NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three questions facing the Winnipeg Jets.
The Winnipeg Jets have made one appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since relocating from Atlanta in 2011. Their fans in a passionate Canadian market want more.
The Jets' struggles since making the playoffs in 2015 have placed increased scrutiny on goaltending, defense and discipline, all issues that have received attention in the offseason.
[JETS 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]
1. Can the Jets figure out a better defensive game?
Winnipeg allowed 255 goals last season, fourth-most in the NHL. That was up from 236 goals-against in 2015-16 (22nd in the League) and a franchise-best 204 in 2014-15 (10th).
The Jets must improve defensively to get back to the playoffs, particularly on the penalty kill. They were 26th in the NHL on the penalty kill last season (77.5 percent). They allowed 62 power-play goals, third-most in the League, and were shorthanded 275 times, third-highest.
Coach Paul Maurice, entering his fourth full season with the Jets, must find a way to get a better defensive commitment, even if it costs them a little offense.
Video: 31 in 31: Winnipeg Jets 2017-18 season preview
2. Will free agent Steve Mason stabilize the Jets goaltending?
The combination of goalies Connor Hellebuyck, Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec had streaks of inconsistency that were too long last season, and the sum of their work produced the third-lowest save percentage in the NHL (.900).
That number is not all on the goaltenders given the Jets' defensive issues, but Mason brings nine seasons of NHL experience, including his Calder Trophy season of 2008-09 with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He'll have the important role of mentoring Hellebuyck, 24, who is still seen as the starter of the future despite having a 2.71 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in 82 NHL games (79 starts).
3. Can Patrik Laine improve on an impressive rookie season?
The 19-year-old right wing scored 36 goals with a quick release and a hard, accurate shot.
His 64 points in 73 games put him second in the rookie scoring race to Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, the Calder Trophy winner (69 points in 82 games), though Laine averaged more points per game (0.88 to Matthews' 0.84). A little more physical maturity and having been through the League for one season would suggest Laine may be better equipped for more impact.
Boosted by Laine's nine power-play goals, the Jets scored 48 on the man-advantage last season compared to 38 in 2015-16, and rose from last in the League (14.8 percent) to 18th (18.2 percent).
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