The Winnipeg Jets gave up 13 goals in their first two games including seven to Toronto on their home ice. This didn’t come as much of a shock after they finished fourth to last in the 2016-17 campaign in goals allowed. They tried to fix their defensive woes by signing veteran goalie Steve Mason. So far he’s been a disaster, only saving 83% of the shots he’s faced and losing both of his starts. The Jets did rebound by winning the next three games with Connor Hellebuyck in front of the net, but they’ll need Mason to step it up if the want to be a real contender.
The goals allowed problem doesn’t just come from the goalie spot, as the Jets defensemen also play a pivotal role in stopping other teams from getting too many goal scoring opportunities. They have a talented defensive core led by Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba. Both have a couple assists, but the defense as a whole is averaging five more shots allowed than the amount of shots the offense is getting. Luckily, Hellebuyck has been stellar, leading them to a winning record. One upside on defense is that Tyler Myers, acquired last year in a trade with the Sabres for Evander Kane, and free-agent acquisition Dmitry Kulikov have combined for a plus 10 goal differential while on the ice.
The reason the Jets need to be so concerned to ensure they can stop teams from going crazy with 6+ goals like the first two games, is because, with their offense, they are so close to contending that fixing up the defense might be the final step. If they were simply in another rebuilding year, it would still be frustrating, but not as important as it is now when all the other pieces are in place to contend
The offensive star power can hang with any team in the league, as Blake Wheeler is finally being joined by elite talent around him. Mark Scheifele finished 7th in points last year, Wheeler was 12th, and rookie Patrick Laine astonishingly finished 7th in the league in goals. All three have started well this year along with up-and-coming star Nikolai Ehlers who has five goals in five games.
The last three games have given an idea of how good the Jets could be. Hellebuyck has saved 94% of the shots he’s faced. The team as a whole has outscored opponents 9-4 in this span including a 5-2 win over a good Edmonton Oilers team. It’s a small sample right now, but the Jets are one of only four teams on a three game winning streak. The only worry to look at is that the team from the first two games that gave up 13 goals might seep back through and mess up what is currently a good thing going. With the amount of offense they have from the forwards, they may need to consider allowing offensive minded defensive players like Dustin Byfuglien to drop back into a bit more defense to allow for that balanced approach they showed against the Oilers.
Overall, the Jets are one of the stronger teams in the league if their defense can hold, making them a well overlooked dark horse candidate to be a contender in the Western Conference. It might finally be time for the Atlanta Thrasher/Winnipeg Jets franchise to finally win that elusive first playoff series.