Jordan Heading Home to Jordyn

On Monday, after the trade deadline passed, the NHL announced a late deal that was obviously consummated right before Trade Deadline Day ended at 2 p.m. CST.

The Minnesota Wild traded Snowflake, Manitoba’s Just Falk and fourth-round draft pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets to acquire former Hobey Baker Award winner, Jordan Leopold.

Many people around the NHL are attributing the following letter from Leopold’s  11-year-old  daughter to the Wild coaches — a letter that is apparently legitimate — for the Wild’s late interest in the 34-year-old defenseman.

A Letter from Jordyn Leopold about Jordan Leopold

A Letter from Jordyn Leopold about Jordan Leopold

Leopold has one goal and two assists in 25 games this season for the St. Louis Blues and Blue Jackets. Born in Golden Valley, Minn., he won the Hobey Baker Award in 2002 as the NCAA’s best player while a member of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.

A second-round pick (No. 44) of the Anaheim Ducks in the 1999 NHL Draft, he has 67 goals and 213 points in 677 regular-season games for the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Blues and Blue Jackets. He went to the Stanley Cup Final with the Flames in 2004 and has 17 assists in 71 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Falk — the Manitoba Falk — is scoreless in 13 games for the Wild this season. A fourth-round pick (No. 110) by Minnesota in 2007, he has one goal and 17 points in 142 games with the Wild and New York Rangers.

We’re told the letter was written in January. Now, thanks to Jordyn, Jordan is heading home to see his family and that’s pretty cool.



Jets Manhandle Defending Stanley Cup Champs

The Winnipeg Jets beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in every possible manner on Sunday afternoon.

They outskated them, outhit them, outshot them, outchanced them and definitely outscored them as Winnipeg improved to 2-0-1 on its current four-game homestand with a 5-2 victory over the Kings in front of another packed house at MTS Centre.

Jonathan Quick can't handle Andrew Ladd's wrister (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Jonathan Quick couldan’t handle Andrew Ladd’s wrister (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Since they haven’t played well until recently, you sometimes forget how good the Kings are. But this is a team that boasts Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, Drew Doughty, Kyle Clifford, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams and Jonathan Quick. This was a team that Mike Richards couldn’t make.

And yet the Jets were better. By a mile. At least they were better on this one afternoon in early March. They won almost every battle for the puck, controlled the play in all three zones and sent Quick to a warm spot on the bench after two periods. The Jets outshot the Kings 29-20 and drove L.A. out of third place in its Division.

Andrew Ladd scored twice, Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford scored single goals, Blake Wheeler had an empty net goal and an assist and goalie Michael Hutchinson had to make only 18 saves as the Jets improved to 32-20-12 and with 76 points, moved three points ahead of Vancouver and Minnesota in the race(?) for fifth in the West.

“We’ve increased the intensity in recent games and we’re getting back to where we were before the all-star break,” said Ladd, who banged home a rebound and then ripped a wrist shot past a startled Quick to make it 4-1 after 40 minutes.

“We’re playing better hockey as a group. We kind of fell off for a few games, but we’re playing well again.”

This was a dominant performance by the Jets. Tyler Myers was almost flawless on the point. Jordan Nolan tried to fight Dustin Byfuglien – after he was decked in open ice by the Jets big defenseman — and that didn’t go well. Ladd had two goals, seven shots and two hits and was the game’s first star. Seven Jets were plus two. And Mark Scheifele had another strong game on the puck.

Mark Scheifele

Mark Scheifele

(Just as an aside, either Scheifele has no puck luck or he has stone hands. He’s always around the puck, always around the net and he has absolutely no fear, but he just can’t seem to score. He has 10 goals this season and should probably have 30. To his credit, he’s had two goals in the last four games (after going 17 games with just one goal), but even though he was all over the Kings net on Sunday – and often had the puck around the Kings net — he didn’t get a shot on goal. If he ever learns to score, he’ll be a star in this league.)

Meanwhile, back at MTS Centre, the Jets proved something to themselves and the rest of the league on Sunday. At a time of the season when the real contenders start to play their best, the Jets stepped up and looked like a contender.

“Our last six periods have been pretty darn close to the way we want to look,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “I’m happy with the way we played. Scheifele’s line did some good things today and Andrew Ladd’s last three games have been spectacular.

“The offensive parts of the game, we’re excited about. But Myers was very good today. The times he went into the corner and came up with the puck against a really good forechecking team and then got the puck onto somebody’s tape was impressive. He’s an elite defenseman.”

The Jets were zero-for-two on the power play while the Kings were zero-for-three. The power play meant nothing in this one.

With the win, Hutchinson improved to 19-7-5 on the season and now has a 2.29 goals against average to got with a sparkling .919 save percentage.

Lee Stempniak

Lee Stempniak

JETS TRADE FOR STEMPNIAK

During the game, the Jets acquired veteran centre Lee Stempniak from the New York Rangers in exchange for Carl Kilngberg, who was sent back to St. John’s when Blake Wheeler came off IR on Sunday. Maurice talked about Stempniak: “We have a lot of guys right now who are dealing with little things. It doesn’t hurt to have a veteran centreman in the room. I’m not sure what we’re going to do, but Stempniak can be a good addition for us.”

The Jets play again on Wednesday night when the red-hot Ottawa Ottawa Senators come to town. The 27-23-10 Senators have won five straight games including three straight in California this past week. Game time on Wednesday is 6:30 p.m. and it will be televised on Sportsnet.



Jets Lose in Shootout but Slip into Fifth in the West

Michael Hutchinson is, indeed, human. 

Winnipeg’s Alexander Steen scored the winning goal in the shootout while Winnipeg’s Ryan Reaves set up St. Louis’s only goal in regulation as the Blues beat the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 at MTS Centre on Thursday night.

Thomas Steen scores the shootout winner (Photo by Tara Miller).

Thomas Steen scores the shootout winner (Photo by Tara Miller).

Hutchinson, meanwhile, finally gave up a goal in the shootout. He had stopped 14 straight this season heading into Thursday night’s shootout against the Blues and then stopped TJ Oshie on the first shot of the shootout to stretch that streak to 15.

However, Vladimir Tarasenko and Steen scored back-to-back shootout goals to give the Blues a 2-1 victory.

“I think you saw a springtime style hockey game tonight,” said Jets defenseman Jay Harrison who was paired with Dustin Byfuglien on Thursday night. “Both teams were taking bodies everywhere. It was disappointing to drop the shootout, but there were a lot of positives that we can take out of that game and we can use to move forward.

“We know in the room that we can play with one of the best teams in the NHL, We were pretty good tonight. It came down to the shootout and that’s when it’s anybody’s game, but for 65 minutes we played pretty well.”

It was, indeed, a close hockey game. Winnipeg dominated the first period, outshooting the Blues 11-4, but the Jets couldn’t solve Blues netminder Brian Elliott and it was 0-0 after 20 minutes.

Each team had 11 shots in the second period, but St. Louis got a goal from Patrik Berglund, a goal that was set up by Reaves and Paul Stastny. It was 1-0 after two periods.

Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson deserved a better fate. (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson deserved a better fate. (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

In the third period, St. Louis outshot Winnipeg 9-6, but the Jets got the only goal as Mark Scheifele scored his 10th of the year from Andrew Ladd and Michael Frolik.

It was a tremendous hockey game and as Harrison pointed out, it was playoff-style hockey. There weren’t a lot of whistles in the first two periods and the flow was outstanding.

Scheifele had a terrific game for the Jets, but Andrew Ladd was exceptional. He not only dished out his 30th assist, he had 10 hits in 23 minutes and 32 seconds of icetime.

Meanwhile, Hutchinson was solid once again. Each team had 29 shots on goal and both Elliott and Hutchinson were terrific. Hutchinson is now 18-7-5 this season and is 4-0-3 in his last seven games – that’s 11 of a possible 14 points. Expect Hutchinson to back in the Jets net this Sunday.

“It was a well-played game, a hard-fought game,” said Jets head coach, Paul Maurice. “It was disciplined but hard-fought. It’s the way we play when we play well and the way they play when they play well.

“Mark Scheifele’s line generated 12 shots on goal. Hutch was the guy we’ve seen all year. Jiri Tlusty played a solid, safe game and his linemates had some chances. He was good, I was pleased with his play. All positives tonight. I don’t think we were lacking in any area. If you bring that game every night, then you’re proud of the way you play and you deserve to win when you play like that.”

Maurice also said that there is a decent chance that Blake Wheeler could be back in the lineup on Sunday when the Los Angeles Kings come to town.

Jiri Tlusty made his debut as a Jet (Photo by Tara Miller).

Jiri Tlusty made his debut as a Jet (Photo by Tara Miller).

With the single point, combined with Vancouver’s 6-3 loss in Buffalo, the Jets are now 31-20-12 and all by themselves in fifth place in the West, one point ahead of the sixth-place Canucks.

Minnesota beat Nashville 4-2 in Nashville on Thursday, so the Wild jumped into seventh-place with 71 points. Los Angeles and Calgary have 70 and San Jose (68 heading into last night’s action) was playing a late game against Detroit.

The Jets will get a real test on Sunday when they meet the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings at 3 p.m. at MTS Centre. Sunday’s game can be seen on TSN3.



Wheeler on IR, Jets Acquire Jiri Tlusty from Carolina

With Blake Wheeler heading to the Winnipeg Jets injured reserve list, it was time for Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to make a move.

His move won’t change the course of hockey history, but it will give the Jets an experienced NHL forward.

Jiri Tlusty

Jiri Tlusty

Cheveldayoff cut a deal to acquire to acquire forward Jiri Tlusty from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a third round draft choice in the 2016 NHL Draft and a conditional sixth round draft choice in the 2015 NHL Draft. Tlusty is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season so it’s likely he’s just a rental, but the Jets need the cavalry right now, so a rental works.

Tlusty, 26, has played in 396 career games in the National Hockey League with the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs. It was the Leafs who originally selected Tlusty, in the first round (13th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

A product of Slany, Czech Republic, Tlusty has 86 goals and 165 career points in some or all of nearly nine NHL seasons. This season, Tlusty is third on the Carolina Hurricanes with 13 goals to go along with 23 points in 52 games. His best season was 2012-13 when he scored 23 for Carolina in the 48-game lockout season. Amazingly, that was tied for the fifth-most in the NHL that year.

Tlusty can play, but he’s not going to make the Jets forget Wheeler.

“He’s one of our best players, we miss all parts of his game,” Maurice said of Wheeler on Wednesday. “He’s a quiet guy on the bench, mostly because he’s always trying to catch his breath. He spends everything he has on every shift. His recovery is fantastic. He comes (o the bench, breathes heavy for a while and then he goes back out there.”

Even with the addition of Tlusty, Wheeler’s absence will mess with the Jets’ lines for a few weeks. The big line of Wheeler with Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd is the Jets’ best and it’s been one of the best in the league this season when it’s firing on all cylinders.

As well, the 31-20-11 Jets will miss Wheeler’s scoring and playmaking. He’s the team’s third leading scorer with 16 goals and 44 points. Only Little (50) and Ladd (49) have more.

Blake Wheeler on IR, will be missed for a few weeks.

Blake Wheeler on IR, will be missed for a few weeks.

It also doesn’t help that Mathieu Perreault is gone for the season and it’s unlikely that Tlusty will replace him, either. Still, the addition of an experienced NHL player who has proven he can score, will help the Jets second and third lines.

The fact that Cheveldayoff didn’t have to give up the farm to acquire a guy who was once a first-round draft pick, is still only 26-years-old and very well could finish with almost 20 goals this season, is a boost at a very difficult time of the schedule.

Tlusty is expected to make his debut in Jets blue tomorrow night when Winnipeg faces St. Louis at MTS Centre at 7 p.m.



Big Buff, Big Goal and Hutchinson Rock Solid As Jets Beat Stars

There are big goals and there are big goals, but Dustin Byfuglien scored a gigantic goal on Tuesday night.

A gorgeous third period breakaway goal by Big Buff gave the Jets the lead they needed en route to a 4-2 victory over the Dallas Stars in the first game of the Jets very important four-game homestand.

A big goal by Big Buff. (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

A big goal by Big Buff. (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

An undermanned Jets team, a team with Blake Wheeler, Mathieu Perreault and Ben Chariot on the shelf were pretty much outplayed for the final 40 minutes of the game, but a terrific effort by Michael Hutchinson in the Jets net combined with two important goals – one by Adam Lowry and the other by Byfuglien – gave the Jets an important victory.

With the win, the Jets improved to 31-20-11 on the season and with 20 games remaining, sixth-place Winnipeg kept pace with fifth-place Vancouver and, at the same time, kept the four teams chasing them at bay.

Vancouver went into Boston on Tuesday and beat the Bruins 2-1 to improve to 35-22-3 and with 73 points, remain even with the Jets. Seventh-place Minnesota, meanwhile, was upset 2-1 at home by the Edmonton Oilers (the Wild outshot Edmonton 34-19 and lost). Eighth-place Los Angeles had a chance to jump past Minnesota with a late win at home against Detroit. The Kings had won seven straight heading into last night’s late game.

Meanwhile, ninth-place Calgary lost 1-0 to the New York Rangers and so the Flames remained in ninth-place with 68 points. 10th-place San Jose (68 points) was idle.

“That was a big win for us,” said the game’s second star, Adam Lowry. “I thought we had a pretty good first period. We were aggressive on the penalty kill and got a big power play goal. We had a bit of a lull in the second period, we didn’t get many chances, but I thought we played a real good third period.

“We’ve earned our position in the league and we’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to continue to play well and climb the standings. Again, that was a big win for us.”

Michael Frolik scored an empty-netter and looked good on the first line in place of Blake Wheeler.

Michael Frolik scored an empty-netter and looked good on the first line in place of Blake Wheeler. (Photo by Jeff Miller)

The Jets came out with plenty of jump. Winnipeg outshot Dallas 14-10 in the first period and outscored the Stars 1-0 on a power-play goal by Bryan Little. It was Little’s 24th of the year. Mark Scheifele dished out his 25th assist and Andrew Ladd picked up his 29th.

However, in the second period, the Stars completely took over the game. In fact, Dallas had outshot Winnipeg 8-0 in the period when the Stars’ Erik Cole scored to tie the game at 1-1.

But on Winnipeg’s second shot of the second period, Lowry scored his seventh of the year – and his first in 12 – as the Jets survived a horrible period leading 2-1. In four games against Dallas this season, Lowry scored three goals.

In the third, Dallas was carrying the play and after Curtis McKenzie hit the post from point-blank range it started to like the Stars were about to mount a comeback. But then Byfuglien took a beautiful pass from Jacob Trouba, behind the Stars defense, went in alone on Jhonas Enroth, deked the goalie to his backhand and put it high into the net to give the Jets the lead they needed. With 3:06 left to play, Michael Frolik scored an empty-netter and the Jets had pretty much buried any hope the Stars had of mounting a playoff run.

Jason Demers scored a goal for Dallas at 18:53 of the third period but it meant nothing.

“Good first period, good second period, didn’t like the third,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “(Hutchinson) hasn’t looked a whole lot different to me. He prepares the same way every game and he looks the same to me. We weren’t very good in the second period, but he was real good.”

Michael Hutchinson was very good. (Photo by Jeff Miller).

Michael Hutchinson was very good. (Photo by Jeff Miller).

Dallas outshot Winnipeg 28-25, but Hutchinson, the game’s first star, was rock solid as he improved to 18-7-4 in this, his rookie season in the NHL. Argue any way you like about the No. 1 goalie on the local team – Hutchinson vs. Pavelec – but when Hutchinson is in net, the Jets get points. It’s as simple as that.

The Jets won the special teams battle. The Jets were one-for-three on the power play while the Stars were zero-for-three.

In the end, it was a brilliant home win at just the right time with a makeshift lineup. So many times this season, the Jets have won games with front line players out of the lineup. On Tuesday night, they did it again and got an important homestand off to a huge start.

The Jets will practice on Wednesday and then get a real test on Thursday. The St. Louis Blues will come to town for the first of four games against the Jets over the final 20 games of the season.

Game time is 7 p.m. Its on TSN3.



Tuesday: The Start of the Most Important Homestand of the Season

The Dallas Stars are coming to town. Then the St. Louis Blues show up. Then it’s the L.A. Kings. By the time Ottawa arrives next week, the Winnipeg Jets will need to take a deep breath.

On Tuesday night at MTS Centre, the 30-20-11 Winnipeg Jets will play host to the 27-24-9 Dallas Stars. Both teams will be trying to snap winless streaks. The Jets went 0-1-1 on their recent two-game trip through Washington and Toronto, while the Stars are winless in three games since Feb. 19.

the Jets can only hope Eric O'Dell gets to Winnipeg on time. (Photo by Jeff Miller).

the Jets can only hope Eric O’Dell gets to Winnipeg on time. (Photo by Jeff Miller).

Neither team has been particularly good lately, but if the Jets don’t get it together quickly, they will be left outside the playoffs, looking in.

If, at any time this season, there was a crucial homestand, this is it. Three games with Western rivals and then a fourth game with an Eastern team that will not be part of the post-season. The Jets need at least six or seven of a possible eight points or else the race to the playoffs won’t be much of a race at all. The Jets will face Dallas on Tuesday, St. Louis on Thursday, Los Angeles next Sunday and Ottawa on Wednesday, March 4. It is the most important homestand of the season.

At the end of this homestand, the Jets will have only 17 games remaining and the first four on that list will be road games against first-place Nashville (40-13-7), playoff bound St. Louis (38-17-4), contending Florida (26-21-12) and playoff bound Tampa (37-19-6). Between now and March 15, the Jets play eight games against five very good teams, two good teams and one struggling team.

The season is on the line between now and the Ides of March.

In the meantime, Monday was a busy day in Winnipeg. First, it was announced that defenseman Ben Chiarot will be lost from four-to-six weeks after undergoing hand surgery. Chiarot was placed on the team’s injured reserve list. Later, the Jets recalled forward Eric O’Dell from the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League. O’Dell, 24, has played in 37 games this season with St. John’s and has 14 goals and 14 assists. Getting to Winnipeg by game time might be his toughest assignment.

Michael Hutchinson must be at his best. (Photo by Jeff Miller)

Michael Hutchinson must be at his best. (Photo by Jeff Miller)

The Jets have fallen, officially, into sixth place in the West. The 34-22-3 Vancouver Canucks have 71 points and have pulled into a tie with the Jets. However, because the Canucks have played 59 games (and have 34 wins) and because the Jets have played 61 (and have 30 wins), the Canucks are officially fifth and the Jets now sixth.

Minnesota, meanwhile, has jumped into seventh place with a record of 31-21-7. With 69 points, the Wild leads eighth, ninth and 10th-place Los Angeles, Calgary and San Jose by one point. Every game is important now.

With 21 games remaining, the Jets are now 4-6-3 since the All-Star break and are now 15-10-4 at home. Since the All-Star break, the Jets are 1-5-2 on the road so they’ll be happy to be back in Winnipeg for this four-game homestand.

Tuesday’s game with Dallas begins at 7:00 p.m. and can be seen on TSN3. 



A Point: Leafs Beat Jets in Overtime

Maybe the Winnipeg Jets need a rest. Maybe they just need a little home cooking. Whatever it is, they just aren’t very good on the road these days.

On Saturday night at Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ James van Riemsdyk scored at 3:47 of overtime to give the struggling Leafs a 4-3 win over the scuffling Jets. The Jets are now 1-5-2 on the road since the All-Star break.

It was not a great night for Michael Hutchinson.

It was not a great night for Michael Hutchinson.

Granted, the Jets got a point. That’s a good thing. However, with 21 games left to play this season and a playoff battle percolating, the Jets need more than a single point against a team that was 1-8-1 heading into the game – a team that was 2-13-2 since the Leafs lost 5-1 to the Jets on Jan. 3.

“It was a sloppy, chippy kind of game,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice in his televised post-game news conference. “Not a lot of flow to that game. I’m not sure the chances they had were a lot better than the chances we had. We didn’t have a great offensive push five-on-five. We didn’t skate very well. We aren’t getting up the ice and onto the puck as well as we’re capable. We need a couple of days of rest to kind of heal up. I think with a couple of days here, we’ll get it back.”

With the single point, the Jets moved to 30-20-11 on the season and with 71 points remained alone in fifth place in the West. The Jets are two points ahead of sixth-place Vancouver, but the Canucks have three games in hand. Calgary, San Jose, Minnesota and Los Angeles are also nipping at the Jets heels.

Coming off a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, the Jets were better on Saturday night, but still not as good as they’ve been. Although they outshot the Leafs 34-33, goaltender Michael Hutchinson, who has played so well this season, looked human. He allowed a couple of soft ones and couldn’t save the day after the Jets led 3-2 after 40 minutes. He’s now 17-7-4 in this, his first full season in the NHL.

Blake Wheeler had another tough night. He just couldn’t handle the puck very well and either his stick had a 10-pound weight on it or he thought the puck was a grenade. He, Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom and Jacob Trouba were all minus two.

Mark Scheifele was the Jets best player.

Mark Scheifele was the Jets best player.

The Jets big line produced nothing – a big goose egg. And while Mark Scheifele had a solid night and contributed a goal and an assist, it was Trouba and Michael Frolik who scored the Jets other two goals. Without the big line, the Jets aren’t as effective as their fans and coach Paul Maurice have come to expect.

Defensmen Ben Chiarot was injured in the game and didn’t return. Pauerice said the team will know more about Chiarot’s injury on Sunday.

The Jets were two-for-five on the power play while the Leafs were zero-for-four. As Maurice pointed out, the Jets weren’t that good in five-on-five situations.

“There was a lot of clutching, grabbing holding and stuff like that,” said Maurice. “I didn’t think it was a particularly physical game. Just sloppy and chippy.”

True and in fact, it just wasn’t a great night for the Jets. They spent long stretches in the third period just trying to get the puck out of their own zone, especially after Nazem Kadri scored the tying goal for the Leafs early in the third. Kadri had a good night, scoring a goal and dishing out an assist. Leo Komarov and Daniel Winnik scored the Leafs other goals.

Jonathan Bernier got the win. Heading into the game, he was 0-8-2 in his last 10.

Jonathan Bernier got the win. Heading into the game, he was 0-8-2 in his last 10.

Meanwhile, Leafs netminder Jonathan Bernier was 0-8-2 in his previous 10 games heading into Saturday night’s argument. With the win, he got a very large, nasty ape off his back.

As Maurice pointed out, the Jets now have two days off before they face the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night at MTS Centre. It’s another huge game for the Jets and it’s the first game of a four-game homestand. It starts at 7 p.m. and it’s on TSN3.



The Schedules: Jets Now in a Real Battle for the Playoffs

Devan Dubnyk was flawless on Friday night. Heck, if a team could play a perfect game, the Minnesota Wild were pretty damn close on Friday.

Dubnyk had to make only 15 saves to lead the Wild to a 4-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers. It was Dubnyk’s sixth shutout this season and the fifth since he was acquired by the Wild on Jan. 14. He’s made 16 straight starts and as a result, the Wild are back in the playoff hunt.

Devan Dubnyk, flawless in Edmonton.

Devan Dubnyk, flawless in Edmonton.

Left for dead in early January, the Wild are now 12-2-1 since Dubnyk joined the team. By going 8-1-1 in their last 10, the Wild now have 67 points in 58 games and are just one point out of seventh in the West and only three points out of fifth. Of the four teams they are chasing Winnipeg (70), Vancouver (69), Calgary (68) and San Jose (68), they have games in hand on every team except the Flames. Oh, yeah, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings have now won six-in-a-row and are just four points behind Winnipeg.

Uh, oh. The Jets rear-view mirror has filled up. Now it’s time to get serious and take a run to the post-season.

After getting hammered 5-1 by the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, the Jets find themselves with a record of 30-20-10 after 60 games. With 70 points they remain alone in fifth place in the West, one point ahead of sixth-place Vancouver, two up on seventh-place Calgary and San Jose, three ahead of ninth-place Minnesota and four ahead of 10th-place Los Angeles. Tonight’s game in Toronto is now huge for the Jets.

The Jets are now 4-6-2 since the All-Star break and are now 15-10-6 on the road. Since the All-Star break, the Jets are 1-5-1 on the road heading into Toronto on Saturday night.

However, the Jets have played well against Toronto (23-30-5) this season. In fact, when the Jets beat the Leafs 5-1 in Winnipeg back on Jan. 3, it resulted in the firing of Leafs coach Randy Carlyle.

Winnipeg will complete this brief two-game road trip on Saturday at Air Canada Centre at 6 p.m. Its the Jets and Maple Leafs on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.

Then the Jets will return home for four straight games at MTS Centre against Dallas (Tuesday), St. Louis (Thursday), Los Angeles (Sunday) and Ottawa (Wednesday, March 4). It just might be the most important home stand of the season.

Time once again for this guy to have a big night.

Time once again for this guy to have a big night.

Which brings us to a little gaze into our crystal ball. The Jets have 22 games remaining. They are, legitimately, in a battle with five other teams in the race for the last four playoff spots in the West.

Here’s a look at what’s left for six teams in a battle for four playoff spots (Note: I’ve included regulation/overtime wins – ROW — in the chart because that’s the first tiebreaker after 82 games).

5. Winnipeg (70 points, Fifth in West, Fourth in Central)

Games left: 22

Home: 12

Away: 10

Games vs. current playoff teams: 15

Back-to-Backs: 2

Regulation/overtime wins: 24

Note: With a game tonight against Toronto some feel the Jets have an easy schedule, but they play St. Louis four times and the Wild once. They also have only 22 remaining and they were hideously bad in a 5-1 loss to Washington on Thursday.

6. Vancouver (69 points, Sixth in West, Second in Pacific)

Games left: 24

Home: 13

Away: 11

Games vs. current playoff team: 10

Back-to-Backs: 2

Regulation/overtime wins: 30

Note: Now this is a team with an easy schedule. If they just do what they’ve been doing down the stretch, they should be a lock. Their final two games are against Arizona and Edmonton at home.

Johnny Gaudreau of the Flames.

Johnny Gaudreau of the Flames.

7. Calgary (68 points, Seventh in West, Third in Pacific)

Games left: 23

Home: 9

Away: 14

Games vs. current playoff teams: 10

Back-to-Backs: 4

Regulation/overtime wins: 29

Note: This is a pretty tough schedule although the Flames do have a five-game homestand in the middle of March. In that stretch, they play four games against non-playoff teams. However, in a 6-3 loss to Anaheim on Friday night, they were exposed as a dreadful hockey team and they now start a seven-game Eastern road swing that will separate a contender from a pretender.

8. San Jose (68 points, Eighth in West, Fourth in Pacific)

Games left: 22

Home: 11

Away: 11

Games vs. current playoff team: 11

Back-to-Backs: 3

Regulation/overtime wins: 28

Note: Weird schedule to finish. Tonight they start a four-game homestand, play one on the road and then play four more at home. Finish with 10 of 13 on the road, but five of their final six are against Colorado, Arizona, Dallas and Edmonton.

9. Minnesota (67 points, Ninth in West)

Games left: 24

Home: 13

Away: 11

Games vs. current playoff team: 15

Back-to-Backs: 5

Regulation/overtime wins: 28

Note: The second toughest schedule of the bunch. The Wild play their final six games and eight of their last nine against current playoff-bound teams, including a tough road trip through Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis. That could tell the tale.

10. Los Angeles (66 points, 10th in West)

Games left: 25

Home: 10

Away: 15

Games vs. current playoff team: 16

Back-to-Backs: 3

Regulation/overtime wins: 26

Note: White-hot like the Wild. The Kings have won six straight and have the most games remaining of any of the teams in the hunt. They do have the most difficult schedule remaining with the most road games, but they are the defending Stanley Cup champs so the road shouldn’t matter. After all, during their six-game winning streak, they won three on the road — in Tampa, Columbus and Colorado.



It Was Inevitable: Jets Whipped in Washington

One supposes it was inevitable. After a serious injury to Mathieu Perreault, a rock solid season and a tough home win against Edmonton, the Winnipeg Jets were due to take a swan dive.

On Thursday night, they got a perfect 10.0 for swan dives.

This is a picture that pretty much tells the tale.

This is a picture that pretty much tells the tale.

Nicklas Backstrom scored two power play goals, John Carlson had another power play goal, Alex Ovechkin scored even strength and Troy Brouwer scored an empty-netter shorthanded as the Washington Capitals whipped the Jets 5-1 at the Verizon Center.

After the game, there were no excuses. This was simply a bad night.

“We stopped being physical,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice on his televised post-game news conference. “We took five tripping penalties tonight. I’ve never seen that. That’s a first for any team I’ve ever seen. We’ve either got really, really heavy sticks or we were behind it. I think we were behind it on a couple of ‘em. We just weren’t very good. We were even for the first 15 minutes and played pretty solid until they scored the first one.

“I don’t think, between the penalties were were very good. We weren’t very good. It’s not like we were playing a great game and the penalties bit us, we just weren’t very good. We weren’t very good tonight.”

The Jets were never in this one. Washington took a 2-0 lead after the first period and even though Toby Enstrom cut the advantage to 2-1 at 11:17 of the second, Backstrom scored at 13:07 and then struck again at 15:47 and the rest was little more than a full contact public skate.

Alex Ovechkin was very good.

Alex Ovechkin was very good.

Washington outshot the Jets 11-5 in the first, 12-7 in the second and 33-20 overall. Caps goalie Braden Holtby was barely tested. Washington went three-for-six on the power play while the Jets were zero-for-three.

Maurice responded this way when asked if there was something his team wasn’t doing properly on the penalty kill: “Oh yeah, just about everything. From faceoffs to blocks to energy to quick reads to good stick to saves, it’s all missing.”

Backstrom was the first star with two goals and an assist while Ovechkin had a goal on six shots. Ondrej Pavelec let in one soft one, but for the most part, there wasn’t much he could do. The Jets, as Maurice said, were not very good.

“We were behind the play quite a bit and really not overly physical for a team that’s built to play that way or, at least, I like to think we are,” Maurice said. “We didn’t have it tonight.”

That’s an understatement and that’s all that needs to be said.

The Jets will get a chance to make amends on Saturday night when they face the Leafs in Toronto. It’s on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada at 6 p.m.

Yeah, well. that happened five times.

Yeah, well. that happened five times.



Injuries Hit Jets. So Is Byfuglien a Hart Trophy Candidate?

Here in Winnipeg, we are spoiled. We get to watch Dustin Byfuglien play hockey either live 41 times a season at MTS Centre and/or 41 more times on TV.

Of course, watching Byfuglien is a treat. He’s huge at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds (or 270 depending on the time of the season) and he’s fast. He handles the puck as well as any player in the NHL. He has a monster shot and can play both defense and rightwing with a very high level of skill.

Dustin Byfuglien is the most versatile player in the game. (Photo by Jeff Miller).

Dustin Byfuglien is the most versatile player in the game. (Photo by Jeff Miller).

Now, we’re likely to see the big guy play on rightwing for the rest of the season. It was announced after practice on Wednesday that Mathieu Perreault is out for the season with “a serious lower body injury.” That is a huge blow for the Jets. Perreault had been brilliant in recent weeks and his loss will be felt on just about every line.

On the bright side, Drew Stafford’s injury was not as serious as first thought and there is a chance he’ll play on Thursday night in Washington.

In the meantime, Carl Klingberg has been recalled from the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps and Byfuglien was moved from defense to right wing.

It’s hard to imagine that there is a more versatile player in the NHL than Big Buff. Ryan Suter is a great defenseman, but he couldn’t play on the wing with any measure of success and while Alex Ovechkin is a magnificent skater, puck-handler and goal-scorer, he wouldn’t know where to start as a defenseman.

This season Byfuglien has 14 goals and 26 assists in 59 games. He’s not among the league’s leading scorers (he’s 58th), but if he was actually a full-time defenseman and had those numbers, he’d be sixth in points and third in goals. Because he doesn’t have blow-your-doors-off statistics, he’s often ignored by hockey’s insiders when the discussion turns to: “Who are the best players are in the game today?”

Too bad. Because Byfuglien has been a beast this season. He’s won games with his skill and he’s turned games around with his toughness. Not only can he do the things that the league’s superstars do, he’s a mean SOB who can change the course of a game with a big hit. And nobody, at least nobody with a discernible brain cell, is going to fight him.

Paul Maurice (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Paul Maurice (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Earlier this season, Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice talked about the things that make Byfuglien great – other than the obvious gifts of size, speed, skill and hockey IQ.

“Buff can sit on the bench and tell you what’s going on during the games,” Maurice explained. “There are some players that can do it in incredible detail, sit down and without even watching the video, explain momentum shifts, what the other team is doing, adjustments. Buff’s a guy that reads the play and he reads adjustments by the other team. He does it naturally during the game, so when you sit down and have a discussion about hockey with him, it’s obvious he has a very high hockey IQ. It makes coaching him really easy.”

He’s also the consummate team guy.

“He’s a player who wants to play defense, but he’s done what’s been asked of him this season,” Maurice said. “He’s a very smart guy. He knew what we were talking about when we asked him to fit in at rightwing. He knew what we were trying to do. And he went out and did his job.”

Because of Byfuglien, even the game’s elite coaches have taken notice of the Jets. After the Jets beat Detroit 5-4 at Joe Louis Arena last Saturday night, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was overwhelmed with the Jets.

“They’ve got a good hockey club,” Babcock said . “I think they’ve got lots of really good pieces.

“There’s not many teams that would have – I don’t know what order you’d put them in – but (Jacob) Trouba, Buff (Dustin Byfuglien) and (Tyler) Myers all on the right side. Suddenly they have maybe the best right-handed back end in hockey. And (Tobias) Enstrom is an elite player. When you look at that, it’s a nice back end and they seem to have nice depth up front.”

Yep, Dustin Byfuglien will now be “up front” as well.

Mathieu Perreault gone for the season.

Mathieu Perreault gone for the season.

Still, when people start talking about MVP – the Hart Trophy — they invariably mention Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos or Rick Nash. You won’t get one media person around the NHL to acknowledge that Dustin Byfuglien should be included with that group and it’s unlikely you’ll find anyone to admit that Byfuglien should be considered among the Norris Trophy candidates, as well.

It’s sad.

The Winnipeg Jets will be in fifth place in the West when they play in Washington on Thursday night. Back in September, many insiders figured they’d be 10th or 11th or even 12th at this stage of the season.

However, the Jets have had a great season. The Big Line has been solid, goalie Michael Hutchinson has been the surprise of the year and the Jets overall defensive play has been sound.

But none of it happens without Big Buff and the next time our brilliant “national” media has a conversation about the Hart Trophy candidates and Dustin Byfuglien isn’t part of the discussion, you’ll know they don’t really watch Jets games.