The Winnipeg Jets are starting to run out of runway in the Central Division as the gap widens at the top.
The bottom has officially fallen out of the Winnipeg Jets this season. As February comes into view, and the playoff races get tighter, the Jets have played themselves out of the playoff spot they had put themselves in at the beginning of December.
To start the last month of 2019, the Jets were third place in the Central Division and five games above .500 as a team on the rise. Since mid-December, Winnipeg has gone 5-11-2 and have dropped from their top-three spot in the Central, out of the wild card picture entirely. Before their game on Friday night against the Boston Bruins, the Jets sit three points behind the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes in the wild card race as the Pacific Division remains contentious and competitive.
A tight Pacific Division means the Jets have very little wiggle room to make a push into the wild card. With the NHL’s scheduling favoring in-division matchups at the end of the season, teams should start to separate themselves in the Western Conference, but as of Wednesday, the Jets’ chances of a playoff spot sit at 17.8 percent, according to Money Puck.
Though not insurmountable odds, Winnipeg was above 50 percent by mid-December, maxing out at 69 percent on Dec. 11, marking quite the fall in a month and a half.
As of their bye week, the Jets have lost their last four in a row, including a 7-1 smackdown at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. They’re average in nearly every NHL statistic, with 152 goals for (18th best), 160 goals against (10th worst), a 20 percent power play conversion rate (15th best), a 74.42 penalty kill rate (27th worst) and a .905 combined save percentage (19th best).
Winnipeg has been getting solid scoring from Mark Scheifele (54 points in 51 games), Kyle Connor (50 points in 51 games) and Patrik Laine (45 points in 49 games) this season. However, after their top five scorers, the Jets’ offensive production plummets as their secondary scoring has run dry. Only five players on their roster have hit double digits in goals this season, with their scoring woes past their top two lines evident in every game they play.
In net, Connor Hellebuyck is doing all he can to keep the Jets afloat with a .917 save percentage, but the team allows the fourth-most average shots per game (33) and aren’t helping themselves by taking the load off one of their best players.
The Jets’ playoff hopes aren’t over just yet, as there’s still a third of the season to go. Hockey teams can go on hot streaks at any moment, and three points out of a wild card spot is only a few wins strung together.
However, Winnipeg hasn’t put together a win streak of three games or more since late November, and their remaining strength of schedule is fifth-worst in the NHL. With 31 games left in the season, the Jets have 17 to play at home and 14 to play on the road, and their opponent’s win percentage is .571 percent for those remaining games.
Should the Jets make the playoffs come spring, it’ll be because their offense has found a second gear, their defense has tightened up and the Pacific Division contenders ahead of them in the wild card race tore themselves apart, making room for Winnipeg to reap the benefits. If the Jets believe themselves to still be in this race, expect them to be active at the trade deadline to acquire more secondary scoring to push them over the edge.
If Winnipeg is unable to find another trade parter to dance with, however, their postseason aspirations may be cut short before they truly begin.
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