On Sunday night, the Winnipeg Jets shellacked the struggling Philadelphia Flyers 7-1 on home ice at the Bell MTS Place.
Even if it was against the struggling Flyers, the win was reminiscent of last year’s team, and a reminder of how dangerous these Jets can be.
Built To Win
The Winnipeg Jets are off to a similar start in 2018-2019, one that parallels the one they had in 2017-2018 very closely. Through December 10th, 2017, the Jets sat at a stellar 18-8-5 record through 31 games. In two fewer appearances this season, they sit at 18-9-2. While both starts have created a solid foundation for a dominant 82-game campaign to help set the table for a playoff push, this season doesn’t quite have the same vibe as last year.
Perhaps the difference lies in the expectations. Entering the 2017-2018 campaign, the Jets were coming off a playoff-free summer. They had unproven Connor Hellebuyck and a shaky veteran Steve Mason sharing their goalie crease, a blue-line full of uninspired performances the previous year, and a forward group with a lot of hope and promise without guarantee. Entering last season the expectations were much lower. Essentially, everything that could have gone right for the Jets to start last season did go right. They fought and earned the right to be considered a threat, and provided many people wrong.
Fast forward to today. The Jets are nine games above the .500 level, and yet they sit third in the Central Division. They have been good, but somehow seem less dominant than last year. Perhaps you can chalk that up to the October drought that plagued star forwards Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. Perhaps it is due in part to the up-and-down goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck. Something does feel a bit off about these Jets thus far. Is that really the case, or does it just feel that way?
In terms of their play as a team, there are numbers that indicate that the Jets may actually be playing a bit weaker than last year. The Jets currently sit at a 50.6% corsi for percentage during 5 on 5 play, which is down from their 51.5% last season. Although this does indicate the Jets are a slight step behind their play from last year, it is not their most concerning metric through 29 games. For that stat, you need to take a look at heat maps:
While comparing the 2017-2018 season’s heat maps of the shots allowed by the Jets versus their current season heat maps, it is very apparent that the Winnipeg Jets are allowing a high volume of shots in the ten-twelve foot area in front of their own net:
The Jets do not appear to be allowing any more actual shots than they did last year; in fact, the Jets are averaging 31.9 shots against per game which is the same as their 2017-18 average. However, it is abundantly clear that their defense has, to some extent, broken down in their own zone over the course of the last seven or eight months. While Connor Hellebuyck has not exactly been the Vezina candidate that he was last season, the argument could be made that is partially the result of the team in front of him.
For whatever reason, something small has changed for the Winnipeg Jets. Whether it be the absence of Paul Stastny, or something more fundamental about the team, there is clearly room to grow.
Ready For Take Off
The Jets do appear ready to bust out. Over the past five games, the Jets have generated increased shot pressure, and looked much more like themselves in their three-game road sweep against the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders, and the New Jersey Devils. The Jets hit the post three times despite being shut out against the St. Louis Blues this past Friday night, and proved the old cliché of ‘not getting the bounces’ sometimes holds true. That led them to their 7-1 breakout win against the Flyers on Saturday night.
There are numbers supporting that the Jets are off to slow start compared to where they left off. However, it appears that they have full intentions to take advantage of what is left of this four-game home stand. There is no doubt that their Friday night loss to the lowly Blues has lit a fire under their seats.
The Chicago Blackhawks are in town Tuesday night and the Edmonton Oilers visit Thursday night before the Jets travel to Chicago for their tilt Friday night. After that, the Jets have one more home game [Sunday December 16th vs. Tampa Bay Lightning] before their pre-Christmas western road swing. It is clear that the time is now for the Jets to get their game fine-tuned at home before they go back on the road for an important test. The crowd on Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place will again be roaring.
This four-game home stand could prove to be the thing that finally unleashes the true scary potential of the Jets this season. It is a road that many people in Winnipeg hope leads to the franchises first Stanley Cup.
advanced stats from hockey-reference.com, heat maps from Micah Blake McCurdy @ hockeyviz.com
featured image photo credit – Brutes Battaglia