(Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
The Winnipeg Jets are 3-5-2 since the all-star break and the wild-card race is getting tighter. But the recent slide shouldn’t be cause for concern for Jets fans because there’s only one team in the league that has really outplayed Winnipeg since the All-Star Game.
You’ll have to forgive Winnipeg Jets fans if they’re not the most comfortable heading into tonight’s game with the Edmonton Oilers.
The team has won just three of their past ten games and are 3-5-2 since the all-star break. They’ve been outscored 15-17 over that time and now have three teams within eight points of them in the Western Conference wild-card race. Heading into the break only one squad, the Los Angeles Kings, were that close. To make matters worse, Minnesota and Los Angeles have three games in hand, and the Stars, eight points back of Winnipeg, have played two fewer than Winnipeg.
So, for good reason, there has been some panic from Jets faithful. Could it be that this season, one that seemed destined for at least a pair of playoff games at the MTS Centre, is doomed to end with the Jets on the outside looking in?
Keep calm, Jets fans, because there’s a lot less reason to worry than you might think.
Though, yes, Winnipeg has played more games and, yes, each of Minnesota, Los Angeles, Dallas and Calgary are creeping up on them, there’s reason to believe the Jets are not simply outplaying some of their closest competition, they’re outplaying almost the entire league over their last stretch.
Since Jan. 27, the first game day after the all-star break, Winnipeg has been the second best possession team in the entire NHL. Winnipeg’s Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 has been 57.3 percent since their first game back, only half a percentage behind the Kings’ 57.8 mark. Comparatively, Dallas ranks 16th over the same span (50.4 percent), Minnesota is 25th (47.2) and Calgary’s 45.5 percent is 27th.
Though the results haven’t been favorable – a 3-5-2 record is exactly the opposite of what Winnipeg needed at this point in the season – and the result may remain king in the NHL, there’s much to be said about the process. For instance, only one player that has played 50 minutes at 5-on-5 for the Jets since the break has a Corsi For lower than 50 percent, and that’s Jim Slater who averages roughly 5:30 of ice time per game.
Jacob Trouba, Mark Stuart, Dustin Byfuglien, Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault are all above 58 percent Corsi For at 5-on-5. Those five also maintain five of the six lowest percentages of offensive zone starts. And even Anthony Peluso, who starts 5.5 percent fewer shifts in the offensive zone relative to the team total, has a Corsi For of 50.6.
The Jets have at times had nearly the worst 5-on-5 shooting percentage in the league and, though it had corrected itself a bit heading into the all-star break, it has since been 25th in the league with Winnipeg firing at a 6.6 percent rate. Coupled with the 24th ranked save percentage, a dismal .911 at 5-on-5 since players returned from Columbus, the Jets have simply been getting unlucky. And isn’t that the best news for Winnipeg fans? Most fan bases would prefer a good team to a lucky one.
It would be different, for instance, were the Jets in the Flames position. Calgary has nearly the worst Corsi For at 5-on-5 since the all-star break, yet they’ve got the fifth highest shooting percentage at 9.6 percent and 13th best SP at .924. The league average shooting percentage since the break is 7.8 and SP is .922. Calgary has had more favorable luck than the Jets, and that’s all that is.
Calgary isn’t Winnipeg’s real concern, though, because switching spots with the Flames would still mean a wild-card spot. It’s Minnesota, Los Angeles and Dallas that pose a threat. But even Dallas, eight points back with two games in hand, is going to be in tough to claw their way into a playoff spot, especially with an injury to Tyler Seguin that will keep him sidelined for at least the next three weeks.
Minnesota’s incredible run – they’re 8-0-1 since the break – has them in position to challenge for at least one of the wild-card spots, but it’s hard to imagine Devan Dubnyk’s play will stay at such a high level for much longer. That’s not a knock on Dubnyk, but rather a nod to the improbability of a goaltender continuing to post a .953 SP at 5-on-5 for nine-game stretches. That’s especially true when Minnesota has a sub-50 percent Corsi For and is being buoyed by the sixth best shooting percentage (9.3) in the league at 5-on-5 over that time.
The team to watch, though, is Los Angeles. Only six points back and winners of four straight, the Kings have outscored their opponents 21-16 in eight games since the break, posting the league’s best 5-on-5 Corsi For and eighth best shooting percentage (9.0). The goaltending has been subpar at 5-on-5 (.899 SP, 27th), but as the shooting percentage regresses to normal, the save percentage should catch up to keep their PDO – combined shooting and save percentage – around 100.
But Winnipeg has kept pace with those numbers. And their shooting percentage has been 7.46 at 5-on-5 over the course of the season, almost a full percentage point better than their current rate. Winnipeg is bound to start scoring more and having the puck as much as they do will help. If Los Angeles jumps anyone, it won’t be the Jets, but the Flames.
Anything can happen over the course of Winnipeg’s remaining 24 games, but don’t panic just yet Jets fans. The numbers game is going in your favor, and the safe bet says there will be playoff hockey in Winnipeg this season.