How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mark Scheifele?


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Mark Scheifele takes a face-off at the BellMTS Place. Dustin Krahn

Despite finishing the month first in the Central Division, and two points back of the Western-Conference-leading Golden Knights, December for the Jets was much like the weather in Winnipeg: cold.

On the road, that is. The Jets continued to be scorching hot on home ice, going 5–1–0 in their own barn, improving to 14–3–1 overall when playing at BellMTS Place.

Leading the charge is goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who when playing at home this season has gone 14–1–1 with a .930 save percentage. On home ice, the Jets’ power play trails only that of the Nashville Predators, scoring on 32 percent of their opportunities. 

Sadly, not all 82 games are played at home, and every now and again you have to visit another team’s arena. It’s in these games that the Jets look like a different team. Of an attainable 44 points available in road games, the Jets have managed to rack up just 23 of them, going 9–8–5 through their first 22 road games. December proved to be the Jets’ worst month on the road, winning only two games and going 2–4–2.

What could be causing these struggles? One explanation could be that the Jets, like most teams, just perform better when they’re in their own barn. Combine that with what’s arguably the most electric fanbase in the league, and you’re in for one hell of a night if you’re an opposing team entering BellMTS Place. This also feeds their power play performance, which is nowhere near as lethal away from home. On the road, the Jets convert on just 17.7 percent of their power play opportunities, half the rate as on home ice.

Despite their struggles on the road, the biggest loss last month came via an injury to centre Mark Scheifele. Midway through the second period of the Jets’ 4–3 victory against the Edmonton Oilers on December 27, Scheifele collided with Oilers defenceman Brandon Davidson, and continued to slide until he hit the boards. Following the collision, Scheifele was down for several minutes and ended up leaving the game.

The following day, Coach Paul Maurice declared Mark would miss the next six to eight weeks with an upper body injury. 

To call Scheifele’s injury detrimental to the team’s prospects would be an understatement. Since becoming the first-ever draft pick of Jets 2.0, Scheifele has put in all the work necessary to become one of the league’s top centres. And it reflects in his stats. Since January 1, 2016, Scheifele ranks in the NHL’s top five players when it comes to points, with 159 in 154 games. He also ranks in the top ten when it comes to playing time, averaging 20:30 per game.

So how big of a hole will Scheifele’s injury create for the Jets? Fortunately, thanks to their excellent performance through the first half of the season, the team is in a pretty good position. That being said, there’s no replacing Mark Scheifele. That’s just a fact. But with such a deep roster, there are some options to help bridge the gap.

The Jets have chosen so far to use Blake Wheeler at centre, as he has the defensive capabilities to get the job done. But should he want to, Maurice also has the option to pull the Jack Roslovic card.

Picked by the Jets twenty-fifth overall in the 2015 draft, Roslovic is starting to look like a steal of a draft pick. In 31 games with the Manitoba Moose, currently leading the American Hockey League, he has scored 15 times and assisted on 20 goals, giving him 35 points on the season. He was recalled on December 30 but didn’t play in the Jets’ final game of 2017 against the Edmonton Oilers.

During their first two games without Scheifele, the Jets looked impressive. Despite being outshot 79–75 in those games, the Jets managed to pull off two victories, winning 4–2 against the offensive juggernaut Islanders, and 5–0 against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. Though Connor Hellebuyck truly stole the show in both of these games, the Jets’ overall offensive effort sure helped seal the deal.

Heading into January, the Jets will hope to carry on the success they’ve garnered thus far without Scheifele, and hope to solidify their spot as a serious contender in the Central Division come April.

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