December 29 2013 04:37PM
Inspired by the Jets' love for the television show Suits, I started watching the program. It's a show about extremely well dressed corporate lawyer geniuses from Harvard who sometimes cross the line to do the right thing, and quote movie lines to each other until the conflict of the episode resolves itself. It ranks right up there with Entourage as a vacuous male empowerment fantasy, but it did help me realize the players' plan for the season. They're waiting for a deus ex machina moment to save them, a moment where Claude Noel will tilt his head during an unrelated conversation and says 'I've got it,' and then the team won't be able to lose.
After an anomolous, high-scoring win against the Minnesota Wild, the team may not have a solution to a sub-.500 record, but they may have an injunction that could stay the final judgement while they wait for one of the protagonists to make a move. Al Montoya stepped into that game after Pavelec had given up 9 goals in 58 minutes of play over two games. He was what we've come to expect - superb.
The seldom used back-up is 6-2-1 in games in which he's been given the decision, with a 2.14 GAA and .923 sv %. Now, we all know that Al Montoya is no Kari Lehtonen or Ryan Miller, but that's where his stats sit in limited showings. He lost decisively against Chicago 4-1 to quash his bid to take over the starting job earlier in the year, but it came two games after Pavelec lost to the same team 5-1. We can't say the record would be better with Montoya as the starter, and Pavelec has had short stretches that have been nothing short of exceptional.
But if the team is going to try to find a way to win, they may have to think outside the box and break some conventions to make it happen. At least, so says the team's favourite television show.
- Ladd - Little - Wheeler
- Kane - Scheifele - Frolik
- Thorburn - Jokinen - Setoguchi
- Tangradi - Wright - Peluso
The Jets almost never make a change after a win. It's a superstition from a coach who doesn't believe in the process of a hockey game, just its final score.
We know that's the case because even the goal the Jets' third line scored in Minnesota came when Setoguchi fired it on net, got his own rebound, passed it into Thorburn who couldn't handle it, so Setoguchi swooped in to pick it back up and then pass it to Jokinen for the goal. Have I mentioned that I don't think Thorburn does what they want for that line and Tangradi would be better?
At least Tangers (we can assume his nickname is Tangers, owing to the complicated code of hockey nicknames) is in the lineup tonight. Meanwhile, Eric O'Dell is in the press box learning yet another role on a hockey club. So far he knows: 1) top scoring centreman; 2) One man show on fourth line; and now 3) scape goat. Coach Noel believes in well rounded hockey players.
In all seriousness, this team has two strong lines, which it didn't have a year ago, and the mess in the bottom six is hardly new. The strides they're making with this forward group come from having a second line moreso than from Setoguchi being better than Wellwood or Jokinen being better than Antropov.
- Enstrom - Pardy
- Ellerby - Byfuglien
- Stuart - Trouba
These are the lines I've found for the Jets, but good gravy are they silly. Enstrom and Trouba were terrific together a game ago - being +4 with a point each and not being beaten for a single goal against while controlling possession. Just outstanding.
Julian Melchiori was not effective in his first 8 NHL minutes. There were shades of Ben Chairot, who went -3 in his first NHL contest. Noel was more careful with him than Chairot, but the process was much the same from a young man who simply isn't ready.
So Mark Stuart comes back, the warrior that he is for this team. And the coach immediately saddles Trouba with him. The pairing has been very poor and give up a lot of chances while being out-possessed heavily. Stuart's giant gap off the blue line always leaves his partners in a tough position of trying to control the top of the zone and their own back door. So, give it to the rookie. Just like Noel gives the worst zone starts to the rookie.
And at the same time, Noel hasn't given himself a tough minutes pairing to put against Duchene. The Enstrom-Pardy pairing is about 1 player short of being able to handle the skilled forwards of the Avalanche, and the Byfuglien-Ellerby pairing is in the same boat.
We can expect that Noel is not intending to match this game.
But! Al Montoya's in! He played this club before and made 33 stops on 36 saves. Sure seems like the Jets are banking on that kind of performance against.
- O'Reilly - Duchene - MacKinnon
- Landeskog - Stastny - Parenteau
- McGinn - Mitchell - Talbot
- Bordeleau - Cliche - McLeod
This club really missed Alex Tanguay, who had 9 points in his 13 games and gave them three high quality lines. But his timetable just keeps getting longer, and the Avs have fallen out of meaningful contention for the Division title since he left the lineup.
That said, they're still in third in the Central, have a goal differential of +13 (Jets are -11) and have points in 6 of their last 10 games. They still seem likely to make the playoffs, and a large part of that is Matt Duchene and his 34 points in 34 games. He hung three points on the Jets in their last contest (a 4-3 SO loss for the Jets).
The team has six players over 20 points on the season, including 18 year old rookie Nathan MacKinnon, but Duchene is the team's offensive catalyst. His slick hands and incredible vision make him dangerous in every moment he has the puck. There aren't many players who can say that at the NHL level.
His support cast is surprisingly physical and defence-oriented. Stastny and O'Reilly were hoped at one time to be Krejci and Bergeron, Landeskog is one of the best two-way wingers under 25 in the league, and Max Talbot has been a checker on some very successful clubs.
Together, they pressure the puck very effectively, and fill passing lanes like a football team. It's always a tough night for the Jets' defencemen against Colorado.
- Hejda - Johnson
- Sarich - Benoit
- Barrie - Guenin
The club drastically improved its defence corps this off-season, but is still a top-4 player away from a playoff quality group. They bought low on Andre Benoit, and have shown that he was misunderstood and under appreciated in Ottawa. Jan Hejda and Erik Johnson have been a functional tough minutes pairing all season. Combined, they're a plus 28. And Hejda showed his value when he was injured as the team went 2-3-0, including an ugly 8-3 affair against the Oilers to kick off December.
But Cory Sarich was a healthy scratch last game, and doesn't appear to be a top-4 defender on a successful team. As well, Tyson Barrie is in the lineup because Ryan Wilson is hurt. His 7 points in 23 games has been disappointing to Fantasy owners who expected him to be the next offensive dynamo in the West.
Giguere was in the net for the team's 7-2 loss to Chicago that got so much media attention. Sharp had his birthday hat trick on the old man, and took a bit of shine off this season. But Varlie still has a sparkling .926 sv % and we can envy a team where the starter is the one who stepped into a game and solidified things.
This game is winnable without a doubt. The Avs have made massive strides this year, including Varlamov becoming less frantic in the net, the defence group turning over, and some key additions up front. But it's still a shallow team that actually looks a lot like the Jets with a better goalie and more structure. They need another top-9 forward, another left handed top-4 defender, and continued injury luck to compete. But in order for the Jets to win, they have to find a way to shut Matt Duchene down, and I won't be surprised if Enstrom has a new partner by the second period for just that reason.