(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)
The Winnipeg Jets are, at this moment, nicely ensconced in a playoff position, having taken 60 points from 51 games and leading the Kings by six points. As we know, six points is a long way out to find oneself at this point in the year.
As recently as a few weeks ago, they looked poised to continue a march up the standings and potentially even threaten for a spot in the divisional playoffs (though the idea of playing one of St. Louis or Chicago in the first round isn't that much more appetizing than Anaheim or Nashville). People were calling them on of the biggest surprises in the league, and praising to the heavens what Paul Maurice has done with this club.
And indeed, Maurice's work this year has for the most part been praiseworthy. They, the Winnipeg Jets of all the teams in the world, entered Sunday's games with the eighth-best possession numbers in the league and that surprisingly comfortable playoff spot, and a lot of that came because Ondrej Pavelec finally played himself out of a job (three years too late) and Michael Hutchinson was one of the best goaltenders in the league.
In fact, through the end of December, Hutchinson had the third-highest save percentage at 5-on-5 of any goalie with more than 600 minutes played (.949). This was, of course, in limited appearances — only 630 minutes, dwarfed by, say, Pekka Rinne (1,546) or Carey Price (1,433) — but still, you couldn't feel too badly about the Jets' chances going forward with this guy between the pipes, especially because he at least wasn't that other guy.
But Hutchinson, perhaps predictably, dropped off last month, with his ESsv% sliding about 20 points but more or less normalizing at the still-good level of about .925. The problem is that it's nowhere near elite at 16th in the league in January. Hutchinson always put up good numbers in the AHL and thus his crack at the starting job made a lot of sense, but now that he's regressing back toward being what he is — a potentially better than average goaltender at the NHL level, albeit marginally — we're going to start asking some harder questions about just how good these Jets really are.
The issue is a simple one: They've been pretty solid for the last few years, and really only held out of the playoffs by the organization's foolish insistence on starting Pavelec. In the last three seasons, his inability to stop pucks at anything approaching an reasonable rate cost the Jets a total of 15 points in the standings versus a league-average goaltender, and in the last two the additional points he cost (three and seven, respectively) would have put the team in the playoffs.
Hutchinson obviously papers over that issue just by being solid, and he's been a little better than that in point of fact. The odds that he gets much worse than this seem minimal based on his past performance. And the Jets don't have an easy out on the final 31 games of their schedule either, with four left against St. Louis; three with Vancouver; and two each with Nashville, Washington, and Chicago.
And the real concern is that the wheels have come off a bit lately at both ends of the ice. Their last three games, they've conceded 15 goals and scored just seven. Now, that followed a five-game winning streak so maybe it's just one of those things, but maybe the bounces are finally starting to go against them, too.
In terms of quality, the Jets are a solidly middle-of-the-pack team in the NHL or maybe a little better, but even before this little skid I'd have been wary of anointing them any sort of potential disruptor in the Western Conference. They're certainly not better than any of the teams ahead of them in the standings, both because they're behind them in the standings and they're just not as deep, and don't have the superstar players those clubs do. I think they're probably also a little worse than Vancouver and Los Angeles on paper. They're roughly on par with Dallas, I'd think, especially if the Stars' goaltending and defense can ever sort itself out in the way the forwards really have over the last month or so. They're at least clearly better than Calgary and Colorado, not that this is saying much.
So the question for the Jets, and more specifically for their fans, is whether that's good enough for them.
This is almost certainly going to be the first season the team makes the playoffs since it moved from Atlanta, and MTS Centre is going to be a cauldron for any team coming there for a maximum of three games. But those who formulated pretensions of a little more than that were always likely to go home for the summer disappointed. People in Winnipeg have long enjoyed blaming the incompetent operations of the Thrashers on the team's struggles, and a lot of that has been in the form of inheriting a team bereft of depth and carrying an awful goalie. Now those two issues are sorted out, but the lesson is that for all the good drafting done in recent years, those guys aren't ready yet.
Turning into an actual elite team is a process, obviously. The Jets are finally making steps in the right direction. That ought to be enough.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks continue to be unbelievable in one-goal games and still haven't lost one in regulation this year. How?
Arizona Coyotes: Shane Doan is “untouchable?” Why on earth would you not want to trade him?
Boston Bruins: Oh my god if Tuukka Rask can be, like, The Tuukka Rask down the stretch the Bruins are going to be a terrifying draw for a top seed in the postseason. Dude went .949 in January, and he's only at .920 for the season. Nowhere to go from up.
Buffalo Sabres: Oh we're writing this kind of thing again? What's it been, like, two weeks?
Calgary Flames: The Flames keep winning so let's start banging the drum for a new publicly funded rink in Calgary. Hoo boy.
Carolina Hurricanes: Alex Semin went from being scratched to playing on the top line. Oh and the Hurricanes still lost. Ah well.
Chicago: These guys were outscored 12-6 in the third period in the month of January. This seems problematic.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs think they're gonna have success down the stretch because they'll play “desperate.” Okay guys. Sure.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Kevin Weekes thinks Columbus is “on the rise” which is true overall but this year I'm not sure that's a thing.
Dallas Stars: The Stars' penalty kill is still awful, and that means no matter how much better they're getting at even strength, they still risk serious problems down the stretch.
Detroit Red Wings: Do you think there's ever going to be a point at which the Red Wings are like, “Yeah, hey, our defense is pretty good again.” They seem to hate every young prospect they've got.
Edmonton Oilers: This was some really interesting stuff from Todd Nelson on Nail Yakupov and how the organization handles him. Turns out screaming at him and making him a healthy scratch isn't always a great idea.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers don't have a lot of offense, you say? Hmm. Hmmmm. Hmmmmmmm.
Los Angeles Kings: Well this is the frickin' question, isn't it? That schedule down the stretch, though, man.
Minnesota Wild: When you're pinning all your playoff hopes on Devan Dubnyk: Season Saver, maybe just pack it in. They're not making up this many points.
Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price is where this team's chance of winning anything this year begins and ends. But yeah the whole team needs to play well or something.
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Good lord this shot from Gaby Bourque. Not a good area of the ice to turn it over, but this puck would have gone through Marc-Andre Fleury if he had gotten in the way of it.
New Jersey Devils: Why not try for Steven Stamkos, too, while you're at it?
New York Islanders: The good news is Lubomir Visnovsky is back in the lineup. The bad news is he's not Kyle Okposo.
New York Rangers: Chris Kreider is given a chance to go in on PK Subban and... doesn't take it? Doesn't he know you're supposed to hate Subban because he's Brash and Selfish?
Ottawa Senators: Two sets of brothers played each other on Saturday night: Rob and Mark Stone, and Zbynek and Milan Michalek. Reading the quotes after the Coyotes lost 7-2, you wouldn't have really been able to guess which team won or lost; both guys on the winning team sounded like they really felt sorry for their brothers.
Philadelphia Flyers: I'm surprised to learn that Michael Del Zotto's career-best point streak isn't “two.”
Pittsburgh Penguins: If the Penguins trade for Jaromir Jagr, Pittsburgh dissolve into two warring factions of fans. I hope so badly that this happens.
San Jose Sharks: The dang Sharks are looking pretty good these days. Antti Niemi with a 31-save shutout, the 31st of his career. He wears No. 31. He is 31 years old. It's like that movie.
St. Louis Blues: This is goal No. 25 for Vladimir Tarasenko. Had a pretty easy go of it for this milestone.
Tampa Bay Lightning: So long to Eugene Nabokov, whoever that is. How do you spell “Vasilevskiy” right but “Evgeni” is wrong?
Toronto Maple Leafs: That's nine losses in a row for the Leafs. Bring back Randy!
Vancouver Canucks: Is this column worried about whether the Canucks would beat the Sabres... after they already did it?
Washington Capitals: The Caps have a lot of thoughts about the player tracking technology the league will soon be implementing? It's actually pretty interesting. Barry Trotz: “All stats that you get, doesn’t matter what you get, all analytics are all vital in terms of what you have in a player. They’re information that you can help to improve a player in a team concept or maybe individually.” Nerd.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets' top line is one of the sneaky-best in the league. They're awesome. Bryan Little is awesome.
Play of the Weekend
Can't think of a more appropriate way for Alex Ovechkin to join an elite club. What a damn bomb.
Gold Star Award
Alex Ovechkin scored his 30th goal of the season yesterday, giving him 10 straight since he came into the league. That's a feat accomplished by only five guys ever in NHL history. You've probably heard of the other four guys: surefire Hall of Famers Jarome Iginla (11) and Jaromir Jagr (15), along with guys who already made it like Mike Gartner and Phil Esposito (15 each), Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Hull (13 each), Marcel Dionne (12), and Mike Bossy, Jarri Kurri, Darryl Sittler (10 each). That includes scoring more goals in a 48-game season in 2013 than Jagr did in 1995.
But yeah the guy's a bum and Washington should have let him go to the KHL years ago. Imagine being dumb enough to have believed that. Ovechkin has 453 goals in 729 career games. He is one of the greatest players ever, dawgs. Sorry.
Minus of the Weekend
Couldn't believe the Coyotes used an ECHL goaltender this weekend. And Louis Domingue got called up as well.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “YourARumor” is wise.
To EDM: Karlsson
To OTT: Hall
You haven't taken a shower once this summer. Not once in 8 weeks.
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