Winnipeg Jets week ahead: Top of Central Division awaits

Feb 23, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Winnipeg Jets left wing Kyle Connor (81) and center Mark Scheifele (55) and Dallas Stars center Joe Pavelski (16) fight for the puck during the third period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 23, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Winnipeg Jets left wing Kyle Connor (81) and center Mark Scheifele (55) and Dallas Stars center Joe Pavelski (16) fight for the puck during the third period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The Winnipeg Jets enter this week with a chance to close out a successful November where they’ve been cruising along with a 7-3-0 record so far.

The Central Division is within reach.

On November 1st, the Jets were 4-3-2, and had a healthy gap between the top two teams in the division, the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche.

Colorado was 7-2-0 at that time, while the Stars were 6-1-1.

Early indications suggested that Colorado and Dallas would be in their own tier of the Central Division, comfortably engaged in their own battle for status as the division’s top dog.

Fast forward to today, however, and the top half of the division looks like this:

  1. Colorado, 15-6-0, 30 points
  2. Dallas, 12-5-2, 26 points
  3. Winnipeg, 12-6-2, 26 points
  4. St. Louis, 11-8-1, 23 points

Dallas has played 19 games and Colorado has played 21, but the Jets are keeping pace with the division’s two preseason favourites, and are doing it impressive fashion. This year’s Jets have less high end fire power, but the deepest lineup its iced in years, and it turns out we’re all learning that having a good hockey team is as valuable as star power.

It also helps that Kyle Connor is already almost halfway to last year’s goal total in just 20 games too, with 14 so far in just 20 games. That’s a 57 goal pace.

The Jets have a big game against the Stars this week, with two softer opponents to follow. Though I’m sure any Edmonton fans reading this would disagree. But hey, you are what your record says you are.

Here’s a look at this week’s opponents, records, and points percentages:

Dallas Stars, 12-5-2, .684

Edmonton Oilers, 7-12-1, .375

Chicago Blackhawks, 6-13-0, .316

Winnipeg will host all three opponents at home this week, facing the Stars Tuesday, Edmonton Thursday, and the Blackhawks Saturday.

The Stars are who we said they are

Before the season, I speculated on the tiers of the Central Division, suggesting Colorado and Dallas were on their own, the Jets and Minnesota would battle for 3rd, and that the rest of the division would find it challenging to make the playoffs.

Well, I was way off on Minnesota. They’re a mess. And St. Louis has surprised me early on, but I’m not convinced that they have much staying power.

Dallas, however, is cruising so far this season, thanks to improved forward depth and the continued improvement of 20 year old stud Wyatt Johnston. Matt Duchene has been providing great secondary scoring, while Jamie Benn is (so far) proving that last year’s 30-goal renaissance season wasn’t a flash in the pan.

The Stars have seven forwards with 14 points or more in their 19 game season. They’ve been winning hockey games and so far their feared top line of Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski, and Jason Robertson have yet to get cookin’ quite like last year.

On special teams, Dallas posts a middling power play, but one of the top penalty killing units in the league. They’ve stomped out 87.9% of power plays thus far, fourth in the league.

That being said, the Stars have been a bit leaky of late. They’re 2-2-1 in their past five, allowing over four goals per game while their PK has been successful just 76.5% of the time over that span.

It’ll be a tough match, but if recent form means anything, there are definitely two points up for grabs.

The Oilers are definitely NOT who we said they are

Every hockey writer and fan had the Oilers penciled in to make the playoffs this year, and many saw them taking a real run at Lord Stanley’s Cup.

It just hasn’t been the case, as they’re 7-12-1, just three points ahead of San Jose and Chicago. Yikes.

The team is bleeding chances in the defensive zone, and hasn’t had the goaltending required to cover up for their extreme deficiencies while defending.

It’s also a great time to appreciate Josh Morrissey, who has one less point than Evan Bouchard from the blue line, but competes hard defensively, and is a great defender in transition.

Morrissey learned to take care of the defensive zone first, and his offensive explosion over the past 100 games has come at minimal cost defensively. That hasn’t quite been Bouchard’s path.

Looking through their lineup, Edmonton’s challenges are shown starkly when you take a look at their skater stats.

Six players have 18 points or more. Then there is a precipitous drop off to a trio of players at 8 points – Warren Foegele, Darnell Nurse, and Mattias Ekholm – and then there’s… the rest of the team.

If the Jets top two lines can break even against the Oilers’ top six, then there is no question that Winnipeg’s bottom lines will completely crush the bottom half of the Oilers lineup.

When the big guns aren’t firing, the Oilers are a rather tame bunch.

Connor McDavid is coming off of 9 points in his past two games, however, so perhaps he is awakening from his early season slumber.

Beware the Chicago Blackhawks trap

The NHL is one of the hardest leagues to predict, with a randomness that few other sports possess. In other sports, when the top of the league plays the bottom of the league, the result is nearly cut in stone, with the underdogs having little chance in punching above their weight class.

That’s just not the case in the NHL.

Chicago has beat Pittsburgh, Toronto (twice), Vegas, Florida, and Tampa Bay this season. Yep, you read that right. That’s who all of their six wins have come against. Meanwhile, their biggest defeat of the season has come against the big bad Arizona Coyotes, when they lost 8-1 near the end of October.

Chicago has a bottom 10 penalty kill, and boasts the 2nd worst power play in the league.

Their top three scorers are Connor Bedard (17 points), Phillipp Kurashev (13), and Jason Dickinson (11), which is probably even more telling than their 6-13-0 record is.

The team’s veteran core has taken a significant hit of late too, with Taylor Hall being shut down for the season and Corey Perry’s mysterious team-sanctioned removal from the lineup.

They have one win in their last seven games, and appear as vulnerable as ever to being completely crushed by the Jets.

But stranger things have happened.

Just ask the five teams they’ve beaten this year.