It wasn’t long ago that the much improved Winnipeg Jets appeared to have all but punched their ticket to Lord Stanley’s annual blood bath and gala.
Then the All-Star break ended and the shirt collars of True North executives on Portage Street began to get oh so ever subtly tighter. The Jets have now dropped five straight, picking up just one measly loser point along the way.
This recent run of feckless play has caused the Jets’ playoff odds to plummet. After briefly touching 90 percent in January, their odds of qualifying for the postseason for the first time in the Jets 2.0 era have fallen below 60 percent, according to sportsclubstats.com.
So what’s going wrong in Winnipeg? Let’s get stuck into it.
The Jets have been a surprisingly solid puck possession team at even-strength this season. Their top-line of Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd, and Blake Wheeler has been decent for years, but where the Jets have really improved is a bit further down the lineup. Though they’re not scoring as much as perhaps Jets fans, coaches, and management might like, 21-year-old pivots Mark Schiefele and Adam Lowry have been excellent at controlling the middle of the ice in second- and third-line roles respectively.
Beyond their decent forward group, though everyone knows they’d like to augment it with another top-nine forward, the Jets defense has performed solidly well this season. Among Winnipeg’s regular blue-liners, only Mark Stuart is below water by shot differential this season.
For the most part, Winnipeg’s 5-on-5 game has remained solid throughout their recent losing streak. In fact, they’re the second best team in the league by raw Corsi For percentage since the All-Star Break and the fourth best team by score adjusted Corsi For percentage.
In terms of what’s ailing the Jets, it isn’t their puck possession game.
That the Jets are receiving top-10 goaltending at even-strength league wide is a major reason this club has improved so enormously.
Since arriving in Winnipeg, only five teams have received worse goaltending than the Jets have, which has served to make a team with a good deal of two-way skill look – more often than not – permissive and soft. For the most part, the opposite has been true this season.
That us until the last five games. Between them Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec haven’t been able to buy a save of late, and have combined for an .890 save percentage since All-Star weekend.
In two appearances since All-Star weekend Hutchinson is carrying a ghastly .852 save percentage, while Pavelec has done only marginally better with a .894.
Overall no team has received goaltending as bad as Winnipeg has since the stars left Columbus. It’s tough to win games when your opponents are converting on nearly 15 percent of their shots, and that’s been the case for the Jets during their losing streak.
The Winnipeg Jets have been lit up when short-handed of late, to the tune of eight goals in their past five games. If you want a second major reason why the Jets are losing, this is it: their opponents are scoring in bunches on the power-play.
The Jets are extraordinarily aggressive when they’re short-handed, and for much of the season that’s worked for them. Of late though, they’re getting lit up on the shot clock and giving up goals and scoring chances aplenty.
It doesn’t help that Winnipeg’s discipline is all but non-existent. During their five game losing streak the Jets have been penalized an astounding 34 times, or nearly seven times per game. That’s nine more raw penalties called against the Jets than the next closest team since the All-Star break.
Nothing makes a sputtering penalty-kill look worse than an awful lot of opportunities to fail. Winnipeg’s total lack of discipline throughout their lineup is a major culprit in their recent struggles.
Finally we get to the power-play, where the Jets have been fine. They’re generating shots at a rate somewhat lower than they’ve done on the season during their recent losing streak, but it’s a small sample and their results aren’t very much out of line with what was occurring when they were reeling off wins in December.
Anyway the Jets have been a below average team with the man-advantage all year and have been essentially that since the All-Star break. It’s not a reason for optimism, but it’s not a reason they’re struggling enormously either.
So there you have it: Winnipeg’s stretch of losses has largely been the result of brutal goaltending, and a complete breakdown in discipline throughout the roster compounded by atrocious penalty-killing.
To get back into the driver’s seat in the Western Conference’s hotly contested Wild Card race, Winnipeg needs their goaltenders to mix in a save or two, and to stay out of the box.
Frankly if Paul Maurice, Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets’ players allow an endless parade of boneheaded penalties and brutal goaltending to derail a club that remains formidable at even-strength, that would be borderline tragic for North America’s best hockey town.