clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Lighting the Lamp: Predictions Are Futile

You might recognize the "Lighting the Lamp" feature from the Game Time paper. Rick Ackerman has been nice enough to send over his column for the website. "Lighting the Lamp" will be featured every home game day.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Winnipeg Jets Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman

The visiting Winnipeg Jets were supposed to be contenders for the playoffs this season, picked for fifth-place in the Central Division and for the eighth and last playoff slot by The Hockey News in the season preview edition last October. The “Bible of Hockey” predicted the Dallas Stars would win the division, followed in order by Nashville, St. Louis and Chicago. In the Pacific Division, San Jose was chosen to finish first, followed by Anaheim and Los Angeles. Fourth-place Calgary was supposed to finish out of playoff contention, as were Edmonton, Arizona and Vancouver. The surprising Oilers, however, are challenging Anaheim for the division title, while the Sharks (2-8-0 in the last ten games) have slipped to third.

Since hindsight is 20/20, it is easy now to see The Hockey News got most of their predictions wrong. The Blackhawks have already clinched the Western Conference and Central Division. Dallas, Winnipeg and Los Angeles will not qualify for postseason play, while Minnesota, Calgary and Edmonton will be vying for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

In the East, THN didn’t do much better. Tampa Bay and Florida were supposed to be the best in the Atlantic Division, while Toronto and Ottawa were forecast to be the worst. The Bolts and Panthers are out of playoff contention while the Leafs and Sens have qualified for postseason play. It was easy to predict Washington and Pittsburgh as the best and Carolina and New Jersey to be the worst. However, the Islanders, picked to finish third, and the Flyers, picked to finish fourth, are out of playoff contention, while the lower-rated Rangers and Blue Jackets are in.

Winnipeg was selected to make the playoffs because of a talented cadre of younger players, including center Mark Scheifele, deemed a budding superstar, rookie winger Patrick Laine, sophomore winger Nikolaj Ehlers, winger Joel Armia, defensemen Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrisey, native St. Louisan center Adam Lowry (son of former Blue Dave), centers Nick Petan and Andrew Copp and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. And this does not include any players in the No. 1-ranked farm system, among them winger Kyle Connor, center Jack Roslovic, defenseman Logan Stanley and goaltender Eric Comrie. And it is likely the Jets will be in the top ten teams choosing amateurs at the Entry Draft in June.

Throw in veteran forwards Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault and defensemen Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, Tyler Myers and Mark Stuart, and Winnipeg has a formidable roster indeed. Unfortunately for Jets’ fans, though, the club is only two games over .500 with 81 points, ranked tenth in the conference and already out of playoff contention. The Winnipeg offense has been decent, ranked eighth in the NHL, but the overall defense has been abysmal, ranked 28th in the league, better than only Arizona and Colorado. The power play has been disappointing, ranked 21st, while the penalty kill has been atrocious, 28th in the league, ahead of only Colorado and Dallas.

As the Atlanta Thrashers (from 2000 until 2011), the franchise only qualified for the playoffs once, in 2007. They were swept in the first round by the Rangers. After relocating to Winnipeg, the club has only qualified for postseason play once, in 2015, when they were swept in the first round by the Ducks. In total, the Thrashers/Jets have not qualified for the playoffs in 15 of 17 seasons and have a record of 0-8 in playoff games. Yikes!

Even with playoff aspirations dashed, the Jets have been hot lately, going 7-2-1 in their last ten games after defeating Ottawa Saturday, 4-2. Winnipeg was 8-5-1 in March, outscoring opponents 44 to 42, including a 3-0 shutout against the Blues on March 3. Blake Wheeler scored two goals and an assist and Hellebucyk made 29 saves in that game. Carter Hutton played well, facing 40 shots in the loss.

The Jets certainly have the Note’s number this season. In early January, Winnipeg edged the Blues in St. Louis, 3-2 in overtime (Hutton with 20 saves) and won again in Winnipeg in mid-January, 5-3 (the since-departed Pheonix Copley with 24 saves). Back in St. Louis on January 31, the Jets once again defeated the Note, 5-3 (Jake Allen with only 19 saves), giving them the series lead, four games to none, outscoring St.Louis 16 to 8. Ouch!

Past performance is not indicative of future actions, and after the magnificent game the Blues played Sunday, beating Nashville (and referees Kelly Sutherland and Garrett Rank), 4-1, they should be more than ready to extract a measure of revenge against the Jets tonight. Sutherland and rookie Rank were more than generous to the Predators, handing them two five-on-threes and six power plays overall. The only goal against Allen, who played magnificently with 35 saves and was named second star of the game, came with the Note two men short. Particularly galling were marginal calls against David Perron (for slashing) and Alexander Steen (for a reverse check in which there was no contact with the head of defenseman Anthony Bitetto, although that was the call). Both Perron and Steen scored goals, though, in a bit of cosmic retribution. Number 57 also recorded two assists and was rewarded with the first star of the game.

After tonight the Blues travel to the east coast for games in Florida and Carolina before returning home to face Colorado in the home finale. Nashville entertains the Islanders tonight and then journeys to Dallas and Winnipeg to finish the regular season.

With a two-point lead, the tiebreaker and a game in hand on Nashville, St. Louis is in the driver’s seat to finish third in the Central Division and open postseason play in Minnesota rather than in Chicago.

Let’s get Wild!