Paul Maurice hasn’t been the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets for a week yet, but he has made a great first impression.
Maurice has a 2-0 start to his tenure with the Jets, after two Western Conference wins that were hard to come by in the Claude Noel era. After a five-game win streak to enter 2014 that called for the coaching change, Jets fans can take what they can get. However, it is a long road ahead, and a harsh reminder has to be served before the team begins to fall back to earth.
The Jets are still last in the Central Division, and it seems like that route will not be possible if Winnipeg was to make a run at the playoffs. Conversely, the Jets are still 10 points out of a Wild Card spot, which is reachable, but won’t be easy.
Under Maurice, the Jets have played a Coyotes team that had won three of their last 10 games coming in, and a Flames team that had lost four straight. The Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg’s next challenge, is the worst team in the Western Conference. These games will have to become ‘gimmes’ for the Jets if they expect to be a playoff contender this season.
Maurice’s defining moments will be when the Jets play the Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, and Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL. Winnipeg has been atrocious within their own division, and despite their last two wins, they still have a sub-.500% record in their own conference. The Jets are positive against the Eastern Conference, but haven’t had great luck as of late, with all five games of their losing streak coming against Eastern teams.
The Jets’ players have been playing better, both individually and as a team, but they have not faced much adversity since Maurice has been behind the bench. Winnipeg has trailed for less than 10 minutes in the last two games, and opened up multi-goal leads late in the game on both occasions. The refreshed line combinations have been a treat, but when Winnipeg is on the wrong side of the scoreboard with the clock winding down, (it’s going to happen eventually) the personnel that Maurice sends onto the ice will be key. Besides that, discipline, special teams, and goaltending are also huge factors in the Jets’ success that have not came into play in the space of 120 minutes. Dustin Byfuglien will be the prime example of Maurice’s ability, as the current forward’s future position is still unknown in the long-term.
If the Jets win against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, Winnipeg may be up all night with excitement. However important those two points may be, tougher challenges lie ahead, and Maurice will have to prove himself all over again when the time comes.