JGD 45: The Drawing Board

Kevin McCartney
January 05 2014 02:46AM

The Jets' loss to Ottawa put them back at .500 hockey, and another loss to Boston makes this a forgettable road trip. It's 44 games in, and the club is back where it started on that hopeful October night in Edmonton. 

But not everyone is back at the beginning. The Jets have 37 games to overcome a 6 point deficit to a team with three games in hand for a Wildcard playoff spot. They'll need to leap-frog two Division rivals to do it. And their opponent today? The Penguins are 18 points clear of the Jets in one fewer game and stand atop the Metropolitan Division. With a +38 goal differential, the Penguins stand alongside the Bruins as the best Eastern Conference team the Jets have faced. 

Much more than the East/West split so often reported in the Jets' rate of success this season, quality of team has been the primary driver of wins and losses. The Jets are just 10-15-3 against 'Quality' teams, or teams that have more points than games played. Five of those ten wins were in the shootout, and another two in overtime. The Jets have managed just 3 regulation wins against teams with more points than games played. 

In contrast, their record is 9-5-2 against teams on pace for 82 points or fewer. That includes zero shootout wins - all 9 were in regulation. In their final 37 contests, the Jets face 'Quality' teams 27 times. It might get ugly.

Lines

Jets Forwards

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

I have to apologize for a lack of game coverage the last few days. I got back on the road again and internet has been inconsistent. But we're back!

Thorburn fighting Chara was terrific. I have no idea how he got Chara to go, but what a trade off for the Jets. Maybe he can get Crosby to go this afternoon. The Jets could use the break.

The LLW line is hitting a bit of a corrective. The line has been -4 over the last two outings, and the process hasn't been what we're used to over the last three (though a strong finish in Boston). We talked about Bryan Little having a very high shooting percentage when it seemed like nothing short of a brick wall could stop him. Well, now a shooter-tutor could do a pretty good job. He's without a goal in 9 games, and has only two assists in that time. He still leads the team in scoring, but Ladd and Wheeler have caught up slightly with 6 points each in that time in part thanks to a briefly revitalized powerplay. 

Thankfully, Evander Kane is still doing his thing. The team was eaten alive against the Bruins primarily because of organization and the Jets' inability to manage the puck in the top half of their defensive zone (offensively or defensively). We saw Scheifele and Frolik standing next to each other at the point again a few times defending and all manner of give aways early on the breakout play. But Evander Kane. That guy just gets the puck down the ice and on net.

Jets Defence

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

I predict Montoya because of the back-to-back situation and the fact that Pavelec wasn't exactly lights out against Boston, even if the team was out matched.

Hey, that Tobias Enstrom fellow sure is good at hockey. How he avoids contact so well is worth considerable examination. His timing, his gap work, his patience... Sweden will miss him this Olympics.

Dustin Byfuglien didn't get serious consideration for the American Olympic team, and we know the reasons. His speed isn't overwhelming (though the American team is slower than they promised), and he rarely puts together 60 minutes of mistake free hockey. But in his first 43 games this season, he had 31 points compared to 28 in 43 last season. His 3.4 shots per game average is outrageous, and there are very few defencemen in the league who could record 7 shots on net when their team is struggling the way Buf did against Boston. He's +4 since Christmas on a team that's gone 3-2-0 and +2. Not bad for a saboteur. 

What Would Mark Stuart Do? should be the motivational bracelet of a jaded and ironic generation of hockey players. 

Penguins Forwards

  • Kunitz - Crosby - Neal
  • Jokinen - Sutter - Gibbons
  • Pyatt - Vitalle - Adams
  • Glass - Sill - Engelland

Yowza that's a mess. The team is missing Malkin, Dupuis, Beau Bennett, Megna, and Connor at forward, as well as losing Dustin Jeffrey during the year. They've added Taylor Pyatt and still they play defenceman Derek Engelland at forward. 

But the mess has a top line that will be the focus of the Jets' game plan. Sidney Crosby has 62 points, 8 more than the player in second (Pat Kane). How do you shut down Crosby? We're going to hear a lot of 'five man effort' talk. The truth is that you can only limit his looks, and that means crowding his passing lanes and letting him go to areas you don't care about to protect the ones you do. He wins every battle behind the net off the end boards, and he always traps a defender. The Jets need to be smarter than we're used to in their own end. We'll see what Noel has gameplanned. Sometimes he has a surprise for the first period (that is usually countered in the second).

Penguins Defence

  • Maata - Niskanen
  • Orpik - Depres
  • Bortuzzo - Scuderi
  • Zatkoff
  • Fluery

The Jets face a lot of back-ups, and an inter-conference game against a lesser opponent probably means another back-up, too.

If you thought this group was more healthy, you haven't been paying attention. Paul Martin is still out with a broken leg. Kris Letang is being evaluated for this game, but has been missing time with an elbow injury. Tomas Vokoun hasn't played this year thanks to blood clots before the season. 

Brooks Orpik is only recently returned from a concussion. It seems like these head injuries are getting shorter and shorter to recover from this season, and Orpik was out cold and back 8 games later. Scuderi also returned at the end of December. So yes, there was a time in December when the Penguins were playing 5 AHL call ups in their top 6. 

What's this thing about organization and structure? Seems neat. 

 

Despite the great success of the Penguins, this is a winnable game for the Jets. The key is controlling their speed through the neutral zone and moving the puck against a very inexperienced group with much less practice time under Bylsma's system than the people they're replacing. Force mistakes through puck movement. Oh, and you just have to shut down Sindey Crosby. Even if the Jets come out flat as they always do in afternoon games, this one is worth watching just for 87 - the star of the Canadian Olympic team.

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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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#2 X
January 05 2014, 10:37AM
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WWMSD? Judging from the last game he would offer his partner no passing option from the corner when the puck finally is turned over so that they can enjoy another 30-45 seconds of being pinned in their own end. This misguided strategy of having no clear top 4 grouping must end, if this team is going to dress Stuart he needs to play sub-16 minutes a night not nearly 19. This is certifiably insane.

Stuart's increased ice time and the Thorburn Improvement Program is pushing me to a place where I do not want to be, believing in some sort of shadowy conspiracy to stealth-tank this Jets team for this season. Active sabotage is the only rational explanation at this point.

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#3 ScottOCanada
January 05 2014, 11:25AM
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@X

X, I think you might be right. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest an active sabotage or that a conspiracy theory is in effect to deliberately tank the season out, but there certainly seems to be a little aiding and abetting going on.

I think the Grand Wizard is operating from another plateau. One which has Thorburn being dragged down by his third line mates. Surely he is truly the "anchor" of that line in this alternate universe with his gifted hands made of a magical stone.

On their current flight path, I do indeed see the Jets having a crack at the top 5 in the 2014 draft.

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#4 ScottOCanada
January 05 2014, 08:35AM
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Unfortunately, I haven't got an artistic bone in my body, so when I saw your header with the word Drawing in it, I ran away screaming like a little school girl. Can' t even draw a conclusion. So I leave this up to the fine wordsmiths and analysts at JN to further extrapolate what would be on your Drawing Board once pen hit paper if you were the GM of this team. Perhaps you could could make it into a serial piece. It is a process after all. Next installment ...The Drive For Number Five, as in a top five pick in Philadelphia come June 27-28. After all, the prospect of the Jets cascading down four spots from their current 22nd position, with games in hand, seems more likely than entertaining any hopes of getting to the playoff line. I'm all about setting goals, so let's start there.

It would be an understatement to describe this draft as anything but unspectacular. Looks like the best you're going to get out of this graduating class is a second line forward or a number 3 or 4 defenceman. Might be an opportunity here for the Jets to package up a deal that would include their first round pick (straight up or a swap) and a coveted roster player to a team heading to the playoffs. As I see it, the Jets coming out party won't be happening until 2015-16, so getting players that should be good to go that year might be a strategy to pursue. What are your thoughts?

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#5 Scott
January 05 2014, 09:53AM
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The Jets are loaded with potential this season, no doubt. The just can't seem to break out past that .500 mark. With the Central divison as strong as it is this season, and the new playoff format, Jets look to be pushing for a wild card spot in the 2014 playoffs.

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#6 X
January 06 2014, 09:42AM
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@Kevin McCartney

One can't help but feel like a raving lunatic having to make the same arguments over and over again. Sports fans must find ways to condition themselves to accept screaming into the void, otherwise the whole thing simply becomes too frustrating. This being the first season I am following the Jets with some genuine interest in the mechanics of the game I am frustrated, coping mechanisms have yet to make themselves apparent I suppose.

10th in a bad draft or 13th or 7th, does it matter? (I think 7th is about the best we could expect with a genuine tank.) This team has gone off the board with its first rounders (generally in a good way) anyhow so I don't know that it will matter. If you are not going to pick top 3 you might as well play the best hockey possible and deliver some entertainment. Hopefully the playoffs get far enough out of reach that we see some IceCaps rotate in for evaluation purposes at some point, that will keep me interested.

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