November 18 2013 12:33PM
The Calgary Flames come to town today, and it offers Jets fans a chance for some perspective. As frustrating as it is to be 11th in the West, taking two steps forward and two steps back every week, and having to play the Wild and Blackhawks seemingly constantly, the Flames have just a single point in 6 games and sit above only the Oilers for 13th in the Conference.
Calgary came into the season as pundit punching bags, but started the year with points in each of their first fiive games. The 8 points from those 5 games has been followed by 7 points in the last 15 games. Since top defender Mark Giordano was injured on against the Kings October 21st, the team has gone 2-9-1. Season, meet cliff.
The truth of their team still holds true, however. A gritty mashup of speedy third liners every team would drool to have and a few dynamic scorers managed by a competent coach means the Flames could play spoiler in Winnipeg's desperate need for two more points.
The central problem in Calgary is one the Jets are very familiar with, and is reflected in their goaltending. Out of three goaltenders to take the net for the Flames, Joey MacDonald leads them in save percentage at .885. Yeesh.
But it's not all the goaltender's fault, of course. The Flames average 3.7 goals against per game, and that's a team effort. Only the Oilers are in the same ball park on that number. And even the Oilers have better special teams.
Having traded Phaneuf and Bouwmeester from their Terrible Threesome some years back, it's no surprise that the Flames are having trouble on the back end. Dennis Wideman, TJ Brodie, and Kris Russell now lead the Flames blueline in average ice time with Giordano's ankle broken. You might have noticed a common thread in that group - they're all puck movers.
The structure of the Flames is a 'quick up' transition, and a mucking in-zone system with blueliners providing the offence. Giordano had 9 points in his 8 games. Wideman has 12, and Russel 10 through 20 games. For the 15th ranked offence in the league, those are intentionally impressive totals from the back end.
The Jets have traditionally done similar things, and run their offence through their defence. Dustin Byfuglien is scoring from everywhere at the moment, tipping in a spinning Bryan Little shot from the goal line at even strength last night, after a wrister and a slap shot on the powerplay against Philadelphia.
Apart from the Great Wanderer, though, the Jets have mostly gone away from expecting offence from their blueline. Bob Hartley noted the Jets size in his pre-game comments, saying this would be a game 'for men.' His gender politics aside, he's right that the Jets play a physical game, particularly in the offensive zone. Much of their in-zone offence comes from a relatively stationary cycle play, with Ladd or Kane often playing trigger man just off centre in the slot. The Jets also use their size to push defenders back and open up a lane around the top of the circles for a lateral pass. Little has been scoring a lot on that play and is currently tied for 9th in the NHL with 11 goals.
The primary battle of the game, then, will take place on the end-boards. Can the Flames move the puck past the hulking men in Polar Night blues before the Jets' size becomes a problem? Can the depleted Jets defence corps out-muscle the speedy grinders from the visiting team?
- Ladd - Little - Wheeler
- Kane - Jokinen - Setoguchi
- Frolik - Scheifele - Halischuk
- Tangradi - Wright - Thorburn
I'm going to stop predicting Peluso's return. I might be jinxing it.
By now we've seen the drill - Tangradi and Halischuk are splitting time on the third line, with Frolik moving back and forth between left and right wing. There is an answer to this puzzle - at least to my mind. Scheifele is a 41% corsi player when paired with Halischuk, and a 56% corsi player when paired with Tangradi. Tangradi doesn't score, we know that now. But he gets the puck into the right end and grinds well. His puck retrieval skills are critical for the young Scheifele to get multiple opportunities.
Meanwhile, Halischuk actually plays better with Wright! They were the best 4th line duo the Jets have had this season, and no doubt Ivan Telegin would look pretty good on the left wing of that big, fast line. What? They waived him and he went to Russia? Right.
Travis was very impressed by Jokinen last night. I was less impressed, but I think we can all agree that Jokinen is miles better this year than last. Maybe he'll have some extra punch against an old team. And by that I mean, maybe he won't just circle by his check and actually stop to check him. I won't hold my breath.
- Clitsome - Byfgulien
- Enstrom - Ellerby
- Pardy - Redmond
Montoya gets the start! Common sense prevails!
Keaton Ellerby has done very well for the Jets so far, especially for a waiver wire addition. But as usual with this coach, if a player does well in one role, he gets given another. He was on for both goals against last night in his 20+ minutes, and both passes came from his side of the ice, below the goal line, while he was checking the player not quite well enough. He has footspeed issues. This was known since draft day. He played very well with Adam Pardy, and that two-some should be reunited. Even if they have to take more minutes than the 12-14 they're used to, at least they're doing it together.
Grant Clitsome and Dustin Byfuglien are worth the price of admission, but more so if you don't care who wins. Those guys are high event. They'll need to calm it down this game after being owned in the scoring chance differential a night ago.
The Flames team site has given their own projected lines, but I'm not sure as to their accuracy. They seem really weird to me, so my apologies to Flames fans in the event that these are not the lines. Also, my apologies to Flames fans if they are the lines.
- Cammalleri - Stajan - Stempniak
- Jackman - Monahan - Hudler
- Galiardi - Backlund - D. Jones
- Bouma - Colborne - McGrattan
Maybe the Flames didn't get the memo - the Jets are big, but they don't fight. What use is Tim Jackman and Brian McGrattan in one line up against the Jets? Worse, they've scratched the young Sven Baertschi again to make it happen. It's a game for men, after all, and real men don't score goals.
I've been a bit concerned with Monahan's -8 on this team, but he plays a lot with Chris Butler and/or Shane O'Brien on the ice. Now with Jackman? The 18 year old is carrying a line along with Jiri Hudler. It's all about development, right Bob Hartley? Speaking of that tandem, Hudler leads the team with 20 points, and Monahan is second with 13. Cammalleri has 11 in just 13 games.
And that paragraph concludes our discussion of scoring.
This team really does have some strong forwards. All of Stajan, Stempniak, Galiardi, Backlund, and David Jones could all play supporting two-way roles with better clubs. With a second line LW, this team is inches away from icing an NHL quality top 9.
Have they tried Joe Colborne there? It seems like a waste to have him on the 4th line.
- Russell - Wideman
- Butler - Brodie
- Smid - O'Brien
Good gravy. Kris Russell struggled to get a roster spot on two different NHL franchises, and Chris Butler might be among the worst defencemen currently being paid in the NHL. Among them, I remind you, because Shame O'Brien should be in the same conversation.
Much like we discussed with the Jets against Nashvile, this team might do better by putting Smid with Brodie and only playing 4 defencemen. Butler and O'Brien could likely handle the 8 minutes of James 'no points' Wright and company, but by spreading out their talent, they're just kinda bad all the time. And I mean all the time.
New addition Ladi Smid will always look strange in a Flames jersey. I know he was drafted by the Ducks, and I even got used to Staios floundering around in those colours. But Smid was a personal Oiler favourite for his big smile and constant, unnecessary violence after the whistle. Why does he just go off?! No one ever figured that out. But from one failing team to another he goes, and because of it, many Jets will be face washed tonight as soon as the whistle blows.