HERE'S our take on what we've seen as the Jets hit the quarter pole of 2011-12:
Four good trends
1. Patching the holes in a ravaged 'D'
A storyline that isn't getting much play around the NHL, but should be mentioned again: the Jets have used 12 different defencemen in 20 games as injuries to Tobias Enstrom (nine games missed), Ron Hainsey (16 games), Randy Jones (13 games), Derek Meech (18 games) have taken a serious bite out of their corps.
What we've seen, in their absence, has been a growth in Zach Bogosian's game and a better appreciation for the grit of Mark Stuart. But most impressive are the contributions of the call-ups from St. John's -- particularly Mark Flood, who has three goals in nine games.
2. The foot soliders step up
Quick trivia question: After 20 games which player leads the Jets in scoring? If you answered Kyle Wellwood (6 goals, nine assists) we have some lovely parting gifts for you.
But who would have thought that an NHL nomad like Wellwood would be this solid after being a mid-September addition that brought a collective shrug of the shoulders?
Jim Slater has six goals; Tanner Glass has three and paired with Chris Thorburn this GST line is defensively responsible and brings a calming influence. There should be no complaints about the work of the men on the third and fourth lines.
3. The emerging young guns
They still need to find some consistency, but what we've seen from Evander Kane and Alex Burmistrov through the first quarter is this: They sport the kind of skill sets that have fans sliding to the edge of their seats every time they hop over the boards. Kane (eight goals, two game winners) appears to be taking that step from prospect to star and Burmistrov (4G, 8A) has hands that should make him a 60-point man this season.
4. The last line of defence
There have been stretches this season where Ondrej Pavelec, admittedly, really fought the puck. But the Czech netminder has made 12 straight starts and has a 7-7-3 record on the year. And if the last four games are an indicator -- he has kicked out 113 of 122 shots for a .926 save percentage -- then he could become a star workhorse puck stopper this franchise needs.
Three not-so-good trends
1. The penalty parade
The Jets have been short-handed 100 times this year, most in the NHL (Florida, by comparison, has been a man down just 53 times). They've faced a two-man disadvantage 11 times in 20 games, by our count. The penalty kill is ranked 21st (heading into Sunday's games), but this occasional lack of discipline/loss of focus is a big-time area of concern.
Said Noel after Saturday's win when asked what stands out after 20 games: "Our penalties, our discipline. I've got to find a way to coach that in some fashion. That's a real challenge. We're going to have some meetings on that."
2. The No. 1 line?
The season began with Bryan Little centering Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler, but that trio has been busted up and reunited numerous times in the first quarter. Little has it going now with four goals in his last six, but Wheeler is stuck on one and that line is kaput. Interestingly, this team was supposed to be offensively challenged -- they finished 20th overall in goals for last year -- but even with iffy contributions from this unit, such as it was, the Jets are averaging 2.85 goals per game, tied with Pittsburgh for 10th best.
3. Big Buff
His work has settled considerably in the last week, especially now that he is paired with Stuart. But much of the first chunk of this season has seen the Jets wringing their hands over the play of Dustin Byfuglien. More specifically, his decisions to pinch offensively only to get burned going the other way. But in his last four games Byfuglien has two goals, including the game-winner over the Flyers, and has six points. More of that would cause a lot less worry with the Jets' brain trust.