The Winnipeg Jets have finally arrived. A favourite breakout pick over the past few years with their mix of young, emerging players and quality, experienced vets, Winnipeg always fell short. Sometimes it was the defence, mostly — especially last season — it was the goaltending. This season, led by Connor Hellebuyck and his .926 save percentage, there’s plenty of reason to believe why their early-season surge will stick over 82 games. And it’s not only because of the goaltending. “I don’t think the defence gets enough credit for this turnaround,” Sportsnet’s Jets reporter Sean Reynolds said on the Tape to Tape Podcast this week. “I don’t think there’s as many outstanding errors as there have been in past years that have hung goalies out to dry.” According to Corsica, Hellebuyck has faced 61 high danger shots this season, which is the fewest of any goalie with at least 18 games played (Hellebuyck has 20). So don’t let that 32.8 shots against number (tied for sixth highest in the league) fool you. The team defence didn’t start out as such a good story, though. Winnipeg’s first game of the season was an ugly 7-2 loss at home to the Maple Leafs, which was followed by a tough practice and bag skate the following day. Maurice wasted no time blasting his team publicly, saying that before the franchise would be able to move forward, its players needed to learn how to play defence. “You can put all the talent in the world on the ice, and you’re not winning a damn thing until you’ve got a real good comfort level to defend,” he said. Reynolds said the team took that message to heart and has allowed two goals or less in 16 of the 24 games since. They’re 15-5-4 in that span and are one of four teams in the top 10 in goals for and against per game (St. Louis, Chicago and Tampa Bay are the others).
As the Jets’ defence and goaltending improves, what’s their weakness?
Sportsnet | Dec 1