Blake Wheeler Has Been A Major Offensive Force During Dramatic Turnaround For The Winnipeg Jets

By Rick LaFitte
Blake Wheeler
Dennis Wierzbicki USA TODAY Sports

The Winnipeg Jets get a chance tonight to continue their stellar play when they host the Nashville Predators at MTS Centre. Since Paul Maurice took over behind the bench the team has won six of seven contests including a most-recent 3-1 road victory against the Chicago Blackhawks. Blake Wheeler netted a pair of third period goals while backup goalie Al Montoya was tremendous making 34 saves to earn the victory. The transformation of the group under Maurice has been remarkable to watch as he’s gotten the team playing much better defensively, has seen No.1 goalie Ondrej Pavelec finally find his form and is truly seeing his best players be his best players. The fragile nature of the group under previous head coach Claude Noel has been replaced by an air of confidence since Maurice took over.

No one has responded more favorably since the coaching shakeup than Wheeler. He’s been on a tear with five goals and five assists in seven contests, and he sits just a point behind Bryan Little for the team lead with 43 points on the season. The hot stretch has Wheeler with 21 goals and 22 assists on the campaign, and he’s been a consistent threat during this seven-game stretch. Wheeler is putting his speed and his 6-foot-5 frame to good use as he’s been going to the net hard and producing big-time results. He has multiple-point efforts in four of his last six games.

While Wheeler has led the way, the Jets have also received sizable contributions offensively from Little, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and talented rookie Mark Scheifele. Despite the impressive stretch that has finally gotten the Jets above the .500 mark they remain seven points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Better team defense and goaltending were two things that Maurice was looking for after taking over the reins, and Pavelec has responded in a big way. He’s gone 5-1 in the six games he’s played since the coaching change and hasn’t at all resembled the netminder who struggled in the first half of the season. He was especially good in a 3-2 road victory against the Anaheim Ducks where he turned aside 40-of-42 shots while allowing the Jets to hand the Ducks their first home ice regulation loss of the entire season.

It’ll be intriguing to see whether the Jets can continue this remarkable clip because it’s going to take winning hockey over a long period of time to make up the current gap in the standings. While the insertion of Maurice behind the bench was expected to produce a spark, not even the most diehard of Jets fans could have envisioned that the change would produce such a dramatic reversal of fortunes.

Rick LaFitte is an NHL Writer for Rant Sports

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