The Winnipeg Jets gave their fans a thrilling ride, going into the final game of the regular season with a chance at a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, a loss Thursday to the Montreal Canadiens became a moot point as wins earlier Thursday by the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators already had eliminated them from playoff contention.
That marks two seasons back in Manitoba without postseason action, and extends the franchise's streak to six seasons.
How did the Jets come so close only to fall so short? Here are five reasons why:
1. No home-ice advantage -- Last season the Jets were one of the better teams in the League at home, picking up a point in 28 of 41 games (68.3 percent). Against Eastern Conference teams, they took at least a point in 21 of 32 games (65.6 percent). This season, though, the MTS Centre wasn't as much of a help -- they took a point in 14 of 24 games (58.3 percent).
2. Not-so-special teams -- The Jets were a middle-of-the-pack offensive team, but they didn't get much help from a power play that after games Thursday ranks 29th in the League at 13.8 percent. They scored multiple power-play goals in a game twice all season, while three times going seven games or longer between scoring extra-man goals. The Jets' penalty-killers weren't much better; the Jets enter the weekend 23rd shorthanded at 79.7 percent. They allowed multiple power-play goals in a game six times.
3. Little from Jokinen -- Olli Jokinen was coming off his best season since he was in his prime with the Florida Panthers when the Jets signed him to a two-year deal in August. However, the return on investment wasn't what the Jets wanted -- seven goals and 14 points in 45 games, a team-worst minus-19 rating (fifth-worst mark in the League) and a season ended April 20 due to high ankle sprain.
4. Injuries on defense -- The Jets were powered last season by the tandem of Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, both of whom played in the 2012 All-Star Game. This season, however, Enstrom was limited to just 22 games, missing five weeks at midseason with a shoulder injury. Zach Bogosian missed the first month of the season recovering from wrist surgery, and Byfuglien missed five games with injuries. Winnipeg was forced to use nine different blueliners this season, and none played a full 48 games.
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5. Slow starts leading to bad finishes -- The Jets allowed 46 first-period goals, third-most in the League -- their 31 goals for are 24th -- and led after the first period just 10 times in 48 games. Putting themselves in so many early holes forced them to play catch-up in too many games, and in part led to the Jets surrendering a League-high 57 third-period goals. The 35 goals they scored in third periods are tied for the fourth-fewest in the League.
Here are a few reasons for optimism:
1. A bright future on the horizon -- In two drafts, it appears general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has done quite well stocking the prospect base. Mark Scheifele, the team's first pick in 2011, got four games of NHL experience to start the season and then had another dominant season with his junior team, the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. He had 79 points in 45 regular-season games, led Canada with five goals at the World Junior Championship and currently leads the OHL in playoff scoring with 24 points in 12 games. Defenseman Jacob Trouba, the top pick in 2012, had 12 goals and 29 points in 37 games as a freshman at the University of Michigan, and was dominant in helping the U.S. win gold at the WJC, tying for the team lead with nine points and earning recognition as the tournament's best defenseman. Scheifele and Trouba could be NHL regulars as soon as next season.
2. Realignment -- For two seasons after their move from Atlanta, the Jets were an outlier, thousands of miles from their closest conference opponent, and even farther from the rest of the Southeast Division. Next season, though, they'll find themselves in a better situation geographically, as they'll be in a division with Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville and St. Louis.
3. Return of Redmond -- Rookie defenseman Zach Redmond nearly had his career ended when he had an artery and vein severed behind his knee when he was stepped on by a teammate during practice. The blood loss could have been fatal, or cost him his leg. Instead, not only did Redmond recover in six weeks, he returned to play two games in the American Hockey League. Redmond was a promising prospect whose return to health will buoy the Jets going into next season.