news that came with the first four months of the 2017-18 National Hockey League season was not a fluke. The Jets are good and they have a chance to go a long way in the post-season.
What I noticed in the final week of January, however, was a team that can play with the league’s best despite the fact three of its best players were out with injuries.
The Jets played the Top 2 teams in the NHL on Jan. 30 and Feb. 1. Granted, they played those teams at home (where they are 18-3-2 this season), but nonetheless, on Jan. 30, the Jets faced the 34-12-3 Tampa Bay Lightning, the first place team in the NHL and beat them 3-1. Then, on Feb. 1, they met the 33-12-4 Vegas Golden Knight, the first place team in the West, and took them to overtime before losing 3-2.
NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Winnipeg Jets Stanley Cup Chances
It should be remembered that the Jets beat Tampa and picked up a point against Vegas without, arguably, their top player, Mark Scheifele and their best defenseman Jacob Trouba. They were also without veteran defenseman Dmitry Kulikov who has been better than expected this season; centre Adam Lowry who is a key to the team’s strong forechecking game; and backup goalie Steve Mason, a veteran who has helped Connor Hellebuyck become one of the best goalies in the game.
Fact is, the Jets beat the Lightning – and held a team with the NHL’s leading scorer Nikita Kucherov and one of the game’s greatest players (and the fifth leading scorer) Steven Stamkos – with a defensive unit that included Tucker Poolman, Ben Chiarot, Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, Josh Morrissey and Tyler Myers.
Call me hyperbolic, but If you can beat the best team in the league with a defensive unit that includes a virtually untested rookie, a journeyman, a guy back from a near full season off with injuries, a minus waiting to happen, a D-man who is way too small and a guy in his second full season in the NHL, you’ve proven that it doesn’t matter where you play the game, you have the tools to beat anybody at any time. Oh, yeah, and they also won that game with their third-string goalie, Michael Hutchinson, in net and to be completely fair, he was outstanding that night.
Despite the injuries, Winnipeg is now 6-2-2 in its last 10 games and 9-2-3 since star forward Mark Scheifele went down with a shoulder injury. So many Jets players have stepped up at different times during Scheifele’s rehab – Little, Blake Wheeler, Trouba, Connor Hellebuyck, Mathieu Perreault, Joel Armia, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev etc. – that it’s hard to imagine how good this team could have been with its 2016-17 leading scorer in the lineup.
Meanwhile, with 30 games remaining, the Jets are in first place in the Central Division, two points ahead of second-place Nashville, a team with three games in hand. The Jets are four points ahead of the third-place St. Louis Blues, but the Jets have a game in hand on St. Louis.
Winnipeg Jets Stanley Cup chances – Captain Blake Wheeler The Jets have had a remarkable season already. Captain Blake Wheeler should be under consideration for the NHL’s Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP, goalie Connor Hellebuyck will have a shot at the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie, head coach Paul Maurice is already under consideration for the Jack Adams Trophy as the league’s coach of the year and by staying the course and building through the draft, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff should be one of the finalists for executive of the year.
Granted, there are still 30 games remaining and anything can happen, but this team has already weathered a potential disaster with the injuries to Scheifele, Trouba and Kulikov and if it heads into the post-season with its stars healthy and its goaltending strong, there is no telling how far it can go.
The Winnipeg Jets have a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup. They don’t have any guarantee but they definitely have a chance. And that’s all any hockey fan can ask of his/her favourite team.