November 29 2011 11:05AM
With the Jets home for an extended period, it's time to re-examine the club's performance via the underlying numbers, as a follow up to my review in late October.
Even Strength: Team
I chose this point in the season as a worthwhile spot to check the numbers because of the fact that Winnipeg's schedule has been very difficult to open the year, with most of the games away from the MTS Centre. When I reviewed the data before the Florida game on Hallowe'en, the club's Fenwick tied performance was running ahead of the overall record, with the Jets attaining a .526 EV-tied mark despite being 3-6-1, but the seriously road-heavy part of their program was only just beginning. Here's my comment from October 31st:
The club plays 15 of their first 23 games away from home, and a roster as thin as the Jets' is almost certain to exploited when the other coach has last change. I'd expect a fall off over the next few weeks, but if they can maintain any number above .500, that will be progress from last year.
As of this morning, Gabe Desjardins at Behind the Net has the Jets sitting at .508, good for 12th best in the league, so progress it is. Other than the home game versus Florida and the game in Washington last week, Winnipeg's been able to manage quite nicely at EV over the last thirteen games, and given the series of injuries on defence that the club has endured, that's the sign of a team that's likely showing genuine improvment.
Even Strength: Forwards
Claude Noel is still leaning on Slater and company to do a lot of the heavy lifting to this point, with the GST line running in the top three spots in quality of competition. Those three gents are also the only regular forwards to have ZoneStart numbers below 50%, so it should be no surprise that they're being outshot by a significant amount 5v5.
I suppose that one could characterize Noel's approach as forcing a few to suffer so that others might prosper, and that appears to be the case though the first quarter of the year. The remainder of Winnipeg's regular forwards are on the good side of the outshooting numbers, which is only fair with the leg up the coach has given them. The Jets still need another forward and a half (the half being a fully fit Eric Fehr) before they can seriously consider making any sort of playoff run in my view, but the men up front have been fairly decent in the main.
This also might be a good time to make note of how solidly Kyle Wellwood has played this year. He's only +1 by conventional measures, but with a PDO of .968, that's more a matter of fortune than performance. The Jets outshoot by a significant margin when he's out there generally, and his EV-tied Shots/Fenwick/Corsi line reads .612/.558/.586. In other words, the Jets get about 60% of the shots when he's on the ice in tied situations. A team full of players like that would be called the Detroit Red Wings, obviously, so with Winnipeg not quite operating at that level, Wellwood isn't getting carried along by others. 700k well spent, I'd say.
Even Strength: Defencemen
What's most notable here is that the club has survived despite the absence of their best defender for the last month. Tobias Enstrom is a terrific player, and his injury has likely hurt the team's ability to close out a couple of games. Overall, though, I have no serious complaints about what we've seen thus far. Byfuglien has cleaned up most of the egregious stuff in his game, and the call ups have survived with minimal fuss.
One thing that's notable is that unlike the forwards, Noel hasn't really punished one set of defencemen in terms of QComp or ZoneStarts in the same way that he's used the GST line. That stipulated, Byfuglien/Stuart have been receiving some fairly difficult assignments in the last few games, with their head to head match against Ovechkin and company last Wednesday being most notable.
That sort of utilization has taken a bit of the load off of Bogosian, which isn't a bad idea. He and Byfuglien are, for all of their physical abilities, still learning how to be NHLers at a very difficult position, so burying either of them every night is likely a bad idea, and Noel's spreading of the pain suggests to me he's in concurrence. Once Enstrom and Hainsey return to full fitness in the next month or so, I wouldn't surprised to see a Bogosian-Enstrom/Hainsey-Oduya/Byfuglien-Stuart set up, with all three pairs taking a turn at tough comp depending on the nightly match ups.
Even Strength: Goaltending:
Gabe's numbers still suggest that the club has a ways to go in this area, with the team's overall 5v5 SV% hovering in the bottom half of the league, but Pavelec has really turned things after the debacle in Philadelphia, batting .933 in his 13 subsequent outings. It might take another month of good play to even out the terrible start the team had, both in terms of careless play and poor goaltending, but Pavelec and Mason seem headed in a good direction as of today.
This is the one obvious weak point thus far, as the sheer number of penalties has often undone the good work the team has done at EV, with the Jets having been shorthanded on 30 more occasions than the opposition. If teams just produce at an average rate of about 18% over the year, a full season of this nonsense will cost the Jets roughly 19 extra goals. They aren't good enough to overcome that type of deficit and be competitive, and this is the area where I think the injuries on D have hurt the club to the greatest degree.
If you look at the number of times the Jets have been shorthanded by period, you'll note that while the Jets have an average number of short-handed situations in the first period of games, no team has had as many second period infractions as the locals, and that the Jets only trail Dallas in third period penalties. The penalty differentials happen almost exclusively in these two periods as well, with the Jets being -17 in the second and -12 in the third.
It's my view that the absence of Enstrom and Hainsey not only has left the club without two very capable players in their own right, but has caused fatigue issues amongst the remaining four regular defenders, leading to a situation where the team seems to have difficulties in moving the puck out of their end as games progress. Throw in a forward corps that isn't the league's deepest, and maybe it's not such a surprise that the Jets struggle to stay out of the box or hold a lead as the night wears on.
Summing it all up, when I went through this exercise in October, I mentioned that if the team still looked decent at EV after a stretch of games where they were mostly living out of suitcases, I'd expect them to finish outside of the lottery positions, and from what I've seen thus far I think they're better than a bottom feeder.
The Jets have managed to play at a decent level overall, and given that the ongoing injuries to Enstrom and Hainsey have certainly held the team back to this point, if the club can continue their overall competence at home, they might get to the end of December both healthy and in the race for 8th. That's about as good as anyone could have realistically hoped for starting the season, and would represent legitimate progress from where the team was when they left Atlanta.