JGD 53: FACTS IS FACTS

Rhys Finnick
January 25 2014 06:05AM

Jokinen with the German Suplex on Thornton.

Let's face it: the Winnipeg Jets do not sport a winning record. With a mere 51 points in 52 games, there aren't too many teams across the league you'd expect the Jets to beat with relative ease. Edmonton, Calgary, Buffalo, maybe Florida, but the buck stops there.

Except, of course, for the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs.

If you follow the Toronto Maple Leafs, you know they are perhaps the most scrutinized franchise in the NHL. This isn't necessarily without reason - after all, the Leafs are the most profitable of the league's thirty teams. As Uncle Ben would say, with great power comes great responsibility, and Toronto certainly isn't without its critics.

While the Leafs are currently duking it out with several other teams for a wild card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, the Jets are comfortably in last place in Western's Central Division, depsite a recent four game win streak. The Maple Leafs are nine points ahead of the Jets (59 to 51) with one game in hand, but one can't help but view the Jets as the favorite in Saturday's match-up.

With the recent and successful return of Evander Kane, the Jets have been able to restore a balance to their roster, making their top nine forwards a potential threat against any other team. Thursday's 1-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks exposed a few of Winnipeg's weaknesses unnoticed since Maurice's hiring, but the Jets already seem to be on the track to realizing their potential, and Saturday's game against the Leafs should be a good measurement of where these Jets are truly at.

Wins against slumping Phoenix, Calgary, and Edmonton squads (plus a fortunate victory against the Ducks) perhaps made the Jets look farther along than they are, but the Leafs share a similar story. Both teams are Canadian, and thus, are under a highly focussed microscope. Media in both cities put unrealisitic expectations on their teams, and winning streaks of any size become preludes to Stanley Cup parades. Each team sports an eclectic mix of up-and-comers and veterans, yet they lack the depth to be called definite playoff contenders.

LINES

JETS FORWARDS

  • Ladd - Little - Frolik
  • Kane - Scheifele - Wheeler
  • Setoguchi - Jokinen - Byfuglien
  • Thorburn - O'Dell - Peluso

As of this writing, these line-ups on dailyfaceoff.com haven't been updated since Thursday's loss to the San Jose Sharks. For those of you who watched this game, we know this just won't do.

The third line was completely and utterly exposed against the Sharks (much like they were against the Ducks). The combination of Byfuglien playing outside of his comfort zone at forward, Setoguchi skating on his off-wing for the first time in this NHL career, and all three linemates being excruciatingly slow skaters makes this line an offensive and defensive liability.

Eric O'Dell sat in the press box last game in the place of James Wright, who took over centring duties on the fourth line. This was a curious decision by Maurice, as O'Dell had three points in his previous five games while averaging just over seven minues of ice time under the new coach. Perhaps Maurice didn't like what he saw of O'Dell's defensive game, but there is no doubt O'Dell is a signifiacant upgrade over Wright.

JETS DEFENCE

  • Bogogian - Enstrom
  • Stuart - Trouba
  • Pardy - Ellerby
  • Pavelec
  • Montoya

Maurice may look to ice the same defensive line-up after this grouping only gave up one goal to the dominant Sharks, but that may turn out to be a mistake. With Pavelec pulled late in the third, Maurice stuck Byfiuglien on the ice to play defence. Jets play-by-play announcer Dennis Beyak commented that may have been Maurice simply trying to get all his best players on the ice, but the D need help and Byfuglien is the most obvious and immediate answer.

Pavelec took a painful shot in the blocker-side shoulder from Brent Burns on Thursday, but stayed and finished the game. Montoya could potentially get the start, but if Pavelec is ready to play, you know he will.

LEAFS FORWARDS

  • van Riemsdyk - Bozak - Kessel
  • Kulemin - Kadri - Lupul
  • Raymond - Holland - Bodie
  • Ashton - McClement - Orr

The Leafs line-up has been greatly compromised by the injuries of David Bolland and David Clarkson. Bolland went down with a severed ankle tendon against Vancouver in early November, and Clarkson has been a disappointment all season, missing a combined 17 games and counting this season due to injury and suspension.

Unexpected offense from Raymond and Holland are nice, but nary enough to make up for the disappointment of Bolland and Clarkson, the regression of Kadri and Lupul from the shortened lock-out year, the useless fourth line, and the streaky offense of Phil Kessel.

The Jets have a slight edge in forward depth, and hopefully realize it by dressing the right players.

LEAFS DEFENCE

  • Gunnarsson - Phaneuf
  • Franson - Gleason
  • Gardiner - Rielly
  • Reimer
  • Bernier

The Leafs defence have been a picture of inconsistancy. Phaneuf's looked tired at times, Franson and Gardiner have underperformed, and the opposition has been scoring goals galore. The Jets can penetrate this defensive corps with an aggressive forecheck, and have fast and skilled enough forwards to gain the Leafs zone whenever they see fit.

Reimer gets the start against the Jets, but neither Leafs goalie have been particularly strong as of late. This mostly has to do with the fact that the Leafs are bad at forward and defence.

SUMMARY

With a good, honest effort, the Jets should be able to outwork the Leafs. Toronto may have more raw talent in their core player structure, but the Jets feature more versatility, and with the right coaching adjustments, Winnipeg should be able to win if they play a patient game.

 

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Rhys is an aspiring stand-up comedian and put up 29 points in 18 beer league games last year. He enjoys hockey, twitter (@Rhysus_Christ), and pretending like someone else wrote his bio for me.
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#1 ScottOCanada
January 25 2014, 08:42AM
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After losing 7-1 against the Stars, the Leafs will be out looking to right a wrong and if the Jets have collectively gotten over there hypothermia, it should be quite the tilt tonight.

You hit the nail on the head with O'Dell. He was pined for his weak backcheck attempt on the Ducks second goal on Tuesday and a general overall lapse in his defensive game. The NHL is to hockey what the heavyweight division is to boxing. If you don't think defence first, your going to get knockout out. And like so many players coming up to the Show, you have to be able to separate your wants from your needs. His WANTS are offensive but he NEEDS to think defensive all the time. That's what separates the contenders from the pretenders.

This same paradox applies to Byfuglien. He looks alot like Scheifele did his first dozen or so games. He's doing to much thinking and not enough of relying on his basic instincts to create. And like Scheifele, he'll be fine the further he goes moving forward. It would be a fool's journey to send him back to the point at this juncture. The Jets have surrendered a palty 1.66 GAA in their last five games and an amazing 1.5 GAA against two of the NHL's best. Their previous five games to that ... 4.8 GAA. The timing, as they same, would be most unfortunate.

Tonight Carlyle will be looking for the reset button to get his troops back on course. 7 games ago it was his panic button. For Maurice it will be an opportunity to see how his team handles the adversity of a loss for the first time. Should be a good game.

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#2 X
January 25 2014, 04:29PM
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@ScottOCanada

Ah.. Scott, I'm going to try not to get upset but a good look at the Ducks game will indicate to most that the goals against were not representative of the actual play on the ice (in fact, even the goals for were not as Hiller gave up at least two, arguably three softies). The Jets did play well defensively against the Sharks but San Jose still dominated the 2nd and 3rd - what the Jets really needed was someone that is really good at getting the puck out of the Jets end and into the speedy transitions that the Jets are so good at scoring with. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader who might be good at such a thing.

Byfuglien might very well get better at being a forward but I doubt he will ever rise to 5.2MM cap hit (5.7MM salary) value as a forward. Even as a good forward he represents a problem for the Jets off the blue line.

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#3 ScottOCanada
January 25 2014, 11:16PM
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@X

Hmmm...not quite sure what your getting at here. I called the Jets against the Ducks based on a number of things including statistics and probabilities. That's why I made a fistful of money on the game. Such is life and sport, and life is much too short to be upset at such trivial matters. Not all games represent the winning team as the most deserving.

As for Byfuglien, whether he makes 5.2 million dollars as a forward or as a defenceman is a moot point, as he's paid to scale no matter which position he plays.

If you closely watched tonights game, the Maple Laughs didn't deserve to be in the game, but they made it close and stole a point that wasn't theirs for the taking.

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#4 X
January 26 2014, 10:20AM
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@ScottOCanada

The big guy is making as much money as Wheeler and can't crack the top six, that just does not seem proportional to me.

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#5 ScottOCanada
January 26 2014, 12:57PM
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X wrote:

The big guy is making as much money as Wheeler and can't crack the top six, that just does not seem proportional to me.

Byfuglien's currency has always been his high risk, high reward style of play and that's not the mould that Maurice is attempting to cast here. He wants a controlled, precise defense first system and that does not play into the style that Byfuglien adheres best to. (Of course, playing with a pylon like Setoguchi and the cautious play of Jokinen isn't the ideal mix for what Buf's skill set allows him to do best either).

Having said that, I think at some point, putting Buf back on D may be an option that Maurice may want to exercise just to see in Buf can play to the system Maurice has put in place. And he may even thrive if he can keep his natural instincts in check. But right now, we have a hybrid that can play both and he's living in the best of both worlds by playing the point on the powerplay and in four on four overtime play. that may well be the niche for Byfuglien to earn that hefty paycheque of which you speak.

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