This weekly column looks to discuss a certain number of relevant Jets topics on a certain day of the week. That certain number? Five. That day of the week? Friday. Also, hole. This is the Friday Five-Hole.
The Jets are now 1-3-1 against teams within their division. Noel’s squad lost two games against the Predators this past week alone, and with six of their next seven games being divisional match-ups, the Jets need to string some wins together. How bad? Real bad.
As documented by Elliote Friedman a couple weeks ago in his "30 Thoughts" column, only three teams since the 2005-06 season have comeback to claim a playoff spot after being out of the playoffs by four or more points on November 1st. This is a truly daunting statistic for the Jets, who are currently four points behind the Kings for the final wild card spot. Two of the three teams sitting in between the Jets and Kings in the standings have games in hand on Winnipeg. Critics will say that it’s still too early to be worried about the Jets missing the playoffs, but the aforementioned statistic is relevant because most teams form the bad habits that cause them to miss the post-season from game one.
Divisional games are the most important to win. Not only do you get two points, but you deprive your direct competition from getting any. Though they boast some star calibre players, the Jets simply do not look equipped to battle their divisional rivals. The Predators exposed the Jets’ inability to overcome a stingy defensive game (as did the Blues, to some degree). What other weaknesses will surface in the coming weeks when the Jets take on the red-hot Avalanche, the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, or the next Stanley Cup champions?
PAVELEC ISN’T AMAZING
Amongst goalies with six or more starts this season, Ondrej Pavelec’s .902 SV% is ranked 26th in the NHL. The Jets’ netminder has faced 316 shots, more than any other goaltender up to this point – even more shots than he himself took a couple years ago.
It’s easy to place blame on Pavelec’s painfully average (at best) career numbers. The Czech goalie uses a highly acrobatic style, often flinging himself from post to post in desperation to make the save. As we’ve seen with goalies like Tim Thomas over the years, this kind of style can be reliant on fortunate bounces, lending itself to hot streaks and cold slumps. Unfortunately, the Jets give up a lot of shots. A lot. The fourth-most in the league last year, and the most so far this year.
Typically, winning teams who allow a lot of shots on goal either play a tight defensive system, have elite goaltending, can outscore their opponents, or (usually) employ any combination of those attributes. The Penguins, Bruins, Canucks, and Predators are all great examples of how a team can allow large quantities of shots, and still consistently make the post-season.
The Jets’ depth issues at forward and defence won’t allow them to either outscore their opponents or keep the puck away from their own net. That’s not Pavelec’s fault. But assuming it doesn’t change, it’s obvious the Jets can’t win with Pavelec. And while it’s hard to cheer a goalie the calibre of Pavelec, he didn’t sign himself to a five year, $3.9M cap hit contract*.
*Goalies who are a comparable cap hit to their team: Niemi, Halak, Schneider, Anderson, and me, who would play for league minimum if anybody important in Jets management is paying attention
LINE MONSTER MASH
Claude Noel has been a line-mixing fiend as of late. The Jets’ coach hasn’t been shy to change his line combinations mid-game – epsecially when his team is losing. "You’re asking me who’s the right guys to play together. I’m trying to sort through it. It started in pre-season and it’s carried on through," said Noel earlier this week.
It’s hard to see what Noel is so confused about. This is Noel’s third season in Winnipeg and the core roster has remained essentially unchanged. Byfuglien, Enstrom, Ladd, Little, Wheeler, Bogosian, and Kane have all been around longer than Noel, so why is Noel having such a hard time understanding his team’s chemistry?
Rumours started to circulate last week that Noel could be the next NHL coach on the chopping block. The constant line-mixing looks to be the work of an exasperated coach, trying to both get his team going and keep his job. Unforunately, with some notable new acquisitions trying to learn a new system, much of Jets’ inconsistency this season could be because no line or pairing stays together long enough to get used to each other.
On the other hand, Noel can only ice the players he is given. You try making an effective bottom six with Wright, Peluso, Halischuk, Thorburn, Slater, and Tangradi.
You can’t. Not unless you’re coaching in the AHL.
Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press claimed Mark Scheifele’s star is "shining" in an article this past Wednesday. Lawless emphasizes that although Schiefele looks like "a boy in a man’s game" at times, he is learning to become an effective two-way player.
I must be watching a different Scheifele than Lawless. Scheifele’s underlying stats are not impressive, nor are his traditional stats. With three points in eleven games, the supposed second line centre has only been noticeable when playing with Evander Kane, and I could probably put up some points playing with Kane (and I’ll play for league minimum too, remember). Scheifele has looked lost in his own zone, letting his wingers do his job engaging in puck battles below the goal line and drifting aimlessly between the two opposition points.
Though his shooting percentage is abnormally low (4.3%) and will balance out eventually, Scheifele still has a long way to go before he can be called an effective two-way player.
FIVE HOLE OF THE WEEK
And finally, here is the heart-breaking five-hole shootout goal that handed the Jets a loss in their best perfomance of the season.