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Jets’ mini-series vs. Oilers provides important answers to pressing questions

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WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets look like a team that’s spent ample time studying for the exam.

They are clearly not in the procrastination stage or nervously cramming in the wee hours of the morning to try and eke out a respectable mark on that mid-term.

And while the true tests are really just beginning with the quarter-point of the season right around the corner, it’s fair to say this two-game mini-series with the Edmonton Oilers provided some important answers to a couple of pressing questions surrounding the Jets.

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For all of the chatter about improvements to personnel and a renewed commitment to playing without the puck as a five-man unit, testing your mettle against two of the very best players in the NHL in consecutive games represented an important evaluation ground.

After coming away with three of a possible four points after Thursday’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Oilers, it’s safe to say the Jets passed this appraisal with flying colours.

Sure, there was a bit of an expected sting to not earning the extra point in the penalty shot contest, especially after going zero-for-five on the power play, which included an inability to convert on a double minor that carried over into overtime.

That’s really just nit-picking, which is precisely what teams trying to show that they can be among the elite are required to do as they push to reach the gold standard in the Western Conference standings.

In two games against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl this week, the Jets allowed a single goal at even strength — and that came on an extraordinary individual effort from the Oilers captain just 28 seconds after Nikolaj Ehlers opened the scoring in the third period.

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That’s impressive, no matter how you dissect it.

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And it’s the type of effort that can help reinforce belief for a team with high hopes.

There’s plenty of competition in the Central Division specifically, but with the way the Jets played on Thursday after a 5-1-1 homestand, they’re serving notice that the hype surrounding the off-season moves was warranted.

This is a good hockey team that is beginning to show some noticeable signs of improvement, while recognizing there’s still room for future growth.

Much of the discussion this week centred around the Jets’ willingness to work as a five-man unit defensively.

“That’s exactly it. We were controlling the middle of our ice,” said Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who made 31 saves Thursday. “Getting in shot lanes, controlling rebounds, breaking the puck out really fast. It led right into our offensive game. We had our feet moving and it was working.”

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Hellebuyck is dialled in right now, delivering the type of Vezina-calibre play that is expected of him. He has allowed two goals or fewer in six consecutive starts while playing a technically-sound style and battling through traffic to find pucks and secure them. He’s calm in the crease and his composure inspires confidence right through the lineup.

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Hellebuyck will be a spectator on Friday night as the Jets face the Vancouver Canucks, but he’s earned the night off and will be well-rested when he’s back between the pipes on Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In the meantime, Eric Comrie is ready to build on his prior four strong showings as the Jets get set to face a Canucks club that has dropped five consecutive games and is clearly in desperation mode.

It’s natural for folks around these parts to draw some comparisons to the 2017-18 campaign, when the Jets finished second in the NHL behind the Nashville Predators and set franchise records for wins (52) and points (114).

Much of the core group remains intact, with several notable exceptions.

But the biggest difference relates to where those players are in their respective development paths.

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The aforementioned Hellebuyck isn’t early in his career and in the midst of serving notice to what type of goalie he might actually be. He’s an established veteran who not only is considered to be one of the very best at his position, he’s got the hardware to prove it.

The forward group remains dynamic, but there are no teenagers learning the ropes who might need to be sheltered or have their minutes monitored. There are snipers, playmakers, checkers and everything in between.

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There are a number of players on the roster playing better than they ever have before — and that’s saying something.

As for the defence, it’s not as physical as the one that included the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Ben Chiarot, Tyler Myers and Dmitry Kulikov, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t enough stiffness or skill to go around either.

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The current composition features a nice blend of qualities, while providing highly efficient zone exits and adding another layer to the offensive attack.

“We’ve got some size back there, we’ve got some intensity back there, some speed,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said earlier this week. “So we’ve got a little bit of everything and we’re putting some numbers up.”

The Jets aren’t just putting numbers up these days, they’re laying the foundation for the type of game that is required to achieve sustainable success when the going gets tough.

That’s part of the reason Maurice could barely contain his enthusiasm during his post-game session with reporters on Thursday night.

He got a glimpse of the team he’s envisioned and he can’t wait to see what the finished product is eventually going to look like.

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“Those are the two best games we’ve played this year, even in that five-game stretch that we won,” said Maurice. “Those were two well-played games. And they played hard, too, so it made it more valuable. We’ve seen a lot of growth in our team in our last two games.”



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The Chargers Have Difficult Offseason Decisions To Make

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The Los Angeles Chargers could be losing a few key contributors in the offseason.

Not only are these players a big part of their offense, but they are fan favorites as well.

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Keenan Allen and Gerald Everett are the most likely cap casualties for the Chargers, considering that they contribute to almost $20 million in cap space.

Allen was the third leading receiver for the Chargers in 2022, and Everett was the fifth.

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If they are to get cut or traded, the team will need to replace two high-impact players, not only for the team as a whole but for Justin Herbert as well.

Herbert has continued to grow as a passer, and Allen and Everett’s reliability are some of the reasons for his continued success.

The team may have to go back to the drawing board, either looking to the draft for a receiver or targeting free agency for a few budget weapons.

2022 marked the first time that the Chargers have made the playoffs since 2018.

Even though they ended up losing that game, it was a step in the right direction.

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The worst thing for the Chargers would be to take another step back, which is likely what would happen if both Allen and Everett leave.

From a historical lens, teams have been creative when navigating their cap situation, which is something that the Chargers could explore if they want to retain at least one of these players.

What will the Chargers look like in 2023?

Will Herbert be able to win his first playoff game?

The post The Chargers Have Difficult Offseason Decisions To Make appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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The Thunder Continue To Improve Their Postseason Chances

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Most people thought that the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t have much of a chance at greatness in the 2022-23 season.

That was even more true when they lost their rookie player, Chet Holmgren, to injury in the summer.

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And while the Thunder are still far from the top of the Western Conference standings, they are repeatedly impressing fans across the league.

The team has been surging since 2023 started.

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So far in the new year, the Thunder are first in offensive rating, first in net rating, first in points per game, first in three-point percentage, and have the sixth-best record since New Year’s Day.

Yes, they are currently the 12th team in their conference but they are just one game back from being qualified for the play-in tournament.

This last month has been spectacular for OKC.

They have beaten the likes of the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and others.

Their latest victory came on Saturday night when they decimated the Houston Rockets, 153-121.

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The importance and power of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander cannot be stressed enough, he has been leading the team in multiple ways.

So far this season, Gilgeous-Alexander has averaged 31 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 5.6 assists.

On Saturday night, he had yet another stunning game with his 42 points.

Of course, he has been getting a lot of serious help from Josh Giddey (16.2 points, 8 rebounds, and 5.9 assists), Lugentz Dort (14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists), Jalen Williams, and others.

The Thunder have a packed week ahead, facing off against the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, and New Orleans Pelicans.

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Can their impressive January lead to an impressive February too?

The post The Thunder Continue To Improve Their Postseason Chances appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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MLB Analyst Defends Padres Fans From Criticism

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From 2011 to 2019, the San Diego Padres had a losing record every single year, with no exception.

But around the end of last decade, you could already tell that the Padres, after their long rebuild in which they had no direction or purpose, were starting to do things the right way.

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They hired the right people to lead the baseball department, they dramatically improved their farm system, and they started spending like a team that wants to compete.

Since 2020, they have been very competitive.

They made the playoffs that year but fell in the first round.

They missed the postseason in 2021 but were in contention for much of the year, and made it again last year and reached the NL Championship Series.

They are getting closer and closer to the first World Series title in franchise history.

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As you probably can imagine, interest from fans just wasn’t there in the middle of last decade.

They had been losing for years, and they would lose for a few more.

Now, fans are very much involved and engaged in everything that has to do with the franchise.

We can see a notable difference in fanfest attendance.

Some people have criticized fans for being there during the good times.

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An MLB analyst, however, is downplaying that notion and pointing out to the logical fact that when there is interest by the ownership, there will be interest from fans because the on-field product will be attractive.

“Some folks will say bandwagon. I’m gonna go with, this is what happens when you have an owner who is all in. The past few years, there’s never been a question of whether or not the Padres have been all in on winning a championship,” Jared Carrabis tweeted.

The Padres brought in shortstop Xander Bogaerts this offseason, plus Nelson Cruz and the re-signing of Robert Suarez.

Last year, they traded for Juan Soto and Josh Bell.

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A few years back, it was Manny Machado.

You can tell that Padres ownership wants to win and acts like a team that wants to win.

Fans, obviously, are becoming more and more interested.

It’s how the business works and there is nothing wrong with that.

The post MLB Analyst Defends Padres Fans From Criticism appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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