Lighting the Lamp, with Rick Ackerman
With the birth of new NHL franchises and the relocation of others, it's easy to get confused about what team went where or what franchises were original, expansion teams or relocations. Tonight's visitors, the Winnipeg Jets, are a case in point. The original Winnipeg Jets, refugees from the defunct World Hockey Association in 1979, now reside in the Phoenix metropolitan area, although next season they will be known as the Arizona Coyotes. The Winnipeg Jets you see on the ice tonight are actually the club once known as the Atlanta Thrashers, birthed in 1997 as an expansion team, beginning NHL play in the 1999-2000 season. Nor are the Thrashers to be confused with the Atlanta Flames, who, along with the New York Islanders, were awarded an NHL franchise in 1971 and began play in the 1972-73 season. Of course, the Flames were relocated to Calgary in 1980 due to financial losses in Atlanta caused by rising operating costs and poor attendance. At least True North Sports and Entertainment, the new Canadian owners of the Jets, had the good sense not to keep the name Thrashers, the state bird of Georgia, even if dubbing the franchise the Jets is somewhat confusing, at least to casual fans.
The Jets fared fairly well in the Southeast Division last season, finishing second (to Washington), yet failed to qualify for the playoffs only one spot out in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the Islanders. Winnipeg was three games over .500. However, the NHL moved the franchise to the Western Conference this season where they are in second to last place in the Central Division, albeit two games over .500 and only two points behind eighth place Vancouver. And Winnipeg would have to jump over four teams to qualify for the playoffs at this point in the season. The Jets would be in the same situation in the East, though, five points behind eighth place Philadelphia, tied with New Jersey and Carolina with 59 points, just behind Detroit, Ottawa and Washington.
Unfortunately for their fans, Winnipeg is a fairly mediocre team this season, occupying second to last place in the Central Division, ranked 15th league-wide on offense and 20th of 30 teams on defense. However, new coach Paul Maurice has his boys humming as the Jets have won eight of the first ten games under Maurice, who replaced head coach Claude Noel almost three weeks ago. And Winnipeg has beaten quality teams such as Anaheim, Chicago, Montreal and Toronto. Under Noel, the Jets were averaging 2.6 goals per game and allowed almost 2.9 against; under Maurice, the offense is netting 3.3 goals for and only 2.1 goals against. It is clear to see why Winnipeg is winning games now.
A little known fact is that Maurice was a promising defenseman with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL (drafted by Philadelphia in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft), yet suffered a career-ending eye injury after being struck by a puck during a charity hockey game in 1997. Thus, Maurice has shared a similar misfortune with arguably the best coach in NHL history, Scotty Bowman. Bowman was an up-and-coming center for the Montreal Junior Royals and Junior Canadiens (QPJHL) in the early 1950s. His playing career was cut short due to a fractured skull after a slash from defenseman Jean-Guy Talbot. Ironically, Bowman would urge GM Lynn Patrick to bring Talbot to St. Louis in 1967, where he coached the all-star defenseman for three seasons.
Blues Nation has not been particularly overjoyed at the play of the team over the last ten games or so. The Blues have a decent record of 6-3-1 in those ten, yet lost a point to Ottawa, played rather poorly in Carolina, and got destroyed in New Jersey. Losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles didn't help any either; nor did coughing up leads after two periods in several games. The Blues' offense is off a bit at 2.8 goals over the last ten games, yet the defense has been sloppy, disorganized and ineffective allowing 28 goals against in that span. Yet, the Blues are not the only elite team suffering the deep winter doldrums. The Kings are a horrible 2-8 in their last ten games, while the Canucks are 3-7 and the high-flying Ducks are close to the ground with a 4-6 record in their last ten. Even the Blackhawks have been somewhat ordinary, only winning five of their last ten, although they have only lost two in regulation, losing the other three in overtime or the skills competition. San Jose shows a 6-4 record, yet losses to Philadelphia and Los Angeles at home and to Edmonton and Calgary on the road were particularly bothersome.
When the Olympic games are over, the Blues will still have 25 regular season games to play, 11 at home and 14 on the road, only six of which are against elite teams, including Anaheim, Colorado (2), Chicago (2) and Pittsburgh. Except for one home game against the Avalanche, the other five are on the road, including two at Chicago and one at Anaheim. Despite the three games in hand the Blues will still have after the Olympic break, it is imperative that the Blues win at least two, if not all three, of those games at Chicago and Anaheim. That would certainly help in attaining the goal of finishing both first in the division and/or conference in order to gain home ice advantage in the upcoming playoffs.