JGD 34: Afternoon Delight

Kevin McCartney
December 14 2013 12:07PM

Today the Jets face the only team with a worse powerplay over the last three seasons, and one of the two Central Division opponents tied with them at 33 points. The Stars have managed those points in 3 fewer games, and in the face of seemingly constant injury, but that won't stop us from making the comparison.

It's also a game where the team names seem strangely apt. The Jets are still testing their ceiling in game 34, seemingly stuck in the R&D phase of this flight project. 

At the other end of the rink, the Stars are searching for answers to the mysteries of the hockey universe. How does hyrdostatic pressure mean we're both always imploding and exploding? Which players form our gravity well, and which are the reactive elements? Why aren't we producing more solar neutrinos, the corsi of star analytics? 

It's a matchup that deserves a Sunshine type film. 

Lines

Jets Forwards

  • Ladd - Little - Wheeler
  • Thorburn - Jokinen - Setoguchi
  • Halischuk - Scheifele - Frolik
  • Wright - Albert - Peluso 

The team is 2-2-1 with Thorburn on that second line, and since returning to the Western Conference, Thorburn has been on for 10 even strength shot attempts for and 30 against in two games. He's also been on for 3 even strength goals against, in case you thought he was a defensive stalwart and keeping things out of the net. 

No, in fact, the line is the mess we all expected when it came together. It was lightning in a bottle, which as we all know, shatters the bottle and uses the holder of the bottle to ground. 

Jets Defence

  • Enstrom - Byfuglien
  • Clitsome - Trouba
  • Stuart - Ellerby
  • Pavelec
  • Montoya 

The team badly misses Zach Bogosian, still weeks away for returning. Still, there are some fixes on this back-end that are frustrating in their simplicity.

Keaton Ellerby is currently a 45% corsi player, which, depending on the context, is a reasonable range for a defensive defenceman playing third pairing minutes. When we break it apart, however, he's actually a 50% corsi player with Adam Pardy (a duo that was not scored against at evens in their limited 66 minutes together), and a 40% corsi player with current partner and known-anchor Mark Stuart. In fact, Ellerby is a 50% corsi player in the 150 minutes of even strength ice time he's played away from Stuart. It's only his 103 minutes with the Assistant Captain that he is downright awful. 

And I don't mean to say corsi is the only measure of a player. I think, in fact, that we can see the difference by eye as well. Ellerby moved the puck confidently with Pardy, and is giving it away with dangerous regularity with Stuart. He supported up ice with Pardy, and let go a few shots. He had 6 shots on net in the 9 games he played before Stuart came back from injury, and has had 4 in the 10 since Stuart returned, despite increased minutes. 

The simple truth about this roster is that the team is throwing good minutes after bad on a handful of problem players. Mark Stuart is the single biggest problem on this roster, and the team has shown that through the bargain bin in free agency (Adam Pardy) and the waiver wire (Keaton Ellerby, Grant Clitsome), that they can find better defenders without resorting to a HF Boards fantasy of Chris Thorburn for Jeff Petry. But when it comes to this coach, you can only lead him to the water. And when it comes to this General Manager, well, let's hope someone gets him a dowsing rod for Xmas. 

Stars Forwards

  • Benn - Seguin - Nichushkin
  • Cole - Eakin - Chaisson
  • Whitney - Horcoff - Peverley
  • Roussel - Jeffrey - Garbutt

Each time the Jets play the Stars, Valerie Nichushkin has been on a higher line. Well, he's reached the top and is making a push for the Calder. He currently has 15 points on the year (one behind fellow rookie Alex Chaisson), but put up 7 points in 3 games just last week. His massive frame, slick hands, and exceptional offensive acumen make him a very interesting partner for the big guns. Seguin leads the team with 27 points in 28 games, and Jamie Benn is second with 26 points. 

Many will remember Seguin burning the Jets for four points in the first matchup of the season. He remains exceptionally dangerous.

Meanwhile, the team has assembled a tough minutes line of which the Jets should be jealous in Ray 'The Wizard' Whitney, Shawn 'previously miscast' Horcoff, and Rich 'I used to play for Atlanta' Peverley. The hockey IQ in that threesome is likely better than any Jets threesome on the ice today, even if their raw skill isn't that of a top group. 

An injury to Vernon Fiddler has made room for waiver wire addition and former Penguin Dustin Jeffrey. Somewhat surprisingly, Antoine Roussel is 6th on the team in scoring with 13 points, and Jeffrey is a noted AHL scorer. This line will face the Jets' fourth group, and it's hard not to give the edge to the Stars, even if its not a threesome that could play much tougher opponents successfully.

Still, what we see in the Stars' forward lineup is something the Jets should aspire to - balance, flexibility, and attainable depth. It's not the Blues on paper, but it's a group with much more to offer from top to bottom than the Jets.

Stars Defence

  • Goligoski - Dillon
  • Benn - Gonchar
  • Rome - Oleksiak
  • Lehtonen
  • Ellis

This is the time of year to really reflect on whether Dan Ellis is able to feed his family. It's about community, people. 

But the Jets will likley face the likes of Kari Lehtonen - the oft-injured goalie traded away by the Atlanta franchise to make room for the spunky young netminder Ondrej Pavelec. And we've never looked back! Not once have we coveted his .921 sv% this season, or thought 'man, his .915 career average would have meant a playoff berth for the Jets!' Nope. Not once.

The Stars' primary problem this year is on this backend. On paper, it's a bit of a weak group - especially after Robidas suffered a horrific ankle injury - but where Goligoski and Gonchar were expected to lead this group, Brenden Dillon has been the team's best defender by quite a margin. At even strength, Gonchar and Goligoski are playing opposite roles, with Gonchar getting a zone start push and weak opponents, and Goligoski starting more in the defensive end than any other defender. In both cases, the role isn't working as they are the worst corsi contributors on the club.

Their powerplay struggles have meant low scoring seasons for their two top-offensive d-men, as well. Gonchar and Goligoski each have just 9 points on the year, and things were worse the last time we checked in.

Jamie Oleksiak is getting an opportunity as a result, and the former 2011 14th overall draft pick is already averaging over 18 minutes through his first five games. The 6'7" behemoth is still coming into his body, but isn't expected to deliver much (any) offence in his career. With Aaron Rome as a partner, it's a wonder he's not delivering more offence for the other squads. It's been easy minutes so far this year, but the Robidas injury opens up a massive need for defensive skill that Oleksiak will be required to fill to some extent.

It feels like there must be a structural issue to set both their puck-moving defencemen off the rails at once, so I hope you'll watch along with me and let me know what you see.

All Too Specific Predictions

Olli Jokinen takes a dumb penalty early when he tries to water-ski out of the corner, and Seguin rips a powerplay marker past Pavelec inside the first five minutes. Already poor in afternoon matchups, the Jets are now deflated and ride it out to a 1-0 first period finish with 15 shots against Pave and 4 against Lehtonen. A second period flurry results in a bad Clitsome giveaway for a Ray Whitney to Alex Chaisson (off the change) connection that puts the Stars up 2-0 mid-way through the second. Frustrated, the Jets scamble back into it with a Ladd marker that belies the fact that the flow of play is controlled by the Stars. The game ends up 4-2 on the back of goals by Dillon (off Trouba), Byfuglien, and an empty netter by Horcoff. 

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Kevin is the Managing Editor of Jets Nation. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, The Sporting News, and around the Nations Network. An enthusiastic over-analyst, his background and interests are diverse, but you might notice he's obsessed with hockey. Track him down on twitter @kevinmccart or @nhljetsnation
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