If the idea is that failure is a teacher, the Winnipeg Jets had plenty of lessons in this season.
Fans have watched this team plummet below the playoff line from a comfortable perch over the better part of two months now as it’s looked like an off-season of roster upheaval has finally caught up with the team.
And yet suddenly, the Jets are on the move. A 2-1-1 record since the all-star break may not be enough proof that Winnipeg is back to being a contender, but it’s enough to ask the question.
Here’s five reasons why that answer looks to be yes.
The Jets have now scored the first goal in five straight games.
That’s huge considering they haven’t won a game in which they’ve trailed since way back in November. Slow starts have crippled the Jets and the team is near the bottom of the league in both first period goals and shots.
Scoring first has meant the Jets have trailed for just 22:31 over their last five games. Not having to chase the game has given them a real shot at winning each of those nights.
Over the past five games the Jets have faced four top 11 offences in the Bruins (6th), Predators (11th) and the Blues twice (8th), allowing just nine regulation goals.
Things got out of hand in the month of January when the Jets racked up a minus-14 goal differential. At one time this team was able to outscore its defensive woes but that ability has dried up, meaning any turn around will be lead from the net out. In that regard this team is getting results. For now.
On too many nights through January and December the Jets were no shows leading to demoralizing losses. But Winnipeg has run a streak of games recently where they’ve been engaged in the fight from start to finish.
That effort is the starting point of a turnaround according to Jets head coach Paul Maurice. He pointed to the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup winning season as an example.
"They got to the point where hard compete on every shift was all they had left, that’s the only place you could go," said Maurice. "Then your confidence grows, now you’re feeling it."
Maurice had said before his team’s recent success that they were playing a winning brand of hockey. Now the team believes its outcome is finally matching its input.
Losing Adam Lowry to injury was a blow this team did not look capable of overcoming. Instead it’s created a spark on the third line that has been leading the charge during this resurgence.
The combination of Andrew Copp, Jack Roslovic and Jansen Harkins has been critical as of late, combing for nine points over the last three games including two game winning goals. The Jets third line has been a black hole of offensive production for most of the season, but recently they’ve been the difference between winning and losing for this club.
Clarity on Dustin Byfuglien
As of this writing the Jets and Dustin Byfuglien have yet to finalize a divorce but the way the players are openly talking in the media, the man is long gone.
The players can say all they want about his absence being something they haven’t thought about but a conclusion would truly put this situation in the rear view mirror, allowing players to keep their eyes forward. If they look in that direction, they may see a glimmer of hope.
The departure of Byfuglien will open massive cap space, giving general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff plenty of money to address the Jets’ patchwork defence. With a dangerous offensive unit and a Vezina-candidate in the crease, a revamped blue line before the trade deadline could make this group a dark horse come playoff time in a season that looked lost not long ago.
Even with these factors now working in the Jets’ favour, the climb to the playoffs remains steep. The Jets free fall has brought them into the middle of the fray of fringe playoff teams, many of them with games in hand on Winnipeg.
And critical issues remain. The Jets’ underlying numbers still need work and their special teams continue to struggle. Maurice has said his team isn’t going anywhere if the power play doesn’t wake up.
But the Jets look to have found a game that will buy themselves time to address those issues. Having rebounded from a five-game losing streak, sometimes staying in the fight is the best you can do, until things get better.