If January doesn’t cool Jets, look out

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For a franchise that’s never won a playoff gamelet alone a series, it’s probably wise to be conservative in praising the Winnipeg Jets.

Then again, with a name like the Jets, it also makes sense that this team might rapidly raise its ceiling.

During spans of 2017-18, it looked like the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators might cement their respective grips on the top spot in the Central Division. If you look at the standings right now, the Jets currently hold that position; they lead every other division rival by at least two points, with games played being all over the place.

So far, losing Mark Scheifele hasn’t fueled a collapse, either, as they’ve won four of five in his absence. The Blake Wheeler at center experiment is an early success.

It also only seems reasonable to assume that Connor Hellebuyck might start to slip. His .923 save percentage and 23-4-6 record both seem difficult to sustain, yet it gets tougher to label it all a fluke the deeper we get into the season.

Beyond regression, what might trip them up, then?

The quickest answer is their schedule, but here’s the thing: if the rest of January doesn’t provide a major speed bump for this team, then Winnipeg really might have something cooking. Take a look at the remainder of this month:

Tue, Jan 9 @ Buffalo
Fri, Jan 12 @ Chicago
Sat, Jan 13 @ Minnesota
Sat, Jan 20 @ Calgary
Sun, Jan 21 vs Vancouver
Tue, Jan 23 @ San Jose
Thu, Jan 25 @ Anaheim
Tue, Jan 30 vs Tampa Bay

Considering their 9-8-6 road record, the Jets are more susceptible to slipping during the next few weeks, what with six of eight games away from home.

One saving grace could be the bye week. As you can see, the four-game road trip is broken up into something more like a three-game road trip and then a back-to-back in Calgary on Jan. 20 and then a home date against the Sharks the next day.

Looking at the rest of the Jets’ schedule, they could very well be among the most vulnerable teams to “streakiness,” as they face long stretches of home games and lengthy road trips. That Jan. 30 game against the Lightning begins a whopping 10-game homestand, for instance.

Winnipeg ranks as one of the most electrifying teams in the NHL, particularly when they’re at full strength. If you’re a fan of their style, you’ll need to root for everyone involved to keep a cool head during those tougher spans, because there could be some bumps in the road.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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