Until last night, the Winnipeg Jets were enjoying a four-game win streak, their longest such streak of the season. It did not survive a date with the San Jose Sharks, however, as the Jets were brought back to earth with a 1-0 loss. With Winnipeg experiencing a significant setback on Thursday despite all of their recent success, it has become apparent that the Jets will have to make a run for the playoffs in the near future.
The times have been good in the ‘Peg for the last 10 days, after the Jets made a coaching change and Paul Maurice became the new bench boss. He took what former coach Claude Noel gave him and ran with it, winning his first four games as Head Coach. The Jets’ most impressive win of those four was their final one, a 3-2 victory that gave the NHL-best Anaheim Ducks their first regulation loss at home this season. The second game of their annual father’s trip wasn’t as succesful, as Winnipeg only managed 20 shots in their defeat to San Jose.
While the Jets’ streak came to an end, division rivals Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars both picked up wins in the same night. The night ended with Winnipeg 10 points of the final Wild Card playoff spot in the Western Conference, held by the Minnesota Wild. The Jets have one game in hand.
Although the Jets couldn’t seem to buy a goal in their last game, the offense has been much improved since Maurice took the reigns. The Jets out-scored the opposition 17-6 during their win streak, pushing their season goal differential to -9, one of the best such numbers in the bottom half of the league. Dustin Byfuglien‘s game has been much improved, as he has continued to find offense sans the defensive errors that cost his team in the first half of the year.
Despite the positives, the loss shows that their is a long road ahead if the Jets want to make the playoffs for the first time since moving. Winnipeg is still 4-6 in 2014, thanks to the five-game losing streak to kick off the New Year. The Jets sit at one game below .500% on the season (23-24-5), and have allowed 10 more goals against than the league-worst Buffalo Sabres.
The next 7-10 days will make or break the Jets’ season. If they continue to hold high-powered teams to low scores, and pick up important divisional wins (such as against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, or the Predators on Tuesday), they can move up to within 5 or less points of the Wild Card spot. With a tough schedule ahead, however, these wins may be increasingly harder to come by.
The Jets will have to ditch the inconsistency that has plagued them thus far, and string together three or four wins, just as they did recently. Their home record will have to improve, and wins against both the Central and Pacific divisions will have to be more frequent. The responsibility lies on Maurice’s, and further, the player’s shoulders, to understand the magnitude of the coming days and deliver with consistent production.
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