Jets earn Bs across board
Ken Wiebe, QMI Agency
|Winnipeg Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian has taken on a big workload and logged a lot of minutes on the blue-line. (QMI Agency)
It could have been better.
It could have been worse.
Prevailing wisdom surrounding the Winnipeg Jets through the first quarter of the 2011-12 NHL season would suggest the team is off to a decent start.
Sure, it’s easy to say the Jets could have posted a few more victories, but they squandered games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators (two teams struggling mightily at the time) and were fortunate to come away with wins in a few others (the 9-8 win over the Philadelphia Flyers is at the top of that list).
All things considered, an 8-9-3 record is probably about right for how the Jets have played so far.
With that in mind, it’s time to hand out some position-by-position grades through the first 20 games as the Jets get set to open a three-game road trip against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday at Verizon Center (6:05 p.m., TSN Jets, TSN 1290).
Ondrej Pavelec has simply been a workhorse, appearing in 18 of 20 games so far. Yes, there were some early struggles and he’s been pulled three times, but Pavelec’s turnaround is probably the biggest reason the Jets have put themselves back into the mix in the Eastern Conference. On a lot of nights, Pavelec is providing A+ goaltending and he’ll need to keep that up. Veteran Chris Mason was slowed by a groin injury and was limited to just four games (and two starts). Mason figures to start Friday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes and is a capable back-up who should get up to 20 games this season. As much as Pavelec wants to play, he’ll need a few more breathers during the second quarter.
What you need to know about the defence is that the Jets have used 12 blue-liners in the first 20 games. Most of that wasn’t by choice as injuries ravaged the back end and five defencemen remain on the sidelines, including top puck-mover Toby Enstrom. The Jets have been using American Hockey League call-ups on their third pair for most of the campaign and Mark Flood is making a strong case to remain in the NHL, with three goals and four points in nine games since his recall. Mark Stuart has been a warrior and shot-blocking machine, Zach Bogosian is eating up big minutes and growing under the tutelage of assistant coach Charlie Huddy, Johnny Oduya has been playing well since some early turnover woes and Dustin Byfuglien has picked up his play at both ends of the ice of late. After putting up a goal and two assists in the first 12 games, Byfuglien has three goals and seven assists in his past eight. And he’s decreased the number of odd-man rushes against by a considerable margin. Ron Hainsey is poised to return this week and his veteran presence will be welcomed.
One of the biggest questions going into the campaign revolved around where the goals were going to come from and the answer has been somewhat surprising. While it’s true the Jets have shown to be offensively challenged at times, there’s definitely talent sprinkled throughout the lineup. Third-year winger Evander Kane has eight goals to lead the team, while captain Andrew Ladd, Kyle Wellwood and Jim Slater all have six to sit tied for second. Second-year forward Alex Burmistrov has been rock solid and Nik Antropov has been chipping in as well and providing quiet leadership. Bryan Little went 14 games before he scored his first but he’s up to four, while Blake Wheeler’s first goal came in his 19th game. Eric Fehr has played only one game but should give the offence a shot in the arm as well as he shakes off the rust. The foot soldiers have been excellent, but the top guns need to produce a little bit more.