Jets too inconsistent for long-term picture

By: Adam Wazny | Monday, March 25

Winnipeg Jets' Tobias Enstrom (39) puts the puck past Tampa Bay Lightnings' goaltender Cedrick Desjardins during second period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Sunday. (Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press)

And so begins another big week for the Winnipeg Jets.

It's tough to gauge just where the team actually sits after a four-game home stand that saw the club knock off a Stanley Cup contender (Boston) and a team destined for the golf course (Tampa Bay), but lose two absolutely lifeless efforts against a fellow playoff hopeful in Washington. 

The points are still coming in every so often and that's the good news, but the way the Jets have recalled past inconsistencies over the last five games doesn't instil a lot of confidence in what the immediate future brings.

Sure, the win over the Lightning saw the team make a few nice turns -- moments very much helped along by the return to heroic form of goaltender Ondrej Pavelec -- but it's difficult to celebrate what the Jets did against a frazzled opponent that just fired its head coach prior to puck drop. 

Beating a bad Tampa Bay team should be expected, not respected.

The home team didn't play exceptionally well, and they didn't have to, which is why the most important element of Sunday's 3-2 decision was not the game itself, but rather the good taste it left in everyone's mouth afterwards. Two points are so delicious.

Winnipeg, the Southeast leader (17-14-2) and only club in the division worthy (in terms of points) of a playoff spot at this very moment, needed a positive outcome against the Lightning, regardless of how the night unfolded, just to set the tone for the next three games.

The week of consequence starts Tuesday, when the Jets take on the Carolina Hurricanes (15-13-2) in Raleigh, N.C. 

Following that, the Jets are in Pittsburgh to take a crack at the high-flying Penguins (winners of 12 straight) Thursday before returning home to face the Hurricanes Saturday afternoon. 

Pittsburgh, schmitzburg -- it's the dates versus the Hurricanes that grab attention. 

If you're one of the few people in town who hasn't been refreshing the NHL standings every five minutes, you'll be happy to know the Jets are four points ahead of the Hurricanes in the Southeast standings. 

Winnipeg's 36 points put them in third spot on the Eastern conference big board; Carolina (32 points) remains below the playoff line in ninth place.

Shockingly, the Hurricanes haven't played since Thursday, so they should be full of energy for a Jets club that hasn't seen two straight days away from the rink in three weeks.

It's not all rosy for the red and black, though. They've been hit hard by injuries this season. 

Joe Corvo and Justin Faulk, two of their top defencemen, remain on injured reserve, as does goaltender Cam Ward, who's been out of the lineup with a knee injury since the beginning of the month. 

How much have the Hurricanes missed their No. 1 net-minder? As much as you'd imagine. They have three wins in the last nine games.

So it'll be an over-worked team that has relied on its starting goaltender for success verses a well-rested club that longs for its starting goaltender something awful.

But wait, there's more: Carolina has three games in hand on Winnipeg and amazingly will continue to have those three games in hand through next weekend. 

That scheduling imbalance certainly tips the urgency scale to the Jets' side, one suspects, as they'll want to ensure those back-pocket games don't produce a scenario where the Hurricanes can catch (or surpass) them by stringing together a couple wins. 

Winning erases that worry for the Jets.

Throw a hard-charging Washington team into the division mix (the Capitals, winners of three straight, are five points back) and the weight of the coming contests with the Hurricanes is that much heavier for Winnipeg. 

If they can take both games against Carolina, the outside interferences of pressure and expectation will get lighter for the club.

If the Winnipeg engines stall, however, and they drop both games to the Hurricanes, gravity could take over and send everything crashing down. Boom. Just like that.

And so begins another big week for the Jets.

Opinion

Adam Wazny is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer who has covered sports in the city for over a decade. He has worked as a reporter for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, and now spends most of his time checking his Twitter. Did someone say Twitter? Find him here: @wazoowazny.

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