There’s always lots of discussion at this time of year about projecting the NHL standings and team records to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The quarter pole of the regular season has perennial playoff teams like St Louis and Washington on the outside looking in. In fact, of the 16 playoff positions on the first of the month, there are five new teams this season potentially in the postseason … including the Jets.
The caution of looking that far ahead, all the way to April of next year, is to acknowledge that there is plenty of hockey to go — and plenty of games to lose.
But the standings aside, there are some really positive stories for this NHL season, both individually and on the team level. And at least five of those stories are right here in Winnipeg, even with serious injuries to Nik Ehlers and Mason Appleton.
From a player perspective, Josh Morrissey has been key to the team’s success on so many levels. He leads the team in assists, and has become the Jets’ version of Mr. OT. His smooth skating style and hockey instincts have returned after last season’s plateau. The potential we all saw in Josh for those first few years has returned. He is the real deal on the D.
We have also seen the glint in the eye return to Mark Schiefele. And we can say the same for Blake Wheeler, whose scoring touch has returned, as evidenced by the hat trick against the champion Avalanche. After a summer of fan discontent, both 55 and 26 have been asked to adjust to different roles on this team, and they have responded.
And certainly, Connor Hellebuyck has been vital to rejuvenating his stats and the team’s record with 11 of the Jets’ 14 wins, and a save percentage of .931.
The challenge now for this team is two-fold.
Number one is to maintain the consistency all season long. We have witnessed winning streaks followed by losing streaks, all around the NHL. The Jets can’t afford any lulls in a very tough Central Division.
Number two is to win the games you are expected to win, like Friday night versus Columbus. Any momentum that the Colorado victory has created would easily be negated by taking a proverbial skate off the gas pedal against the Blue Jackets. The Jets need to build a killer instinct.
The individual stories are great. The team story is even more impressive.
But remember, it’s only December and not March. And remember the ultimate cliche: no one ever won the championship before Christmas.