Expert NHL Handicapping: the Surprising Winnipeg Jets
Heading into the season it seemed as if the Jets were fringe playoff contenders. They had the potential to get in, but they seemed to be locked in a deep group of teams that could as easily have missed out of the playoffs as gotten in. Well, things haven't turned out that way at all. Dallas, Minnesota and Chicago are all underachieving in the Central Division, while the Jets have been rolling. Winnipeg leads the division by three points and is only one point behind the conference leaders - the shocking Vegas Golden Knights. Now, the Jets have played two more games than second-place Nashville, and three more than Vegas, so their lead is not locked in. But they have been a team no one wants to play, and they are a team that is not only going to the playoffs but one that will be an tough matchup.
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So, how are these Jets doing it? And can they keep it up? Here are six factors to ponder as we consider those questions:
Home record: Teams need to take care of business at home, and the Jets have certainly done that. They are 16-3-1 in chilly Winnipeg. Only Vegas has fewer home losses (2), and just three teams have more home wins. They have played only 20 of their 44 games at home so far, which means that a favorable 21 of their last 38 are at home down the stretch. They play six of their last nine at home, so if the race is tight down the stretch they could be in good shape. And they have an incredible 10-game stretch starting Jan. 30 that could be a chance to really lock things up. Of course, if they are that good at home they probably aren't as good on the road, and that is definitely the case. Their 10-8-6 record isn't a disaster by any means, but five Western Conference teams have more road wins.
Goaltending: A big issue for the Jets ever since they returned to the NHL is that they haven't had the goaltending they needed. They have had some moments, but they have had mostly game minders when top teams need guys who can steal games. Well, things have changed on that front but not how they were expected to. The team added Steve Mason to be their No. 1 heading into the season. He has been far from good in just 11 starts. But Connor Hellebuyck, who was already on board, has been so good that he was named to the all-star team this week. He started 56 games for the team last year, so he didn't come from nowhere, but he was a long way from good. Hellebuyck's emergence is a big reason for the impressive success of the team.
Top-end talent: There aren't a lot of teams that can exceed the top-end offensive talent this team has. Patrik Laine is an absolute freak, and he's only the third-leading scorer. Mark Scheifele, currently injured, has 38 points in as many games. And Blake Wheeler, the team's other all-star, has been incredible, tied for second in league scoring with 52 points in 44 games. They have four other forwards who could play on the top six of most teams, and they get solid production from the backend as well. The production of some guys - most notably Scheifele - is probably a bit more than is sustainable, but this is a team built to be successful, and they are doing what they need to do.
Dominating the Pacific: The Pacific Division is having an off year aside from the Knights, As teams play the teams in their division more than the other division it is important for Winnipeg to take advantage of those teams. And they are - the Jets are a stellar 11-3 against the Pacific teams. They are also 7-3-2 against their own division and 8-5-5 against the Eastern Conference, so they are faring well against every group of teams.
Bouncing back from adversity: Adversity is inevitable at some point in an NHL season for every team. It's how they deal with it that matters. The Jets found a rough patch of their own in December, losing five of six and seven of 10. They aren't a particularly experienced team, so it would have been easy for them to fall back to earth after a stretch like that - to use the setback as an excuse to quit. But they didn't. They have won six of seven since, and the lone loss came in overtime so they still got a point in the standings. Now, those losses have come against some weak teams - Edmonton and Buffalo twice, and the Islanders are all teams far from the postseason race. But they have still done what they need to do, and that is to their credit.
Betting performance: The Jets have been a good team to bet on, sitting Top 5 in moneyline betting. Given their record, it is no surprise that they have been the second-best home betting team behind only Vegas or that they have not been profitable on the road.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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