We have come to expect that the Jets will be a postseason participant, led by Hellebuyck as a Vezina Trophy candidate. This season, though, has been a departure from that expectation in Winnipeg.
The Jets will enter February with an 18-16-7 record, which has the team several points out of a playoff spot. In 41 games, the team has posted a -6 goal differential and finds itself in sixth place in the Central Division.
As a team, the Jets are scoring only 2.9 goals per contest, marking the first time in several years that the team has averaged fewer than three goals per game. The decrease in offense is evident on the power play, as the team’s efficiency has dropped by two percent since last season.
Defensively, Winnipeg is surrendering three goals per game, and the penalty kill ranks 29th in the NHL (73.1%). That penalty killing figure is down more than seven percent from a year ago when the team ranked 13th in the league while shorthanded.
The Jets and Hellebuyck are struggling this season.
One overwhelming reason that the Jets have been unable to sustain their winning ways this season is the play of Hellebuyck. That’s not to say that he has been bad, as his 2.93 goals against average and .909 save percentage would be welcomed by some goalies around the NHL.
However, by his standards, this has been a down year. In his career, Hellebuyck owns a 2.66 goals against average and .916 save percentage. His goals against average this season is the highest its been in three years, while his save percentage has not been this low in a season since the 2016-2017 campaign (.907).
Moreover, the Jets have become incredibly dependent on Hellebuyck to singlehandedly overcome the shortcomings presented by the defensive core over the last several seasons. This year, he hasn’t done that, and it has slowed the team down.
He has proven time and time again that he is capable of leading the way, having guided Winnipeg to the Western Conference Final in 2018 and having won the Vezina Trophy in 2020. Yet, he can’t be expected to do it all the time, and this season shows what can happen to the Jets if he doesn’t.
My hope is that Winnipeg recognizes the deficiencies in its lineup and can make the appropriate adjustments. If the team is able to beef up the defense in front of Hellebuyck, plus get elite play from him once again, the Jets have the potential to be among the most dangerous teams in the West in the future.
In the meantime, Winnipeg will have to figure out how to navigate this disappointing year. Unfortunately, the reality may just be that this is a lost season for the Jets.