Just three weeks ago, the Winnipeg Jets were on the road to their first playoff appearance in seven seasons. However, a factor out of their control has made the Jets take a huge step back, and their season hangs in the balance with only 13 games remaining.
Injuries are a sad part of life for sports teams. They are usually beyond control, and often change the scope of the season for the team affected.
For the Winnipeg Jets, both of those are true.
It all started during the Jets’ win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday, March 1st against the Nashville Predators. The victory made them 11-3-1 since Paul Maurice arrived in mid-January, and the NHL’s second-hottest team in that time period.
The Jets lost James Wright during the action, however, and he would be “out for a while” according to Maurice. Wright (who only plays an average of 5:00/game) could be easily replaced by some of the Jets’ part-time forwards: Matt Halischuk, Anthony Peluso, or Eric Tangradi.
The Jets now entered a stretch that saw them play eight out of 10 games at home, starting with the New York Islanders on Tuesday, March 4th. This time the Jets, lost, and Mark Scheifele was the one injured during the game. The games kept coming, and the losses and injuries soon followed. Now, the Jets are without Scheifele, Wright, Jim Slater, John Albert (who was called up to replace Scheifele), and starting goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. All of these injuries happened in the past 17 days.
The Jets have gone from a completely healthy lineup, to one that now features two AHL centers, as well as an AHL goaltender playing back-up. The options on back-to-backs have now dwindled, as evidenced by Al Montoya‘s consecutive starts on Sunday against the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues the next night. Only Paul Postma and Tangradi remain as the Jets’ healthy scratches, and with players such as Dustin Byfuglein taking a beating in the past few games, that list could grow in the coming days. Although call-up Eric O’Dell scored the Jets’ only goal in their loss to the St. Louis Blues on Monday, Winnipeg is using their first, third, fifth, and seventh centers on the depth chart on a regular basis.
The problem won’t be going away any time soon: Wright is described as “Indefinitely”, and Scheifele’s return would be targeted during the final week of the regular season.
The Jets will have to muster up some of the magic that the Calgary Flames have had in recent times, winning games against playoff teams such as the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars, and keeping it close against others. The Flames haven’t lost by more than a goal in the month of March, despite having a roster with half a dozen players that would have been found on the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat just over a month ago.
If the injuries keep piling up and the Jets don’t gain any ground, many will point the finger of blame towards the sick bay come season’s end. However, the setbacks have been just another bump in the road for a Jets’ team that has struggled with consistency in all aspects of the game this season.
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