Since Paul Maurice took over in Winnipeg, there haven't been many teams hotter in the NHL than the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets have gone 8-2-0 since Maurice took over and while the Stanley Cup Playoffs are probably still a long shot, the Jets are starting to make it interesting.
If you look at the reasons why, you probably have to start with goaltending. The Jets have gotten some very strong performances over that stretch from Ondrej Pavelec and Al Montoya, and teams that can score goals by the bucket, like the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks, have been held to one or two goals when they've played them. But perhaps the biggest reason for the change is just that Maurice is a good coach. He came in there, didn't panic, didn't make a ton of changes and just added some confidence and gave the players a fresh voice to listen to.
Maurice has also done some interesting things like how they're utilizing Dustin Byfuglien, playing him at forward and then moving him to the blue line during the power play. Not only has he had different ideas, but the manner in which the team plays and its talent level are showing through. If we're talking about talent, strictly, this is not one of the worst teams in the NHL. Now they're starting to get performances from those players like we thought they would. Blake Wheeler is scoring, Bryan Little is scoring, Evander Kane is starting to score -- you're starting to see how good they can be. Even if they don't make the playoffs, which I don't think they will, Maurice has done a heck of a job there changing things around.
It's hard to say if Winnipeg can take advantage of these changes next season and make the playoffs. Anything can happen in the West and some teams on the outside this year but with a pool of talent to work with, like the Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars or Nashville Predators, could be fighting for spots. I don't know if the Jets will be in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs when it's all said and done, but with the players they have and the job Maurice has done so far, I think they're definitely going to be in the mix.
A DROUGHT IN LOS ANGELES
The Los Angeles Kings are struggling, and they've been struggling for a while now. L.A. has just one win in its past nine games and if you need a reason why, it's really very simple.
They can't score.
This is a team that has to win 1-0 right now to win a game. There's no room for error and their star players aren't getting the job done. Mike Richards, no offense. Dustin Brown, no offense. Anze Kopitar only has 16 goals, and he's an elite goal-scorer in this League.
This team just can't put the puck in the net right now and if another team manages to score two goals on L.A., they basically win. The Kings just don't create any offense.
Are they good defensively? Yes. Are they good in net with Jonathan Quick? Yes. But they just generate no offense whatsoever. It's almost like they're so careful defensively they don't even try to score. They just throw the puck at the net. They're not creative offensively and show no imagination and they're playing teams that can score, which just puts them behind the eight ball.
The Kings went through a stretch like this two years ago before they won the Stanley Cup, and they managed to get everything clicking in time for a remarkable postseason run. This situation looks kind of similar, but it's hard to get lightning to strike twice. L.A. certainly has the pieces to make it work again -- there's enough talent on this roster and the Kings have all the ingredients to be a great playoff team -- but they need to snap out of this funk first.
PLANNING FOR SOCHI
We're just a few days away from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and as players throughout the League prepare to fly across the world for the games, there are a whole set of unusual issues coaches in the League will have to manage. I was never a coach in the NHL during an Olympic year, and taking a two-week break midseason is an unusual situation, but I would think most coaches will be getting their teams together while they still can to talk with the players about what they need to do during the break, how they need to stay in shape and go through their typical conditioning.
Players that are actually playing in the games will stay in shape, but the ones staying back will need to continue working out. As well, injured players will have to keep working with the training staff and coaches need to make sure their medical care during that period remains intensive.
Several teams could also be significantly affected by the Olympics because they have so many players going to Sochi. The Blackhawks, for example, are sending 10 players. Beyond the obvious issue that those players could get hurt, you also have to worry about the toll this takes on them physically and emotionally. Sochi is a nine-hour time difference from the east coast of North America, and a 12-hour difference from the west coast. A road trip across three time zones is difficult enough for the body, but many of these players could be facing some serious jet lag when they return.
Also, if you have players who are part of deep runs at the Olympics, it can be exhausting for them, and they may not be mentally ready to play when they return from Russia.
All of this makes the first handful of games after the Olympic Games absolutely pivotal. Teams need to be ready to play games right off the bat. If they're not, opponents could be stealing valuable points off games that will eventually be huge as the regular season enters its home stretch.