Don’t look now, Jets within striking distance

Hockey seasons are long.

It takes a while for us to be able to tell with certainty what type of team any given club will become. Take the Winnipeg Jets, for instance. You could look at them at the start of the season as a team that had a young corps of players, but without making any major offseason moves, probably not a competing playoff team after finishing 12th in the conference, 13 points out of a playoff spot last season.

They were also 11th in the conference in “Fenwick tied”, a shot-differential metric that’s a reliable predictor of wins stretched out over the long season. All shots and missed shots are counted, and only 49% of those events with the score tied were taken at the other team’s net.

Suffice to say, there was a lot of room for improvement with the team in Winnipeg. But with all the jumping through hoops to switch around the front office and coaching staff when the team left Atlanta, new General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff clearly wanted a year to watch his young corps of players.

The team isn’t necessarily better than they were last season, but they’re more competitive given the state of Eastern Conference teams, particularly Buffalo and New York Rangers, who have taken a bit of a dive this season in shot differential. The Jets now find themselves 10th in the conference in Fenwick tied and 9th in points, so there is noticeable improvement in the standings.

Let’s step away from math at the moment and concentrate on a little bit more on what’s been fun to watch in Winnipeg lately. The team has won seven out of ten since the end of a long losing streak in Columbus (probably the down point on the season) and have a number of statement wins in that span—a 4-1 win over Washington, and Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins—to pull themelves up to 2nd in the Southeast Division.

However, since the start of this span, the team has bee putting 13.1% of pucks in the net with the score-tied, which is well above last season’s shooting percentage of 6.8% and the previous season’s percentage of 7.2%. The recent run, while fun, is definitely an anomaly, but Jets fans should enjoy it while it lasts.

What gives the Jets an outside shot at the playoffs is that they play in a brutal division. Florida has jumped out to lead, and Winnipeg find themselves in second. Washington has been dead in the water since the arrival of Dale Hunter, with some brutal outings so far, while Tampa Bay and Carolina are both bleeding goals against and losses. Right now, Winnipeg looks every bit like the second best team in that division, even when you consider they’re playing with high percentages. This keeps them in the playoff race, a point back of 8th place Ottawa, who have a worse goal differential (-8) than the Jets’ (-6).

As noted by Jonathan Willis over the weekend, the Jets were perhaps due for a couple of close-call victories. They earned one Tuesday against the Bruins, and had another last week against Phoenix. The upcoming home stand (9 out of 11 games played at the MTS Centre) allows Winnipeg a greater chance to continue on this streak and earn a bit of separation in the Southeast Division standings.

They aren’t necessarily better than last season, but they’re playing under better circumstances, namly, the bad division, and perhaps the team is lucky that realignment won’t take place until next year. This current Southeast Division is paying dividends right now for Winnipeg in the standings.