When the horn sounded at the United Center last night and Michael Hutchinson completed the shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks, the Winnipeg Jets accomplished a feat no one saw coming. The team blanked the New York Rangers and Blackhawks on back-to-back nights.
The consecutive wins over two of the league’s premier contenders are one thing. Completing it in shutout fashion is another. And with the wins, Jets fans league-wide are left asking themselves if this is the season Winnipeg finally gives them something to cheer about. Unfortunately, that likely won’t be the case.
While the performances on back-to-back nights by goaltenders Ondrej Pavelec and Hutchinson are certainly inspiring, the play of the entire team around them leaves much to be desired. Take for instance Saturday night’s tilt with New York, when there was little the Jets could do to stop an under-manned Rangers attack from dominating play for incredible stretches of time.
Though the goaltending held up, it’s almost certainly an aberration. Pavelec made timely, important and, in some cases, breathtaking saves against New York. Hutchinson was unspectacular and largely untested on Sunday in Chicago, escaping with a clean sheet thanks to the skinny red friends he had to his left and right.
When it comes to Pavelec, maybe no goaltender has been given a tougher time by media and fans alike. Make no mistake, the Jets need more from the 27-year-old netminder and at times the scrutiny is warranted. While they may have gotten a great performance from Pavelec on Saturday night, it came just over a week after he allowed four goals on 18 shots to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he has posted a sub-.860 save percentage in two of his last five starts.
The issue for the Jets, however, doesn’t lie in goal. Rather, it’s become apparent over these first 12 contests that Winnipeg’s suffering from an inability to score. Lost in the exuberance of what looks like a breakthrough for the Jets is the fact that, had it not been for Michael Frolik’s tally 20 seconds into Sunday’s game, the Jets themselves would have been shut out in back-to-back contests.
Currently, Winnipeg’s power play is operating at 7.7 percent – good for 27th in the league – and the team has been in more close games than they would care to admit. Though their scoring should normalize somewhat, it’s hard to believe the scales will tip too far in their favor. Even with the return of Evander Kane, the Jets have been unable to bolster what is nearly the league’s worst team-wide shooting percentage.
The Jets puck possession has been slightly improved, but not enough for the numbers to be raise any eyebrows. It was believed that Winnipeg would be a bottom of the barrel team, but instead they’ve been playing more like a middle-of-the-road squad that is barely eking out victories.
Only so many times a year will teams win the games they probably shouldn’t have. It looks as though Winnipeg did that twice in one weekend. For it to continue would be an outstanding feat of puck luck, but these things level off, and we saw it just last season with these very same Jets when Paul Maurice took over as coach.
All this is to say it’s not time to start thinking about playoff hockey in the Manitoba capital. Not yet, at least. Winnipeg isn’t any better or worse than you or anyone else expected. Simply put, they’re just the Jets you’ve known all along.