Believe it or not, the Winnipeg Jets are already ten games into the season. Usually game ten isn’t one of your typical “look back and reflect” landmarks, but hey, this isn’t exactly your normal season. We are almost a quarter of the way through the schedule, so if you happen to have been sleeping under a rock for the last month, here are a few Jets headlines you should probably catch up on:
Slide a Little Over
After starting the season in his usual spot between Ladd and Wheeler, Coach Claude Noel made a decision regarding Bryan Little that has paid off big time. He decided to shift Little to the right wing, and since the move, he has been nothing short of electric. Thus far he has put up 7 points (2 Goals, 5 Assists), scored an overtime winner and is a team leading +4. It’s a move made possible by the acquisition of Olli Jokinen, and made further feasible by the early season play of Alex Burmistrov.
Although Claude has promised that changes would be made following a disappointing result against the Leafs Thursday night, I would be shocked to see Little move back to center. He has simply been too much of a threat to move now, and really seems to have something going with Ladd and Burmi.
Bad News without Buff and Bogo
Until Zach Bogosian can fully recover from off-season wrist surgery, and Dustin Byfuglien can get back from whatever mystery lower-body ailment is keeping him out of the lineup, the Jets will remain with some serious holes on the back end. Bogosian’s season last year speaks for his importance to the team, and Buff logs huge minutes on the blue line, averaging 26:58 per game before he left. The power play just hasn’t been the same without him, and despite the fact that Enstrom has managed to keep his point streak going without his defensive partner, killing penalties becomes simple when a team can focus on shutting a certain guy down up top.
Otherwise, Redmond and Postma have played pretty well and have done a good job maintaining the offensive output, but they are still young players and are prone to make mistakes. Ron Hainsey is no longer a 24 minute-a-game player, and it is unfair to ask Mark Stuart to continue logging the minutes he has been. It will be interesting to see how the lineup changes when they return, as it is something Jets fans are eagerly awaiting.
Pavelec is Struggling
The stats here tell the whole story. Pav is currently 3-5-1 with a 3.28 GAA and a .885 save percentage. The team as a whole is 28th in the league giving up 3.60 goals/game, and if they want to win, that all has to change. Many goalies this year are having sub-par starts due to the lockout (Henrik Lundqvist for example), but Pavelec was one of the few who had an opportunity to play overseas during the extended off-season. The problem? He didn’t exactly play up to his potential there either. When you consider his start and the DUI incident from this summer, there is little doubt in my mind that Kevin Cheveldayoff may be thinking twice about that 5-year, $3.9 million salary (according to capgeek.com) he gave Ondrej.
At this point, there is nothing more to do then hope that he can someway find his way out of his slump.
The Penalty Kill is a Killer
There is no doubt, the Jets penalty kill struggles are a direct result of missing players like Bogosian and Byfuglien, as well as the problems that Pavelec has had in net. Despite taking the leagues 3rd least penalties, the team has allowed the 3rd most power play goals, and sit dead last in the NHL with a 63.6% penalty kill. If the Jets want to have any hope of getting into the playoffs this year, that needs to get fixed. Now.
After a strong start on the road against Boston and Washington that saw the Jets lose in a shootout and play a great team game for a win, the wheels have completely fallen off. They let a game they had control of in Montreal get away from them, followed it up with back to back blowout losses in Florida and Tampa Bay, and are now sitting with a 1-3-1 road record.
This isn’t a new problem to Jets fans, as the team finished 2nd last in the East with a 14-22-5 road record just one year ago, a factor that arguably caused them to miss the playoffs. Whether it’s an inability to get the desirable matchups they need or just the wear and tear of all the travel, it’s a problem that can’t continue to haunt this team if they want to be successful.
Missing Our Taxes
Remember the GST line? That’s right. The beloved line of Tanner Glass, Jim Slater, and Chris Thorburn that heart-breakingly fell apart when Tanner Glass signed in Pittsburgh during the off-season. Although the Jets famous third/fourth line wasn’t exactly the highest scoring unit in the league, they were one that managed to create a lot of energy that the team is just lacking right now.
There has been little to no energy or point production from the third and fourth lines this year, and simply put, the “ex-Leaf” line of Wellwood, Ponikarovsky, and Antropov has been a monumental disappointment. As I mentioned earlier, Noel has promised changes in the lineup and it would not be shocking to see those changes come at the 3rd and 4th line level to find anything close to the chemistry and spark the GST line almost always created.
In reality, the season is still rather young and lots can change. The additions of Bogosian and Byfuglien will definitely shake things up, and the Jets have shown glimpses of excellence (the game against Pittsburgh) and some glimpses of well… garbage (Tampa Bay). The 2013 Winnipeg Jets have been an interesting team to follow thus far, and only time will tell who they truly are.