Through 12 games, the Winnipeg Jets currently sit atop the NHL’s Central Division with an 8-3-1 record. That mark is a franchise best, having never won more than seven of their first 12 games since their return to Winnipeg in 2011.
Despite getting scolded by Rick Bowness for playing an unsustainable game, the Jets have powered through and finally appeared to mesh the way Bowness was hoping. Their statement win over the Dallas Stars on November 8th was among the best efforts we’ve seen from the Jets this season.
Through 12 games, the Winnipeg Jets currently sit atop the NHL’s Central Division with an 8-3-1 record
There are still several questions that surround the team, but for now, it’s easy to focus on the good after such a fun win.
Notably, the play of Connor Hellebuyck has once again proven his status as an elite goaltender in the NHL. While his services weren’t overly required in the dominant win, he has been highly influential on several of the Jets’ eight wins this season.
In ten starts, Hellebuyck finds himself in the top five for many of the notable goaltending statistics. He sits fourth in the league in save percentage (.938) and in goals against average (1.98), while also having a stunning 11.3 goals saved above expected (GSAX, Courtesy of MoneyPuck).
Having a positive GSAX means you’re saving more shots than a league-average goalie would. In Hellebuyck’s case, he’s saving significantly more than what you would see from most other goalies in the league. He ranks second in the league in this category behind only Carter Hart in Philadelphia (15.9).
In addition to the spectacular play from Hellebuyck, the Jets are also seeing some better results from some of their defensive pairings. Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt have looked solid together in over 140 minutes this season. Their underlying numbers have steadied, and their play is visibly improved from other pairings we’ve seen this season.
Another bright spot is the calming influence of Dylan DeMelo. In limited minutes with both Logan Stanley and Dylan Samberg, DeMelo appears to be the common denominator in what makes that pairing work. Both Samberg and Stanley have had visible growing pains to start the year, but DeMelo is clearly a partner who can help cover that up.
While this is a good thing, his influence is missed on the top pairing. While he might lead the team in scoring, Josh Morrissey is also having to carry the Jets’ top defensive pairing. Playing the bulk of his minutes with Neal Pionk, the pair has been hit hard by opposing teams.
Pionk has had his fair share of struggles to start the season, and it has forced Morrissey to carry a very heavy burden. Pionk will need to begin playing a more responsible game if that pairing is to find success, and the team will be better off if he does.
With the bottom six seemingly shaping up into a more effective bunch, the Jets finally seem to be hitting their stride. This is increasingly impressive considering they’ve climbed to the top of the division when they clearly had more to give.
Bowness’s critique of their game appears to have been both justified and successful, but the next step is consistency. If the Jets wish to hold their spot near the top of the division, they’ll need these consistent, 60-minute efforts like they put forth against the Stars. If they can do that, hey, maybe it’s worth getting excited about.