Why this year’s schedule format benefits the Winnipeg Jets

The set up for this season's schedule could help Tobias Enstrom make it to the playoffs for the first time in his career. (Resolute/Wikimedia Commons)

The set up for this season’s schedule could help Tobias Enstrom make it to the playoffs for the first time in his career. (Resolute/Wikimedia Commons)

By: Tim Kolupanowich

@TimKolupan_

The condensed 48-game schedule the NHL is playing this year means the season will not only be a full-on sprint from start to finish and every game in much more meaningful, but it could change the fortunes of some teams as well. Strong and poor starts are so much more important this season as there is no time for a final push to make it into the playoffs like eventual champion Los Angeles needed at the end of the year.

If you don’t think it makes a difference, keep in mind the Western Conference finalist Phoenix Coyotes were in 12th place with a 21-19-8 record through 48 games before going on a 21-8-5 tear the rest of the season to win the Pacific Division and knocking the Colorado Avalanche out of a playoff spot.

If there’s one team this season the schedule helps, not only in its length, but the way it’s formatted, it’s the Winnipeg Jets.

With a 1-0-1 record on the road to begin the season, the Jets are off to a much better start away from the MTS Centre. Last season they lost their first four road games and five of the first six on their way to a 14-22-5 road record, tied with Anaheim for the fifth-fewest road wins in the league.

With the condensed schedule, a bigger chunk of the season is being played against division opponents with 18 of 48 games (37.5%) this season compared to 24 of 82 games (29.3%) last season. Though they struggled on the road overall last season, they posted identical 7-3-2 records against the rest of the Southeast Division both at home and on the road.

That division remains arguably the weakest in the entire league; Tampa Bay has certainly improved its defense and all but a lock to take the division crown, but Washington and Carolina are middling at best while Florida may just be the worst team in the NHL, having been outscored 19-4 in 13 periods since going up 4-0 against Carolina in the first frame of the season. The Jets defeated Washington 4-2 on January 22, so they still have 17 games remaining.

Much in the same way the vancouver Canucks get the benefit of beating up on the much weaker Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild every year, the Jets will be able to pad their point totals against the rest of the Southeast, even if it’s only three of the four teams due to Tampa’s strong lineup this year.

There are also no inter-conference games this season, which is another addition through subtraction to the Jets’ schedule. Though once again they were able to hold their own at home going 6-2-1, they had an abismal 2-7 record when they headed out west. Those eight inter-conference wins were tied for ninth-worst in the NHL last season, fifth-worst in the Eastern Conference. Taking away the points earned in the 18 road games for every team last season, the Jets would have finished ended up in ninth place instead of 11th, jumping ahead of Buffalo and Tampa Bay.

The rest of the conference is stilla concern, but improvements made to the team and further development of their young players should help out. They were 10-8-2 against the Eastern Conference (not including the rest of the Southeast Division) last season at home, but just 5-12-3 on the road. A shootout loss to the Boston Bruins on January 21 was a decent start considering it took three road games against non-division opponents last year to earn a point last season in that ridiculous 9-8 victory in Philadelphia.

So more games against their weak division rivals and no games against the much better Western Conference bodes very well for the improved Jets. Dustin Byfuglien, Evander Kane, Tobias Enstrom, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler are all producing and Olli Jokinen, he of nine consecutive seasons of at least 50 points, should add to their offense once he gets going.

They need improvement 5-on-5, their 0.8 goals for/against ratio is ranked 22nd so far and a dip from their 0.99 clip last season, but have seen improvement in overall goals for (3/game this year vs. 2.7 last year), goals against (2.6/this year vs. 2.95 last year) and power play percentage (23.8% this year vs. 17.9% last year).

It’s early in the schedule, yes, but the rest of it looks to be in favor of the Jets.

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