Will the Jets See Playoff Action This Year?

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Img 1871 Cr Dustin Krahn
The Jets take the ice Dustin Krahn

Circle the calendar, Jets fans. In less than a month, Patrik Laine and the Jets prepare to take flight in their season opener against Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Matthews, taken with the first overall pick in 2016 (one pick ahead of Laine) helped lead his team to the playoffs, only to lose in the first round to the President-Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in a hard-fought six-game series. In addition, he also won the Calder Trophy, awarded to the league’s best rookie.

Laine, in his own right, finished second in voting for the rookie of the year award, scoring in nearly 50 percent of games, with 36 goals in 73 games.

Unlike Matthews, however, Laine did not get to see any playoff action. Nor did any of his teammates. And now the Jets head into 2017 hoping to take the next step.

It’s no secret that the Jets just couldn’t find a way to keep the puck out of their net last season. Laine himself was quick to identify the issue, saying, “Last season, we just allowed too many goals… It’s hard when you have to score three or four goals every night just to win.”

The numbers do back up what he’s saying.

Offensively, the Jets were a powerhouse, finishing seventh in the league with 249 goals. In their own end, however, they were stuck fishing the puck out of their own net the fourth most times in the league, allowing 255 goals. Thus, in an effort to tighten up play in their end, Kevin Chevaldayoff and co. signed checker Matt Hendricks, two-way defenceman Dimitri Kulikov, and goaltender Steve Mason.

The additions of Hendricks and Kulikov aren’t quite as significant as Mason, but their hard-nosed, solid defensive play will benefit the Jets in their own end.

Since returning to Winnipeg in 2011–12, goaltending has been a never-ending issue for the Jets. Is Steve Mason the answer?

He’s coming off his worst season in four years, but at 6’4, with quick reflexes, Mason holds a solid set of skills. Over the last three seasons, he’s posted a .918 save percentage alongside a 2.48 goals-against average, while going 67–58–29. His quality start percentage (the percentage of starts in which he met or exceeded the league average save percentage) over that time is 53.5 percent, which just meets the league average.

As mentioned, however, he’s coming off a bad season. If we exclude last season from his quality start percentage, we see it jump to 57 percent, which is still not elite but is above average. At even strength, Mason should help cut their goals-against, as the Jets allowed the third most goals at five-on-five last season.

Sharing the net with Mason is 24-year-old Connor Hellebuyck. Much like Mason, Hellebuyck looks to recover after having the worst season of his young career to date. Last time around, Hellebuyck had no competition and was practically handed the keys to the Jets’ net. It’s a different story this season. He and Mason will be forced to compete against one another until one takes the reins.

The goaltender can’t be expected to assume full responsibility for a team’s poor defensive numbers. There’s a team in front of him that must share accountability. And whose job is it to hold these players accountable? The head coach.

In Winnipeg, that’s Paul Maurice.

With a year remaining on his contract, and with no extension imminent, all eyes will be on Maurice as he heads into 2017 on the hot seat.

What does Maurice have to do to keep his job? The simple answer is win, but to be more technical he needs to deploy a defensive strategy with more structure and fewer holes. On top of this, he most definitely needs to find a way to keep his team discipline. Over the last three seasons, the Jets have led the league in minor penalties, with 1,001. This doesn’t mean the Jets will take zero penalties. Penalties are bound to be taken, and once they are Maurice needs to scheme up a greater penalty kill system. After all, the Jets finished with only the twenty-sixth best unit last season.

If all comes to fruition, Laine and Winnipeg fans could be seeing playoff action for the second time since the franchise’s return. It all starts October 4. Be ready!

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