Entering action on Saturday, the Winnipeg Jets find themselves somewhere more than a little surprising: on the threshold of a playoff spot, just one point back of the Washington Capitals for eighth in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
One could be forgiven for being taken aback by the Jets sudden success; certainly the season didn’t start that way. But the beginning of December has been kind to Winnipeg’s hockey team, far kinder than October or November were:
- October record: 4-6-1 (nine of a possible 22 points)
- November record: 5-5-3 (13 of a possible 26 points)
- December record: 4-0-0 (eight of a possible eight points)
The last four games represents the best streak the reborn Jets have enjoyed. They won three straight and four of five in the middle of November (a mini-run which included impressive victories over Washington and Tampa Bay) but this is the first time the club has pulled off four consecutive victories.
Of course, it’s not like there’s been a big margin for error in most of these wins. The Jets’ 4-2 victory over the struggling Hurricanes (they’ve allowed 3+ goals in nine consecutive games, winning just one of them) was the most lopsided score; in two other contests the Jets won by just a single goal, and the 4-2 win over New Jersey was actually a 3-2 game until Evander Kane put an empty-netter away with 32 seconds remaining.
Still, however tight the actual games, the results on the NHL standings have been undeniable. On November 30th, the night before embarking on their current run, the Jets sat 13th in the East, with a distance of four points separating them from both the Eastern Conference basement and the final playoff spot. This four-game streak has allowed them to double the space between themselves and 15th to eight points, and as already mentioned puts them just one point out of a post-season berth.
This is encouraging news, particularly taken in context with Tobias Enstrom’s return to practice. The Jets’ best defenseman has been out of the line-up since the end of October with a broken collarbone, but began skating with the team on Wednesday and is now probably just a few weeks away from a return to the line-up. While the team has managed to keep their collective head above water in his absence, there’s no doubt that he’ll be a major boost to the team’s playoff chances once he returns.
Naturally, there’s still a long way to go before the team can legitimately claim to be a playoff contender. But given the Atlanta Thrashers’ 12th-place finish last season and the poor start the Jets endured, it’s fair to say that they’ve surpassed expectations to be in the thick of the hunt in mid-December.