leafs on New Year’s Eve. Luckily only 2 are on the road, meaning this is, by far, the Jets best time to “make hay” in the standings (but the question is….can you really make hay in a Manitoba December?). If playoffs or at least respectability are a priority, winning at least 8 of these games needs to be a priority for the Jets as the favourable schedule sees them leave only for December 10 and 27 dates.
2. Defense Returning to Health:
For the second quarter of the season, the Jets will get healthier on defense to aid in their performance. With the recent return of top-6 defender Ron Hainsey and the possible return in December of Tobias Enstrom from his broken collarbone suffered in early November, having the regulars back may aid the Jets both on the power play (with Enstrom reinserted) and defensively in general. Defensive play especially could improve as Big Buff can use the solid Enstrom or also-soon-to-return Randy Jones to backing him up on his frequent rendezvous to the offensive zone.
1. Continued sloppy play:
I could be more creative here but the Jets really need the aforementioned players who take risks to be reined in so that costly errors leading to goals against are reduced and the need to score 5 or more goals to win is minimized. OK, enough already!
2. I’m a Travelling Man (in January):
Obviously with the heavy home-standing December, the Jets start January with 4 consecutive road-games in far-away places to bring them to Game 42, just past the halfway point of the year (and past the second-quarter-pole for those not good at math). Like Ricky Nelson, after January ends -with 5 of 9 further games on the road – the Jets will be able to sing “
I’m a traveling man made a lot of stops all over the world”. All this means is that after perhaps a restful December when the goose (and hopefully not Big Buff) is getting fat (oh my, is that another song reference), the Jets need to be ready to hit the road and come back around .500 or write off the season.