Jets have 10 games to answer 10 pressing questions


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And down the stretch they come.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/03/2018 (1902 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

And down the stretch they come.

The Winnipeg Jets find themselves in foreign territory these days, on the verge of locking up just their second playoff appearance in seven seasons since NHL hockey returned to the city.

But unlike their previous post-season berth in 2014-15, Winnipeg won’t have to fight until the very end of the season to punch their ticket as a wild-card entry. Instead, the Jets look every bit the part of a legitimate contender, sitting comfortably in second place in the Central Division with their first-round series likely starting in front of a whiteout at Bell MTS Place.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck Winnipeg Jets celebrate Josh Morrissey's goal against the Vancouver Canucks in October.

There are just 10 games left in the regular season, beginning tonight when the Jets host a desperate Los Angeles Kings squad currently fighting for their playoff lives.

The next three weeks should afford the Jets an opportunity to get healed up and rested, and to fine-tune some parts of their game to prepare for what they hope will be a long and prosperous spring.

With that in mind, we give you 10 key questions going forward:

1. Can Patrik Laine win the goal-scoring title? The second-year Jet is certainly giving it his best shot, with 18 goals in his past 15 games. He’s up to 43 in his sophomore season, which has him tied with Alexander Ovechkin for most in the NHL. Laine has made no secret of the fact he wants to win the Rocket Richard trophy as top scorer, and getting 50 is now very much within the realm of possibility. It should be a great race down to the final weekend.

2. Can Blake Wheeler win the assist title? The Jets captain is having an MVP-type season and has already set a personal best for points with 80. His 61 assists lead the NHL, one ahead of Jakub Voracek and three up on Claude Giroux and Johnny Gaudreau. It may not have the same prestige as the goal-scoring champ, but being the assist king has a nice ring to it.

3. Will Connor Hellebuyck get some rest? Jets head coach Paul Maurice has indicated he wants to give his No. 1 netminder a breather, suggesting he may only play about seven of the final 10 games. With backups Steve Mason and Michael Hutchinson both injured, that means Eric Comrie may see some action. If so, which games would he play? One on this current six-game homestand would be a safe bet, as would one of the back-to-back road games in Ottawa and Montreal in early April. Then perhaps the final game of the season against the Chicago Blackhawks. Time will tell.

4. Can Jacob Trouba make a quick recovery? Watching the stud blue-liner struggle to get to the bench Sunday night after being levelled by a Jamie Benn hit was not a pleasant sight. Now the question is how quickly can he recover from a suspected concussion? With Dmitry Kulikov already out long-term, the Jets can’t afford to have a top-pairing defenceman in Trouba out for an extended period.

5. Can the rest of the team stay healthy? Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry and Toby Enstrom all returned from injury over the past week. Paul Stastny also came back quickly after missing one game. Other than Matt Hendricks, Winnipeg has a healthy forward group that currently includes three extra bodies. They’d obviously like it to stay that way.

6. Will they pass Vegas? It doesn’t seem like a race many are focused on, but Winnipeg currently trails Vegas by one point with each squad having 10 games left to play. This could be a big deal should the Jets manage to escape the Central Division and get to the third round of the playoffs. Passing the Golden Knights by season’s end would guarantee home-ice advantage for the Western Conference final.

7. Will they set regular-season franchise records? Winnipeg has already matched its franchise record of 43 wins (previously set in 2006-07 and 2014-15), so setting a new benchmark is a given and could come as early as Tuesday night. The same goes for its previous high in points of 99, also set in 2014-15. With 96 already in the bank, surpassing the century mark is just a matter of time.

8. How will the kids hold up? Let’s face it, this is new territory for almost everyone on the roster. And the playoffs will be a different animal. How will young stars such as Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic, Josh Morrissey and Hellebuyck handle the pressure cooker that awaits?

9. Minnesota, Colorado or Dallas — can the Jets finally slay their playoff demons? It’s a stat that hangs over this franchise like a dark cloud: zero playoff wins in their history. Just making it to the dance won’t be enough to consider this season a success. Winnipeg is poised to make some noise, so going out quickly and quietly won’t cut it around these parts. It’s looking increasingly likely that the Minnesota Wild will be the first-round opponent, with the Colorado Avalanche and a fading Dallas Stars squad still possibilities.

10. Will any Jets take home some post-season hardware? Wheeler as a Hart Trophy candidate? Hellebuyck for the Vezina? Maurice a finalist for the Jack Adams? Kevin Cheveldayoff for GM of the year? All of these are possibilities, as there has been plenty of individual success to go along with the strong team play this season.

So the questions have been asked for all to ponder. Now it’s just a matter of sitting back and waiting for the answers to emerge, ones that will no doubt provide plenty of fodder for debate and discussion among players, coaches, fans and pundits.

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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