Early on, the Jets have been hampered by one glaring weakness: Steve Mason. The club inked the netminder this offseason, believing he could bring some balance to the position that's plagued the team for a handful of seasons.
However, that experiment, albeit through just three games, is off to a disastrous start, as Mason is 0-3-0 and has given up 16 goals (including at least five in each game) while posting a 5.96 goals-against average and .846 save percentage.
Meanwhile, his counterpart, Hellebuyck, has been the polar opposite, going 3-0-0 with a 2.11 GAA and .937 save percentage.
Comparing the Jets' play through six games, there doesn't appear to be a dramatic discrepancy in their wins versus losses:
|In wins||Stat||In losses|
|28||Shots for per game||30.33|
|33.33||Shots against per game||38.33|
|-5.33||Shot differential per game||-8.33|
With no back-to-back scenario Tuesday, Maurice elected to go with Mason, likely in an attempt to get him back on track, but a 5-2 defeat to the Columbus Blue Jackets was the end result.
"I feel for (Mason) because I think he kept it right for as long as he could," Maurice said postgame, according to NHL.com's Scott Billeck. "We didn't have enough going for us in this game. Just too darn slow to give him a chance to win us a game."
The question is, how many chances can the Jets afford to give Mason before he finally wins a game? The answer should be none.
It's not quite panic time yet, but in a stacked division that includes the Blackhawks and Blues, who are off to hot starts, the surprising Avalanche, the reigning Stanley Cup finalists in Nashville, a rejuvenated Stars club, and the Wild, who are too good to finish last in the division, there's not much room to stumble.
It's time for Hellebuyck to take a run at the No. 1 position for a prolonged stretch, beginning Friday when the Jets host the Wild. From there, Winnipeg will enjoy a five-day break before a back-to-back against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets.
If Hellebuyck can shine in Pittsburgh, it doesn't make sense to go back to Mason against the Blue Jackets. Hellebuyck should realistically be able to play the next nine games before another set of back-to-backs.
With four of those games coming against division rivals (two each against the Wild and Stars) it's imperative the Jets get ahead of the competition, and that's best done with their strongest option between the pipes.
The Jets are still in the thick of it in the early going, and have the offense to contend with anyone, but the club can't let goaltending continue to be their Achilles' heel.