Hellebuyck and Wheeler Named NHL All-Stars

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When the Jets chose to go by the slogan “Rise Together,” few could have predicted just how quickly the team would, in fact, rise together. Yet 50 games into this regular season, the Jets are ranked third in the NHL. At 29–13–8, few expected this kind of turnaround from Winnipeg, especially considering that the roster is relatively the same as it was last season, with the only significant addition being Dmitry Kulikov.

But for the Jets, last season is nothing but a vague memory.

When centre Mark Scheifele went down to injury in late December, many around the hockey world wondered if the Jets would be able to maintain their high level of success. It’s safe to say, the Jets proved those people’s doubts wrong. Through the first 12 games without Scheifele, the team went 8–2–2, thanks in large part to Blake Wheeler. Wheeler, who played centre back in his college days, was thrust back to the middle of the ice and hasn’t looked back since. With five goals and seven assists in those 12 games, Wheeler has been the focal point of the Jets’ offence. 

Having only lost in regulation twice since the holiday break, the Jets are 9–2–2 since December 25, making them the third hottest team in the league heading into the All-Star weekend. Representing the Jets in Tampa Bay are goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and captain Blake Wheeler—a more than deserving honour for the two who have carried the Jets thus far. 

One player whose impact has gone slightly unnoticed is defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. Since his return to the line-up on January 2, he’s racked up two goals and two assists in 10 games. The Jets, who were 6–3–1 during Big Buff’s absence, improved to 21–9–7 when Byfuglien was in the line-up. There’s no exact explanation as to why the Jets play well when Byfuglien is around, but having Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba both healthy certainly gives the team a scary right side on the back end. The three combined for 17 points in January, with seven of those points coming on the power play.

Among the numerous adjustments made since the new year, no area has seen as much improvement as the penalty kill. When 2017 concluded, the Jets sat nineteenth in penalty kill percentage, at just about 80 percent. Since January 1, however, the Jets have posted the fourth most efficient penalty kill, killing just under 90 percent of the penalties they’ve taken. This success can and should be attributed to goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who’s stopped 94.2 percent of shots during power plays in 2018.

This alone highlights just how good Hellebuyck has been as he delivers stellar performance after stellar performance. The 24-year-old all-star continues to make his case for the Vezina Trophy, improving to 26–6–7 on the season, making him second in wins among all goalies. He’s also tied for second in shutouts, with four to his name so far.

In last month’s article, we discussed just how great the Jets are on home ice. While that stayed true in January, their success at BellMTS place will truly be tested after the all-star break, as 11 of their next 13 games take place at home. On top of that, four of those games will be played against divisional opponents and could really make the difference down the stretch.

As far as the trade deadline is concerned, don’t expect the Jets to make too much noise. While general manager Kevin Chevaldayoff has a history of not making deals, he should take an interest in adding depth and playoff experience this year, especially considering the fact that divisional opponents St. Louis and Nashville are expected to be very active. 

The Jets close out the month on January 30 as they host the first-place Lightning, and then they take on the second-place Vegas Golden Knights on February 1. As far as February is concerned, the Jets need to take advantage of their long upcoming home stretch and try to separate themselves from the Predators, who are just one point back of the Jets for the division lead.

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