JGD 35: Civil War

Kevin McCartney
December 16 2013 02:12PM

It seems just a little fitting that the team is rolling through Columbus on their way to their first winable game in over a week against Buffalo. The team is emotionally fraught and seems to stand divided. Wheeler fired shots at the organization after another ugly loss to a division rival, while Claude Noel said his squad played with limited hockey inteligence against Dallas. 

If changes are made of any size, they will feel dramatic for a team that's run more like a family business than a professional sports franchise (a vaguely anti-Russian family business). Three years in, the core of the team and much of the coaching staff remains the same without the results to justify it. 

Mark Chipman and Kevin Cheveldayoff call it 'loyalty.' But on this club, it's a loyalty divided, and things are reaching the point that management is going to have to pick their allegiance - the players or the coach. 

Lines

Jets Forwards

  • Ladd - Little - Wheeler
  • Thorburn - Jokinen - Setoguchi
  • Kane - Scheifele - Frolik
  • Wright - Albert - Tangradi

Now, these lines are from DailyFaceoff.com and they're not always perfect. For instance, it's hard to believe a team would play two players out of position in order to keep the lesser of the two higher up in the roster. But I suppose that's the Jets in a glimpse.

Thorburn's best game since returning to the Western Conference came against a disorganized Stars club with a very poor defence group, though he was directly involved in a goal against and took a dumb penalty. Even his assist was on the Jets' too little, too late 4th goal at the end of the third and was just a scrum won by Olli Jokinen. But hey, it was his first positive corsi game since the Panthers and the line's first point since the game against the Rangers. So obviously that was just a bad week and things are back on track for the Jets' newest top-6 scorer.

Evander Kane pulls back in and is on a line that may suit him. The centre is not effective defensively (Kane's used to that arrangement), but Frolik can dish and Scheifele is better suited to third fiddle on a scoring line anyway. 

He was nearing return by all accounts, but one wonders if he's rushing back to cover for the injury to Halischuk and suspension given to Peluso. It wouldn't even be the first time this season, and Kane's performance while sick with the flu was forgettable at best.

The team made room for another body by putting Hali on IR immediately, but hasn't called one up to my knowledge. The AHL is on holiday break, so... any time, guys. ("I saved us $50K over these last two weeks, Mark!" Kevin Cheveldayoff announces proudly at the year-end progress meeting.)

God speed, Jets.

Jets Defence

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

Typically when a team plays a back to back, the coach would put his starter against the better of the two squads. But with Pavelec struggling again and being beaten for 5 goals on 24 shots Saturday, Montoya gets the start. Buffalo will be the kick start for Pavelec, one presumes. Or perhaps the coach is back to wondering if Montoya's .921 save percentage in limited showings is worth a goaltender battle as Pavelec's numbers slide toward his wretched career average.

To review - Ellerby and Pardy made a successful third pairing. They managed the game and broke even against middle to poor competition. Ellerby turns awful when Stuart returns to the lineup to be his partner, and that duo throw a turnover party in the Jets' end. Ellerby gets scratched, Stuart promoted to play with Trouba. Trouba turns awful. Meanwhile, Clitsome and Pardy have a pretty rough game together against Dallas. 

If we go back to the start of the year when Noel threw up his hands and asked the media what he's supposed to do with this lineup, we see a ridiculous pattern of mutual failure. The GM has given his coach 5 options for his bottom 4 (understanding the predictable injury to Bogosian). Those options are a rookie, three cast-aways (Clitsome and Ellerby on waivers, Pardy let walk from Buffalo), and Mark Stuart who couldn't hold Ron Hainsey's jock even though it was most commonly found around his ankles last season. 

With that disaster, Noel fails to see that Mark Stuart's frenetic, puck-oblivious style is creating a black hole on his roster and continues to hammer away at that round hole with a square peg.

Again, it's the little things. What's he supposed to do with this roster? Apply some consistent evaluative criteria and start some accountability. 

Blue Jackets Forwards

  • Foligno - Johansen - Umberger
  • Calvert - Dubinsky - Atkinson
  • Jenner - Anisimov - Comeau
  • Letestu - MacKenzie - Tropp

The injury list for this team is unbelievable. Gaborik, Horton, and Boll up front. Wisniewski, Bobrovsky, and McElhinney from the defence group.

And still, the lineup has as much raw talent as the Jets' group, or perhaps more. 

Ryan Johansen is living up to his promise as a offensively gifted, big-bodied, even strength scorer. He leads the club with 26 points on the season, and also in even strength goals and points with 8 and 16 respectively. Just 21 years old, Johansen is playing with the worst zone stars on the team, against some of the toughest competition and is a positive corsi player on top of being their leading scorer. At some point - and it might be very soon - we're going to have to talk about this kid as the next Anze Kopitar. 

Brandon Dubinsky has resurrected his career from those two bad season, but I'm not sure who is noticing. He's second on the team with 21 points (13 at even strength), plays in all three disciplines, and is second on the team in relative corsi numbers to his linemate Matt Calvert. 

Artem Anisimov has always had the promise of a terrific scorer, but with two of the team's stars out of the lineup, he's drawn the short straw for linemates. Still, he's averaging almost 2 shots a game and his 14 points in 33 games puts him ahead of the Jets' third line centre.

Overall, this team has tremendous size and grit. They are turning into a prototypical Western conference team (despite moving East), and when Gaborik returns (this week, say rumours) and Nathan Horton makes his debut (after Christmas), this club will be formidable.

Blue Jackets Defence

  • Tyutin - Johnson
  • Savard - Murray
  • Nikitin - Prout
  • McKenna
  • Smith

Well, except for this mess. 

Wisniewski's injury is a major one for this club. He's third on the team in scoring, and is expected to generate a lot of offence against middle opposition, as well as support rookie Ryan Murray. As well, Nikita Nikitin has fallen off expectations he set last year, and is holding his own against the very dregs of the opposition. They need him to slot up the lineup to take the pressure of the young David Savard, but he's not up to the task this season. Trade rumours swirl, and he might be another Columbus reclaimation project worth considering for the Jets.

For now, though, the Blue Jackets are most in need of a healthy goalie. Bobrovsky is no where near his Vezina pace from last season, but is better than third-stringer Mike McKenna. Bob's .909 this season is tied with Pavelec for 'blerg' worthy, but his career average of .915 is well clear of Pav's .907 and gives reason for hope. 

Wis is just a week or so away, but Bob is a long way off. 

With all these major injuries, the Blue Jackets have kept pace with the Jets, albeit in the weaker Conference. Their 4-5-1 record against the West is miles better than the Jets' 6-12-4 record. 

The hope the Jets have is against their defence, and the Jets have to ensure they don't end up in a fire fight like against Dallas. Dallas was a mess in the neutral zone and their own end, and I suspect the Jackets will be the same way. It's up the Jets to keep the puck there and to tighten their own defensive coverage to avoid another shaming.

The next time these two teams play is January 11th, when the Jackets will presumably have most of their talent back in place. No time like the present to get two points. 

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Kevin is a regular contributor to 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
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