What a difference 47 days can make

It’s no secret the Winnipeg Jets are not making the playoffs this season. The general focus of the club and of the fan base has shifted to next fall, writes Adam Wazny.
Jets players and head coach Paul Maurice talked to reporters after Winnipeg's4-2 loss to Nashville on Tuesday night at the MTS Centre. 1:40

It's no secret the Winnipeg Jets are not making the playoffs this season.

The cat has been out of this bag for a while. The general focus of the club and of the fan base has shifted to next fall, where hope will once again spring eternal.

There was a period during this season, however, when talk of playoffs didn't have one skate placed in the fiction section. And it wasn't that long ago, either.

Believe it or not, but there was a time—less than two months ago, in fact—when the club was just three points behind the Nashville Predators, who beat the Jets 4-2 at MTS Centre Tuesday night.

The day was Jan. 21, 2016. Winnipeg was entering an important matchup with Nashville, again at MTS Centre. The Jets were three points back of the eighth-place Predators and a thrilling 5-4 overtime win over the Central Division rival a week earlier was still fresh in the minds of many.
Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele (55) tries to get a shot on net as he falls to the ice in front of Nashville Predators' Roman Josi (59) during second period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan)

Three points back. That's a two-game win streak.

The Jets lost that Jan. 21 contest (4-1), and the downward spiral accelerated to where the club is today—near the bottom of the NHL standings. Thanks to another loss to the Preds on Tuesday, Winnipeg (27-34-5, 59 points) is a staggering 21 points behind Nashville (34-21-12, 80 points).

Apparently, a lot can change in 47 days.

So what happened? How did that flicker of hope for a Jets season teetering on the edge of success and failure fall off the wrong side following that Jan. 21 date with the Preds?

The numbers are not pretty.

The Jets have only put up only six wins in 20 games (6-12-2) following that fateful game, while the Predators have gone a scintillating 14-3-4 over the same stretch.

Nashville found another gear. The transmission fell out of Winnipeg's ride.

The Predators, who are still keeping an eye on one of the top three spots in the Central (they are just five points back of third-place St. Louis), have separated themselves thanks to a couple of players.

The trade for No. 1 centre Ryan Johansen has played out pretty well for Music City. The club didn't get a win in their first four games with the former Columbus Blue Jacket (0-3-1) but proceeded to lose just four times in the next 23 games.

Perhaps a bigger factor has been the recent play of Pekka Rinne.

A very poor start that led to questions about his age (33), his false reputation behind a once defensive-minded Predators style and his technical play (he might former Nashville goaltender guru Mitch Korn, who went with former head coach Barry Trotz to Washington).

Lately, Rinne has been quite good. Coming into Tuesday's action, he has a 10-3-3 record with a .932 save percentage in his last 16 starts. Compare that to his overall season save percentage of .910, and you get a sense of just how low his level of play was through the first half of the schedule.

Winnipeg's goaltending since that fateful Jan. 21 game has thrown up a well-below average .900 save percentage (before Tuesday). Couple this inability to stop the puck with a 2-9-1 home record since Jan. 21 (14-17-2 overall), the loss of players like Andrew Ladd (trade) and Bryan Little (injury), and the recent development of Manitoba Moose players sprinkling themselves into the Jets lineup, and it's easy to see how that three points ballooned into 21 points.

As mentioned before in this space, there's not much difference (on paper) between the Jets and the Predators: both clubs have a solid defensive core, both clubs have a number of young players who are playing leading roles, and both teams live with goaltending that is subject to streaky play.

Winnipeg needs to figure out how to close that Nashville gap—or at least not let that gap get to a point where there's nothing to play for in early March—before things get underway next season. It's not like the Preds are a Stanley Cup favourite or anything.

A modest goal, but you have to start somewhere.