“Managing expectations” is an interesting sports term. It mostly applies to fans and media, but can creep into organizations. It applies both when teams are struggling and going well. But it starts before a game is even played. It starts when the previous season ends, builds when the current season predictions come out, and then during the season, go up and down more than the stock market.
When the Jets won eight of their first 14 games -- points in 10 of 14, despite eight being on the road with four sets of back to back -- expectations were that they would not only make the playoffs for the second straight season, but would have home ice advantage in the first round. All while playing in the NHL’s toughest division.
When a five game losing streak followed, and for the first time the Jets were out of a playoff spot, expectations turned to, “the season is lost.”
After the win over Vancouver, the Jets sit 9-9-2 with 20 points. Last year at the 20 game mark they had 23 points, with a record of 10-7-2. And yet, between January 27 and February, they embarked on a six-game winless streak, but thanks to ten wins in the final 14 games, they secured a playoff spot.
So are the Jets the team that had the very good start, the one with the five game losing streak or a .500 team? Discuss amongst yourselves. It’s a great debate.
The Jets started the season with eight road games against Eastern teams. Did that play a part in the good start? Do East teams play a more wide open game? The next road trip was a four game jaunt through the Central Division. (Minnesota, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis) Did that play a part to the 0-4 trip? The answer to the second part is the key one, because those are the teams the Jets will go toe to toe with. (Add Chicago and Colorado – a team the Jets play twice in the next five games)
The Jets' struggles should not be a huge surprise. After scoring the game’s first goal 49 times last year, the Jets have scored first just five times this year, the fifth coming in the win over Vancouver Wednesday. That opening goal was also a power play goal – a PP that had scored once in the previous eight games. On the other side of special teams, they lead the NHL in short-handed situations.
With all the back to backs and road games, a lack of practice time was starting to show. Coach Paul Maurice talked about lack of energy and lack of quickness. Were the Jets the big, fast, hard to play against team that opposition coaches talked about? Goals against were an issue. Last year they did not give up five goals in a game until December 31st. It’s happened four times this season – albeit one was actually a 4-3 loss in Dallas with two empty net goals.
The plan was with four new faces up front, the defence would have to carry the team until the youngsters found their way. But it's not just the four new faces that are young. Yes, Alex Burmistrov is 24 but has been out of the NHL for two seasons. Ben Chairot is 24 but has played only 54 NHL games. Jacob Trouba with 150 NHL games played is 21, so is Andrew Copp with 17 games under his belt. Adam Lowry at 22 hit the 100 games played mark, and after a very good rookie season is still looking for his first goal while playing on a checking line (moved to the wing for the Vancouver game) and facing all the top lines in the league. Nic Petan (reassigned to the Manitoba Moose Thursday) is 20, Nikolaj Ehlers is 19, Mark Scheifele is 22 and is the team’s number two centre. For some of the names mentioned, the excuse is that it’s a new league with new systems, battling against men. For others, it's new roles, bigger challenges and the growing pains that result..
The confidence the Jets had at the start of the season disappeared quickly with a few losses.
They were tied 3-3 late in the game in Dallas, but any positives evaporated in Nashville when the Predators jumped into a 4-0 first period lead on way to a 7-0 win.
The trip closed in St. Louis. In 36 seconds in the second the Jets erased a 2-0 Blues lead, and did a lot of good things. But when the final buzzer went the Blues had a 3-2 win.
The key was to take the good from that game, and bring it into game one of a three game home stand. And they did just that versus the Canucks.
Their best period was the third, as they outshot Vancouver 15-6 and put the game away with two unanswered goals for a 4-1 final. Ondrej Pavelec made big saves at key times, Drew Stafford snapped an 11 game goalless drought with two, Scheifele added two. The Scheifele-Stafford-Mathieu Perreault line combined for nine points. Scheifele (13 of 19) and Brian Little (18 of 28) dominated the face-off department, while the Little-Andrew Ladd-Blake Wheeler line did its job minimizing the chances for Yannik Hanson and the Sedin’s. The Jets created enough grade “A” chances that Ryan Miller made a number of great saves. They skated and moved the puck like the confident team we saw get off to the great start.
The task now is to carry the effort in Saturday’s game against Arizona, and then into Monday’s game against Colorado and take that confidence on the road into Washington, Minnesota and Colorado.