When the Jets landed back in Winnipeg after departing Atlanta, folks in town were elated. I’m not even sure there’s a word to describe the energy and passion with which NHL hockey was re-embraced. Trying to get season tickets there now is like putting your name on the waiting list for season seats at Lambeau in Green Bay, which is to say utterly futile.
And when the puck dropped on opening night, the crowd went wild from start to finish. But those of us who weren’t there had an alarming thought: what if this team is as god-awful horrible as they appeared? While fans would still show up in droves, the city had been without hockey for 15 years – they deserved better, and it sure looked like the team had laughingstock potential.
After eight games, they came out on top only twice. They were in last. We were already hearing locals say ”oh well, bad hockey is better than no hockey.” And while they were right, it was kind of awkward to watch.
But, after beating the NHL’s top team last night in the Minnesota Wild, they’ve climbed to 10th place in the East with 32 points, one point out of eighth, and a mere two points out of seventh. They’re ahead of the Washington Capitals by a point right now. They’ve won five of their last six games, including take-downs of Bruins, Wild, Coyotes and Devils. After their putrid start, they suddenly find themselves in the mix.
Center Bryan Little has caught fire, tallying 15 points over his past 13 games, including nine goals (he’s scored in four straight games). Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien is over 20 points. Nobody has jaw-dropping numbers, but they do have 10 players with at least 10 points, which is nothing to sneeze at depth-wise. And, Ondrej Pavelec has stepped his game up - he got shelled in Detroit, but outside of that game he’s only given up four goals in the four previous other games.
We’ve still got a long way to go to see if they can sustain this momentum, but I think they’re as capable or better than a couple of the teams battling for a playoff spot in the East (apologies, but I’m looking at you, Ottawa).
They’ve scrapped back a long way. Whatever happens, the fans in Winnipeg aren’t being forced to put on a fake smily face anymore. Those things are real. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Jets are thinking playoffs, and I kinda like their chances.