Winnipeg Jets week ahead: Chance to join elite?

Oct 28, 2023; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey (44) plays the puck against the Montreal Canadiens during the third period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 28, 2023; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey (44) plays the puck against the Montreal Canadiens during the third period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports /

The Winnipeg Jets enter the second week of November feeling good about themselves, having taken care of business against Central Division teams below them – Nashville and St. Louis – while failing to gain ground against Dallas on Saturday.

The team is 6-2-2 in their last 10, without really having the special teams clicking and with Connor Hellebuyck playing to a save percentage below .900.

Opportunity knocks for the Jets this week, where they’ll face the New Jersey Devils, then two very beatable opponents.

Here’s a look at their opponents and their current records and points percentage:

New Jersey Devils, 7-5-1, .577

Buffalo Sabres, 7-7-1, .500

Arizona Coyotes, 7-6-1, .536

Winnipeg’s on home ice all week, adding to the potential. They’ll host New Jersey Thursday, Buffalo Friday, and the Coyotes Saturday.

Four points should be the minimum this week, and if the Jets can find a way to nab five or six, then they’ll be looking great for the latter half of November.

Devils boast high octane offense and a leaky defense

The Devils are playing some of the most high event hockey so far this year, playing a lethal transition game that turns defenders around often.

They also have the league’s best power play, clicking along at 38.5%.

Unfortunately, their roster took a hit recently, as Jack Hughes’ early bid for the Hart Trophy was stunted from injury, and he’s missed the team’s last three games.

For all of their offensive prowess and game breaking speed, however, the Devils are still leaving lots of opportunity for teams to create their own chances. They’re allowing 3.69 goals against per game, which is the fourth most in the league.

They’re not performing all that well on the backend, and I’d except them to be susceptible to some of the Jets’ strengths – namely a strong forecheck and an impressive cycle game.

Where the game will be won though, in my mind, is in the neutral zone. If you make careless turnovers at the opposition’s blue line or in the neutral zone against the Devils, they will surely punish you. Jesper Bratt is one of the league’s best transition players, and he’s cooking this season with 19 points in 13 games.

It’s advantage Winnipeg in goal (as usual), and if the Jets can play to their identity and not get caught in a track meet, they can send the Devils back to New York with zero points in their hands.

Buffalo still trying to find last year’s identity

The Sabres remind of where the Jets were back in 2016 or so, where they had a ton of talent, but were still learning how to convert that talent into the 95 or so points required to make the playoffs.

The cost of icing a young, talented team is typically consistency, turnovers, and puck management, something Buffalo hasn’t quite turned the corner on just yet.

It also doesn’t help that their young goaltending duo have save percentages of .896 (Levi) and .903 (Luukkonen), respectively.

Buffalo is essentially middle of the pack on all metrics at the moment. They’re slightly below average in goals for per game, but middle of the pack in goals against per game and sit in exactly 16th place when it comes to SAT% Close, with 49%.

Their special teams are more polarizing, boasting a top 10 power play but a bottom 10 penalty kill.

On paper, the Sabres are somewhat terrifying, with Rasmus Dahlin and Tage Thompson ready to explode at any moment, and fast, skilled complements around them such as Jeff Skinner, Alex Tuch, and JJ Peterka. Owen Power is kind of good, too.

Studly centerman Dylan Cozens hasn’t quite found last year’s breakout form yet, with just 7 points so far through 13 games. He’s the key to me, after scoring 68 points last year. If he’s quiet, the Sabres can be tamed much easier.

Frankly, it’s good that one of the two Jets’ meetings against Buffalo is this early in the season, while they’re still finding their identity.

The Jets could be facing a completely different feeling Sabres team for the second and final matchup of the season in early March.

Coyotes are probably worse than 7-6-1 record suggests

I don’t mean to take anything away from the Coyotes’ early season decency, but their record is a bit of a mirage.

I went back and looked at their schedule, and they’ve had pretty easy opposition so far.

To illustrate that, I’ll show you the teams they’ve beaten this year, in order:

  • New Jersey Devils (SO)
  • St. Louis Blues
  • Anaheim Ducks
  • Chicago Blackhawks
  • Montreal Canadiens
  • Seattle Kraken (SO)
  • Nashville Predators

Now, the teams they’ve lost to, in order:

  • New York Rangers
  • New York Islanders
  • Los Angeles Kings
  • Los Angeles Kings
  • Anaheim Ducks (OT)
  • Winnipeg Jets (yeah baby)
  • St. Louis Blues

They’ve gone 1-1 against the Blues, who are 7-5-1, and they took the Devils to a shootout in their season opener. Otherwise, they’ve lost the games they’ve been expected to lose, and are perhaps the definition of a middle of the pack team. They beat the bottom, lose to the top, and flip a coin against the middle.

The Jets are an above average team and should beat them.

They need another two points against Arizona this Saturday.