The Jets wrap up their extended stay at home by playing number two of Claude Noel’s self-proclaimed seventeen game playoff series this evening, with the first outing having gone just about as well as anyone could have hoped. The seven-spot they posted on Thursday wasn’t exactly representative of the play, but Winnipeg’s had a few encounters go the other direction this year, so that night was quite possibly just the bounces evening out rather than any undue fortune at work.
The main news heading into tonight’s game is the absence, again, of Zach Bogosian. He appears to have reinjured his wrist against the Panthers, and Noel has ruled him out for tonight at the very least, with next week’s home stand being the probable target for a return. The Jets have faced this sort or situation virtually all year, with one of Hainsey, Enstrom, Byfuglien or Bogosian on the shelf almost every night since the first week of the season, and they’ve seemed to weather those injuries, but it’s still a major loss when Bogo can’t dress, especially on the PK.
His nick will apparently allow the newest Jet to make an appearance, as Grant Clitsome debuts as the replacement for number 4, slotting in Bogosian’s place alongside Ron Hainsey. Clitsome has no history of being able to handle similar competition 5 v 5, so for most of the game, he could well be a non-trivial downgrade.
That noted, one place where he might help is on the PP. He gives the Jets a left shooter that can bring some heat from the blueline, an option they haven’t had in pocket at any point this year with the biggest shooters at the back both being righties. Clitsome’s points/60 5 v 4 this year has dropped to 2.75, which isn’t any hell, but last season as a regular fixture for Columbus, he managed 3.55Pts/60, which would be second on the Jets amongst the regulars, only trailing Byfuglien. Of course, his 2.75/60 this year would be third best, so he might be of value even if last year’s performance was an over-achievement.
Ondrej Pavelec will likely start again, and although I realize the fanbase at large is fairly enamoured with him, with most claiming that it’s the Jets’ occasionally slipshod play in their own end producing his middling numbers, I’m not as comfortable anointing him just yet. I noted that Hockey Prospectus has just published their latest GVT numbers, and although I’m not always in agreement with their overall valuations, especially with the high overall placement of goalies, Pavelec does look rather poor by that measure.
By my count, he’s tied for 26th amongst goalies that have played in at least 20 games with a rating of 2.0, which isn’t very much beyond replacement level. That’s a point that Cam Charron made a couple of weeks back as well, and it does make me think that both the general public and media are giving him a bit more credit than he likely deserves, since the Jets are actually a pretty decent team 5 v 5 most nights.
One team that really is getting help from their man in the crease as of late is tonight’s guest at MTS Centre, who appear to be riding the wave right now. The Sabres beat Vancouver 5-3 on Saturday, and are on a 6-0-1 run that has then two points in arrears of Winnipeg with one game in hand. WIth that good record stipulated, a look at the underlying numbers doesn’t exactly suggest a juggernaut in our midst.
During that run, the Sabres have a Fenwick tied % of .435, which is lousy, small sample size or not. Their full season number is .465, which suggests that, rather than a team playing better than they had earlier, they’re just getting luckier.
The percentages during the streak really bear that out, Buffalo has a .984 EV tied SV%, and are shooting 11.5% along the way. Unless Lindy Ruff has invented a new way to play hockey, neither of those figures will last much longer, and when they crash, the Sabres will likely fall back into the pack.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that will happen tonight, and Ryan Miller has been stopping everything as of late, so getting a puck by him early on and hoping Clitsome can hold up will probably be the ticket to a win. One other area the Jets might attempt to exploit could be a matchup of Blake Wheeler versus Robyn Regehr. Reggie looks like he’s lost that step that he couldn’t afford to drop, and Wheeler’s speed troubled him earlier in the season, so there might be some hay to be made off of the rush.
Oh, and as a precaution to my fellow inmates this evening, please take care to note that Pierre McGuire is gracing us with his presence, as he and Gord Miller have the call for NBC Sports Network in the U.S. If you’re roaming about the corridors and happen to hear a strangled cry of, "Strong, Muscular, arrrrrggghhhh…", uh, well, just remember that the WPS do have a decent presence in the building, and act accordingly 😉
Game time is 7CT, with local coverage on TSN Jets.