By Watson Scott Swail
After 10 games it is still difficult to ascertain the potential of this Winnipeg Jets team. Now sitting at a less-than-stellar 4-6 record, the Jets visit the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center in Chinatown tonight and it isn’t a stretch to suggest the Jets will be 4-7 by the end of tonight. I’ll be there in my Patrik Laine jersey, while my son will have his Ovechkin jersey. It’s a family issue.
Only a few years ago the Jets and Caps were playing in the same division with similar record. Both teams had similar strengths (okay, the Jets did not have an equivalent to Ovi at the time, but perhaps do now) as well as similar weaknesses. But while the Jets mostly stayed pat, the Capitals made some tremendous trades each year to strengthen their team. Last April the Caps won, for the second time in five years, the Presidents’ trophy as the leading point gainer in the NHL. Of course, that has never boded well for the Caps in the post season, and they were gone by the end of the second round.
Still, the Caps are a scoring machine with the best goaltender in the league, Vezina winner and Lloydminster-bred Braden Holtby. If the Caps do not win the Presidents’ trophy this year, they will be close. The Winnipeg Jets, on the other hand, will be hard pressed to move up from the bottom of the Central Division due to the competition and their inexperience.
The Jets, however, have shown some tremendous flashes in the first 10 games. They are fast paced and move the puck very well through the neutral zone. It seems they sometimes play with the puck a little too much and miss scoring opportunities. But only two nights ago they plastered Holtby with 46 shots, more than he has faced in a long time. The Jets can put good pressure on teams and have looked very good at times. Their goaltending and defense are another matter. The goaltending is sub-par. Those who have spent their recent lifetimes obliterating Ondrej Pavelec are now eating their words. I have said many times over the past three years that Pavelec is the best goaltender on the Jets and a premier goaltender in this league. I am almost singular in my judgement on this and have been trashed time and time again on chat rooms and Facebook. I will say again: Pavelec is—by far—the best goaltender on the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets have run their experiment and they have found that their best goaltender is sitting the bench in the AHL at a rate of $55,000 a game. End the experiment and bring him back to the mother ship. We are paying him; play him. Let him go at the end of the year, send Hutchinson down to the AHL or trade him, since Comrie will quickly eclipse him anyway, and split time between Pavelec and Hellebuyck, who is struggling mightily in the NHL, but not as much as Hutchinson.
Tonight will say a lot about the Winnipeg Jets. They can win this game but need to be firing on all cylinders and have goaltending to match. It is time for Wheeler and Ehlers to ramp up their collective games.
Stay tuned, folks.