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Photo Credit: © James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

A Look Back At The First Two Months

There is a saying that NHL clubs can’t make the playoffs in October and November, but they can sure knock themselves out of contention for them around the same time. (Just ask our friends over at Oilers Nation about that right now..) With that in mind before the start of this season, I took a look back at how the Jets fared in their first two months last season and made some guesses (albeit educated ones) on how they would do in the first two months of this season.

Now, let’s take a look at how the Jets fared (spoiler: pretty well) and how on or off the mark I was.

We broke the two-month start which happened to be 25 games in total into five-game segments, so let’s review the same way…

Segment 1: L vs TOR, L @ CGY, W @ EDM, W @ VAN, W vs CAR
(Predicted: Ideal: 3-1-1, Expected: 2-3-0, Worst case: 2-3-0)
Final Result: 3-2-0

The season, of course, couldn’t have started off any worse being outscored 13-5 in the first two games, but even in those two crushing defeats there were glimmers of hope as in both games the Jets would have strong efforts that had been derailed by ten or fifteen minute long segments in each game where the defense fell apart.

In what was seen at the time as a bit of an early desperation move, the Jets started Connor Hellebuyck in goal against an Oilers team that despite their early issues seemed to be a lock to light up the Jets “backup” goalie and led Edmonton media to be their typical arrogant selves…

Jets won that game over Edmonton 5-2, Hellebuyck had 37 saves for the win.

Segment 2: L vs CBJ, W vs MIN, OTL @ PIT, OTL @ CBJ, W vs PIT
(Predicted: Ideal: 3-1-1, Expected: 2-1-2, Worst case: 1-3-1)
Final Result: 2-1-2

I had kinda figured that one of the two games against Columbus would be a loss but had also assumed it would have come on the second night of a back to back road effort after playing the Pens the night before. While the two low scoring 2-1 OT losses weren’t exactly what Jets fans had hoped for, it also was an encouraging sign to see the Jets battle as well as they did with two of the East’s very best teams. The dominant 7-1 win against the Pens to close things out for this segment of games was a strong message sent to not only Jets fans but to the hockey world in general… The Winnipeg Jets should not be an afterthought.

Segment 3: W @ MIN, W vs DAL, OTL vs MTL, W @ DAL, L @ LV
(Predicted: Ideal: 4-1-0, Expected: 3-2-0, Worst case: 2-2-1)
Actual Result: 3-1-1

Oh so close to that ideal result for this segment! Had it not been for a lapse of effort in the game against Montreal, the Jets could have been looking at a five-game winning streak at this point. Still, the team had managed to gain a point in the standings in each of their last eight games played before that stinker in Vegas. The second win against the Wild and the two over the Dallas Stars meant that the Jets started strong against teams in their own division with an early 4-0-0 record,, something that the team will need to continue being on the positive side on if they are entertaining thoughts of a playoff run.

Segment 4: W @ ARI, W vs ARI, W vs PHI, W vs NJ, L @ NSH
(Predicted: Ideal: 4-0-1, Expected: 4-1-0, Worst case: 2-3-0)
Actual Result: 4-1-0

I had predicted that this was going to be “the easiest stretch” of five games, but as the season started to progress and the Jets got to the two games against Philly and Jersey, I was rueing my words because both the Flyers and Devils are much more improved than I think many had anticipated. (Philly’s latest losing streak notwithstanding of course) Not to be overlooked are the two wins against Arizona who at the time had still yet to win a game in regulation time. As we’ve seen since, the Coyotes aren’t a club that can be taken lightly or else they will steal a victory.

It took the Jets until mid-March last season to come up with a second win streak of three or more games, and now here we were in mid-November and the Jets had piled up two such separate streaks.

Segment 5: W @ LA, W @ ANA, L @ SJ, W vs MIN, OTL @ COL
(Predicted: Ideal: 2-2-1, Expected: 2-2-1, Worst case: 1-4-0)
Actual Result: 3-1-1

California has always been a road trip of horrors for the Jets and it wasn’t reasonable to expect a sweep through those three games, but a gritty win in Los Angeles – the franchise’s first ever in LA – as well as their Friday afternoon win in Anaheim took the sting out of what was maybe the Jets worst loss since the two opening games when they were shutout in San Jose. The OT loss in Denver certainly didn’t help either, but it’s not reasonable to expect that you’re going to get the absolute best effort from a team every single game. There will be clunkers and the best one can hope for is to steal a point and forget the bad experience ever happened.

Final tally

What was predicted:  Ideal: 16-4-5, Expected: 13-8-3, Worst case: 8-14-3
What really happened: 15-6-4

Is it time to start putting away your money for those insanely expensive Jets playoff tickets you’ll be wanting to pick up in mid-April? Maybe not quite yet.

The Central Division is tough and as well as the Jets have done over the first two months of this season, it’s maybe worth noting that the Jets are only seven points ahead of the first non-playoff spot in the standings. A prolonged slump of three or more games could easily undo the work that the Jets have done over the last 25 games.

That said, the Jets appear to be a team that will not fall into such a slump without a series of mistakes and misfortunes befalling them first. Connor Hellebuyck (and before his injury Steve Mason) seemed to have finally given Winnipeg reliable goaltending that can leaned on to steal a game or two. The offense has proven that it can score in bunches. The Jets don’t “panic” when they get behind in games (witness them falling behind 2-0 against the Wild) and they don’t seem to find ways to lose when nursing one goal leads as maybe past iterations of this team would.

“Fancy stats” would suggest that this team was living a bit lucky based on shot metrics and it’s relation to shooting percentage, but even that is starting to balance out and there are hints that these Jets might not be all about luck and good fortunate.

Special teams – the penalty kill in particular – is still a large question mark and may be the rest of the season. The team really hasn’t had a huge injury scare to any of its key players (Perreault notwithstanding) … Let’s be honest, we wouldn’t be proper Winnipeg sports fans if we didn’t anticipate the bottom of this dream ride falling out at some point.

But for now the Winnipeg Jets are doing better than expected and are almost in an ideal spot a little over past the quarter mark of the 2017-18 season.