The Regular Season Is Here

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For hockey fans, the NHL preseason is a time to rejoice in the return of hockey. It means you’re just that much closer to the regular season, and it gives you a chance to view certain players you’d otherwise only get to see in the minors. For those players, the preseason is a chance to turn the page on their destiny and prove they’ve got what it takes to stick around with the pros. For those pros, the preseason is a time to get back into shape, and up to speed, before having to go full throttle for the next seven months. 

There was no shortage of this in Winnipeg this September.

From Patrik Laine’s incredible five-point burst against the Flames to the battles between youth attempting to step into the bottom six, the Jets preseason was full of storylines.

But while the quality of entertainment was certainly good, the team will most definitely want to improve on their lacklustre 2–3–1 record, during which they scored just three goals at even strength. In the two games the Jets did win, they went a combined 7 for 12 on the power play, good for a 58 percent conversion rate.

Despite lack of finish at five-on-five, the Jets don’t seem to be concerned. And why should they be? If it weren’t for hitting the goalpost four times against the Edmonton Oilers, we could be painting a whole different picture. With the talent the Jets have up front, this concern should easily diminish as the regular season gets underway.

Then there are the penalties.

Heading into this season, referees have begun to crack down on the small slashes on hands. These small slashes became a huge topic of conversation last season after several players found themselves with broken fingers.

Over the past three seasons, the Jets have been the most penalized team in the league. A rise in penalty calls could entail bad news for the fifth worst penalty kill unit of 2016–17. 

Two other rules being employed this season will take effect between whistles. Teams who unsuccessfully challenge an offside goal will receive a two-minute bench minor as a consequence. The second rule takes place in the faceoff dot. If a team has two players thrown out of the draw, they receive a two-minute penalty.

Realizing the importance of discipline, head coach Paul Maurice reached out to retired referee Paul Devorski. With 26 years of NHL refereeing experience, Devorski was asked to join the team during camp to provide players with a clearer idea of what’s going to be called and how to avoid taking certain penalties. It could also help the team draw more penalties.

The man advantage was huge for the Jets through the preseason. Led by Patrik Laine’s three power play goals, the Jets converted with the man advantage at a better rate than any other team through the preseason, scoring on nearly 33 percent of their opportunities. While maintaining that stat would be next to impossible through an 82-game regular season, it’s a real possibility for the Jets to remain the top-ranked power play. With two incredibly skilled units, there is no shortage of options for Maurice to turn to.

The trio of Laine, Scheifele, and Wheeler saw plenty of success on the power play, combining for 12 points. But they’ll find themselves together outside the power play, too; the three are expected to open the season as a line. Their combination of size and skill creates a lot of chances in the two preseason games they played together. Spending most of their time in the opposing team’s zone, cycling the puck and finding open looks, the three could wreak havoc.

Goaltending will also need to be stellar if the Jets have any hope of making the playoffs. Newcomer Steve Mason was the victim of poor defence through his two starts, during which he went 1–0–1, stopping .904 percent of the shots he faced. Connor Hellybuyck had a very good showing through training camp. With a 1–1–1 record, the 24-year-old looks ready to compete with Mason for the starting job, posting a .922 save percentage with a 1.95 goals-against average in his three starts.

One way or another, BellMTS Place will be rocking when the Toronto Maple Leafs come into town for the season opener on October 4.

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