Laurent Brossoit sees signs of what he calls an "elite team." Kyle Connor put it even more bluntly: "We know we're good."
And there's no question that, at 14-7-1, the Winnipeg Jets aren't just talking the talk, but walking the walk right now when it comes to the statistic that matters the most in pro sports — wins and losses. They're off to their second-best start in franchise history, sit second in the Canadian Division and have the seventh-best point percentage in the 31-team league.
So here's another query to mull over as the club prepares to play 12 of the next 14 games away from Bell MTS Place, starting Thursday night in Montreal. Is this early season success truly sustainable given their overall state of play?
At the risk of raining on a potential championship parade, a bunch of underlying numbers suggest tougher times await if this team can't get some things straightened out. That what we've seen so far is more of a mirage, and perhaps a product of playing against weaker competition, than a true measure of their Stanley Cup mettle.
Consider the following: Only the rebuilding Los Angeles Kings are giving up a greater percentage of high-danger scoring chances than the Jets during even-strength play. It's the same story when it comes to expected goals, which measures the typical conversion rate of high-danger chances both for and against.
There are other worrisome trends as well. The Jets are just 23rd in the NHL (and second-last in their division) when it comes to Corsi, which computes shot attempt differential. And they are 26th-overall (and second-last in their division) when measuring all scoring chances (high-danger and non-high-danger).
To put that in the simplest terms possible, Winnipeg should be scoring a lot less than they do and fishing the puck out of their own net a lot more than they have. Which, all things considered, would be a recipe for more failure than success. And yet they continue to defy the odds as they approach the midway point of their 56-game schedule.
So what gives? How are they pulling off this act of hockey Houdini?
It all starts up front, where the Jets might just have the best group of high-end finishers in the league. A dozen players went into action on Wednesday night with at least 11 goals. Three of them play for Winnipeg in Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele. Only Chicago (Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat) have more than one on the list.
Throw in Pierre-Luc Dubois, Blake Wheeler and Paul Stastny and this is an impressive top six, which goes even deeper with the likes of Andrew Copp, Mason Appleton, Adam Lowry and Mathieu Perreault.
Take a bow, Kevin Cheveldayoff. That's quite an offensive juggernaut you've built, even with the blockbuster trade of Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Winnipeg has converted on 27 of their 162 high-danger chances this year, which ranks third-best in the NHL behind Philadelphia and St. Louis. In other words, they're making the most of their opportunities, better than anyone in their division. And that quality alone will cover up for a lot of flaws. Only Tampa Bay, Toronto and Washington average more than Winnipeg's 3.36 goals-per-game.
And then it continues in net, where reigning Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck and his backup, Brossoit, have been above-average in terms of stopping pucks. The Jets have the 10th-best save percentage in the league, and their PDO (which combines shooting percentage and save percentage) is 7th best in the NHL, trailing only first-place Toronto in their division. They also have the eighth-best goals-against-average, at 2.64.
Add a decent power play (14th overall) and middle-of-the-road penalty kill (18th overall), and the Jets are doing just fine, thank you very much, analytics be damned.
Winnipeg has only had nine games in which they won the expected goals battle. Curiously, they are just 5-4-0, although two were last-second defeats to Edmonton and Ottawa. In the 13 games where they've come out on the wrong end — including several by a considerable margin — they are an eye-popping 9-3-1.
One of those was last Saturday's 2-1 overtime win over Montreal in which Winnipeg was thoroughly outshot, outchanced and outplayed, stealing victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to Hellebuyck's heroics, a special teams goal in regulation and a three-on-three winner in which coach Paul Maurice put three forwards on the ice and watched them work their magic.
"That kind of game isn't sustainable throughout the year," defenceman Neal Pionk said earlier this week.
No, you wouldn't think it would be, which is why their latest effort on Tuesday night is a lot more encouraging. It was a complete 60-minute effort, a rare one in which both the fancy stats and the final result were on the same page.
In addition to winning 5-2 on the scoreboard, Winnipeg also took the Corsi battle (55 per cent to 45 per cent for Vancouver), scoring chances (31-19), high-danger chances (10-8) and expected goal differential (2.73 to 1.66). Unlike some other victories this year, everyone would agree they truly got what they deserved. Anything but two points would have been an injustice.
Life would be a whole lot easier, you'd think, if the Jets could bottle that style of game and make it the norm, rather than the exception. Or, maybe they just keep dancing to their own beat. Barring injuries, their roster is what it is, just as their 2021 schedule is what it is. Who's to say how far that might ultimately take them?
Which brings me to another recent comment, this one by Maurice, when asked how concerned he was by what the spreadsheets were saying about his team's on-ice performance. He didn’t exactly offer up a ringing endorsement of their overall worth.
"You'll do your deep dives and analytics, and God, they do a horses--t job of telling you what five guys do," the veteran bench boss growled.
It may not be conventional. It may not always look very pretty. And time will ultimately tell if it comes back to bite them. But there's no doubt that doing things the "Winnipeg way" is paying off so far.
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.