Skip to main content

The Winnipeg Jets’ head coach, Paul Maurice, standing, says that his team’s evolution is ‘in the early, early stages,’ but that’s he encouraged by what he’s seen in the past 10 games.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Averageness constitutes its own special brand of purgatory.

Basically, it's a place the Winnipeg Jets have dwelled for most – if not all – of their recent existence; neither a notably good team, nor a truly dreadful one.

Hoisting oneself out of the NHL's bubble-team morass isn't easy, so Winnipeg's recent hot streak is raising the question: Is this where the Jets' trajectory starts pointing steeply upward?

The man charged with bringing playoff hockey back to the fervid MTS Centre isn't convinced just yet.

"A good couple of weeks doesn't make you a contender, that's just the bottom line," said head coach Paul Maurice, a well-travelled bench boss who has seen his share of false dawns.

The Jets are 7-1-2 in their past 10 games, buoyed by stellar recent work from goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and a more structured defensive approach. They've yielded a miserly two goals a game, good enough for sixth-best in the NHL (ahead of Pittsburgh and just behind defending-champion Los Angeles).

So far, so good, as long as the Jets can figure out a way squeeze more offence out of a lineup that averages only 1.87 goals a night.

The Jets' underlying stats aren't all that spiffy, but the general sense is they may have figured something out in the first 15 games of the season.

The club has evidently banked on developing from within – general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has traded only two men from the team's NHL roster since 2011, and has yet to deal one for another NHL player. So perhaps continuity is having a beneficial effect on young forwards such as Evander Kane and Mark Scheifele and defencemen Zach Bogosian and Jacob Trouba.

"We're a young group, we have guys who came into the NHL at an early age, and they've matured. It takes time to figure out how to win in this league, there's an element of that – guys coming into their own, maturing, learning where they fit into the team," said veteran winger Blake Wheeler.

Captain Andrew Ladd freely admits to growing impatient at Winnipeg's inability to make the postseason. It's fair to say that's a sentiment spreading among the club's dedicated, noisy fans as well.

The climb has only become steeper since the club shifted to the Western Conference last season.

"It feels like it's been a long road," Ladd said after a Jets practice ahead of Tuesday's tilt with the Montreal Canadiens. "I think maybe we got stuck trying to fix everything all at once; now we've kind of dumbed it down a little bit to a more simplistic game. Since Paul [Maurice] came in, I think we've really been all ears and he's done a good job of pulling us together."

Ladd added: "Sometimes it takes a little bit to figure out what you want to be as a team. I think we're doing that."

What they are is big, fast and improving. When Maurice was asked to describe his team's evolution since he replaced Claude Noël last winter, he said "we're in the early, early stages."

The problem hasn't been effort, he continued. Rather, it's focusing it in the right areas and learning to play more effectively as a group. On that score, Maurice is encouraged by what he's seen in the past 10-game stretch.

As for the way forward, Maurice said he will keep the emphasis on a small number of specific goals until it becomes instinctual. "We've got a ways to go before that happens," he said.

It's an unfinished work, then. But the Jets currently sit in a playoff position – teams that are more than a couple of points out of the playoffs by November generally don't make it – and are tied on points for the 11th-best record in the NHL.

So what does Maurice see when he looks at the league points table?

"We had a tough couple of weeks, a good couple of weeks – for the most part I think we're better than middle of the pack," he said. "So we are what it says we are."