Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s mid September, and that can only mean one thing: all of the experts and analysts are predicting the Jets to have their break through season and get back to the playoffs. But it’s always with an “if.” This is the year the Jets make the playoffs again IF they get good goaltending. Okay, but isn’t that the case for almost every team? If you give up 3.11 goals per game you’re going to have a tough time winning hockey games. The Jets were 7th in the NHL last year in goals with 246, which averages out to exactly 3.00 goals per game. So if they can score at that rate then why can’t they win? There are a couple of reasons why.
WPG Jets 2016-17
The first reason is goaltending. The table above from hockey reference shows that, as a team, the Jets goalies had a save percentage of .904 for the season which is below the league average of .913. Hockey reference also has a table that shows that 12 of the top 13 teams in save percentage were in the playoffs. As you can see in the table below, the * indicates a playoff team. You can’t be a playoff team with poor goaltending, you just can’t. Last year the Jets used four starting goalies. However, Eric Comrie and Ondrej Pavelec only combined for 9 starts; Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson started the majority of games for the Jets. So how are the Jets going to improve their goaltending this year? They went out and got highly sought after free agent Steve Mason. Maybe for the Jets that’s at least true. Mason had a higher save percentage than any of the Jets goalies last year and also posted a much lower GAA than any Jets goalie. Mason had a 2.66 GAA while Hellebuyck had the lowest for the Jets at 2.89. Will this be enough for the Jets to shore up their goaltending? Maybe. Goaltending likely won’t be the primary reason the Jets make the playoffs this year, but improved goaltending certainly can’t hurt.
Sorry mobile users. Big table ahead
2016-17 NHL Team Stats
Penalties were another problem for the Jets last season. The Jets opponents had 275 power plays: 3rd in the league. When opposing teams have that many power play opportunities, the penalty kill has to perform under pressure. That wasn’t the case for Winnipeg. They killed off 77.45% of their penalties: 26th in the league. The easiest way to improve is obvious: stay out of the box. The Jets have a plan to accomplish this. Darren Dreger tweeted that the Jets are having former referee Paul Devorski attend practice and try to teach them how to stop committing so many penalties. The first order of business? Watch the Slapshot scene where Denis Lemieux shows us all the penalties. Like Denis said in the film you go sit in the box for two minutes, and “you feel shame.” In the Jets’ case last year, they felt a lot of shame skating out of the box before the penalty was killed.
Paul Maurice says Paul Devorski will be on the ice for Jets practice tomorrow. Education strategy as the Jets try and curb penalties...— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) September 21, 2017
Some main acquisitions the Jets made this year are defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, goalie Steve Mason and center Matt Hendricks. Kulikov will provide defensive depth and Hendricks can fill into a bottom six role at center. Steve Mason will help shore up the goaltending, but I would guess Hellebuyck is still going to get a significant number of starts. How Maurice chooses to split the time between the two goaltenders is something to watch heading into the season.
Look I’m a huge fan of their top line of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Patrik Laine. Scheifele is becoming one of the better offensive centers in the league and we all know that Blake Wheeler is a dynamic winger. Patrik Laine had a terrific rookie year and is an electric goal scorer. He is one of the guys that you always have to know where he is when he’s on the ice. Especially on the power play where he has found his spot in the Ovechkin Office and is starting to resemble The Great 8 with his one timer. With all of that said, unless this team can play better defensively, get better goaltending, and stay out of the penalty box, I still see the Jets finishing fifth or sixth in the central and watching the playoffs from the couches.