The St Louis Blues are in town, and the anxiety about meeting a Central Division opponent couldn’t be higher. Ryan Blight over at Arctic Ice is (very reasonably) calling for major changes to a franchise that has been re-building since expansion. Two lucky wins to kick off the year aren’t fooling anyone, and Claude Noel’s seat is being heated by the torches of Winnipeg’s expanding mob. It’s not like ex-Atlanta coach Bob Hartley could have gotten more wins out of this club. I mean, look at Calgary! Wait, Calgary is doing better than us? Oh, the shame.
The Blues come in 5-1-0, only having lost to the powerhouse Sharks. Alex Steen leads the team with 9 points in those 6 games, and the Blues as a team are third in the NHL in goals for per game. Hitchcock’s Blues are known for limiting chances against, but they have a exceptional counter-punch and have depth like very few teams can imagine. Last season their goaltending duo fell apart – Halak at .899, Elliot at .907 – but the team kept their goals against well below Pavelec’s 2.80. Hitch gets results.
The Blues have a lot of size in their lineup, but also boast exceptional puck movers on the back-end and high-end skill on every line. This Division… jeez.
All lines courtesy DailyFaceoff.com
- Kane – Little – Wheeler
- Ladd – Schiefele – Frolik
- Tangradi – Jokinen – Setoguchi
- Wright – Slater – Halischuk
Kane is expected to draw in tonight in spite of his knee injury on Wednesday. That’s good news for the team, provided he’s anywhere near healthy. Thorburn was put on retroactive IR and the team elected to bring Patrice Cormier back to the team. His 1 assist and 13 PIMS in 4 IceCaps games must have impressed them. Or maybe it was his 2 points in 40 NHL games. This team needs depth options so badly.
Of course, Cormier doesn’t dress tonight. We looked at what a bang-up job Wright and Halischuk are each doing. They will get 10 minutes again, and the Jets will not gain sustained possession on any of their shifts. At least Wright isn’t on the 3rd line like last year.
Frolik’s minutes remained very low despite the promotion. He played just 11:24 against the Canadiens. He has 5 points and has gotten offence in every one of the Jets’ wins. All I can see is that he’s playing a little differently than the Jets want. In particular, he’s playing a Chicago style forecheck, and not a Winnipeg one.
Setoguchi, on the other hand, had his best game of the season from the 3RW hole and earned his second most ice time of the year – 14:40. At the minutiae level, it’s good news. Big picture, they traded a second round pick for a supposedly top 6 winger and now he plays 15 or fewer minutes from the third line.
- Clitsome – Byfuglien
- Enstrom – Bogosian
- Stuart – Trouba
Oh man. Just… it’s just not fair that we have this coach. The problem is Mark Stuart. That’s the problem. He’s awful. He’s not even good at penalty killing. His 11% corsi percentage while short-handed last season was fine, except that the Jets use a very aggressive system intended to get short-handed shots, and so Grant Clitsome and Zach Bogosian led the league in short-handed corsi % by defencemen with almost 29%. Meanwhile, his 34% even strength corsi % this year is the 3rd worst in the entire NHL. But hey, he’s ahead of Chris Butler.
So, because Mark Stuart is terrible, Noel has put Trouba back with him – which was a disaster before – and separated Enstrom and Byfuglien, who are the only consistently successful pairing the team has and have shown time and time again that they are greater than the sum of their parts. A win tonight and they’ll never change.
Pavelec is back in. Did you read our Q+A with Goalie Scout Justin Goldman about him? You should.
- Steen – Backes – Oshie
- Schwartz – Berglund – Tarasenko
- Morrow – Roy – C. Stewart
- Paajarvi – Sobotka – Reaves
It’s disappointing to see Paajarvi on the 4th line after he made the Kyle Wellwood’s Career Memorial Advanced Stats All-Start team. Ryan Reaves is their tough guy on that team, the man who made Anthony "4 minutes" Peluso expendable. He’s not a nuclear threat, checking in at just 6’2" and around 225lbs. But he does his share – already at 29 PIMs and a goal in 6 games.
Derek Roy is on a third line. Remember when that guy scored 81 points from the top line in Buffalo? You might say it was a long time ago, but the fact remains that he has 460 NHL points in just under 600 NHL games while playing a two-way role. He and Chris Stewart are a dangerous combo. Plus they have a talking anchor for a linemate, which makes for a surprisingly good sitcom.
Those top two lines are where the Blues really strike fear. Steen/Backes/Oshie might be the best power-vs-power line in the NHL, while Schwartz and Tarasenko are the kind of young, under-paid scoring talent NHL teams need to compete in a salary cap world. I have Tarasenko in my fantasy pool, but I’m already winning 54 to 21, so I’m giving him the night off. Vlad – you don’t have to score. Vlad, please listen. Please…
- Bouwmeester – Pietrangelo
- Leopold – Shattenkirk
- Jackman – Polak
Elliot gets the start tonight. He’s only played 1 period so far this season, giving up two goals on 13 shots in relief against San Jose.
The top 4 on that is very good. Leopold is another under-appreciated Buffalo refugee (I wonder how that team got so bad…), and the top three are all top-level puck movers. Jackman and Polak are kind of the opposite, and Polak in particular struggles with mobility at times. He’s not their worst corsi defender at just 44%, though. The veteran Barret Jackman is in Mark Stuart range at 37%, and the wheels have started to come off, going -3 in the last two games. Still, both are playing 17-19 minutes a night on a successful team. Ian Cole waits in the wings, and there is always the trade deadline.
I don’t think anyone expected Jackman to be this poor, as just last year he was 10 points better (and in the range of a good shut-down defender). With an "A" on his chest, he’ll have the chance to work through it. For now, the Jets need any tiny chance they can get, so let’s hope Jackman is just not hydrating correctly for one more game.
Worth Reading Today
- Arctic Ice Game Day.
- Fantastic, thrilling interview with Goalie Scout Justing Goldman about Ondrej Pavelec. It’s long, it’s detailed. A Friday afternoon well spent.
- We also have a new Systems Analysis post up on the Jets’ forecheck. It’s a bit longer than most, but lots of good stuff in it as well. At this rate, we’ll be offering a Diploma in Hockey Studies soon, so you better do your readings.
- Ryan Blight’s article mentioned above is another clarion call. Go book a room at the Clarion Hotel and bunker down for the weekend. It’s okay to cry.
- Did you read your Friday Five-Hole today?