JGD 20: Snakes and Ladders

Last week’s matchup against this Detroit team was the first time the Jets showed promise this season. Sure, they had a few wins – even of the convincing sort. But a good team came to town and the Jets gave us reason to think they might actually avoid the basement of this Conference come April. 

Since, the Jets have turned in another two unexpectedly thorough and well-organized wins and are a game ahead of the count so far in November. 

Tonight’s game is an important moment in proving the team has turned a corner, that it’s not just their usual ‘snakes and ladders’ routine. Can they repeat their strong performance against Detroit?


Jets Forwards

  • Ladd – Little – Wheeler
  • Kane – Jokinen – Setoguchi
  • Frolik – Scheifele – Halischuk
  • Tangradi – Wright – Thorburn

The Jets are winning and so the line blendering has stopped. Still, scoring chances show the third and fourth lines struggled a little against San Jose. Going all the way back to Detroit, Scheifele had his best game of the season and made the case to stay with this line in his own way. That is, the line struggled and was the team’s worst at even strength shot suppression, but Scheifele was doing yeoman’s work. 

The LLW line is finally at the level we expected from game one against Edmonton. They’re really pushing that whole ‘better late than never’ idiom, but it’s fun to watch.

The primary concern for this group continues to be down the middle. Scheifele is inconsistent in his reads and actions.Jokinen is showing the potential to be a bit Jekyll and Hyde, only his disassociative identity disorder is mostly about whether he wants to play defence. One Olli does, the other just wants a hamburger. And Bryan Little, the King of Centres, has as 24% shooting percentage in getting to his team-leading 10 goals. He’s still right around that 2 shots per game average typical for his career, but he’s on pace for a career-record shattering 43 goals. It won’t happen, of course, but we’re left to wonder who can improve enough to pick up the slack.

The answer might be two-fold and broadly team related. First, the powerplay has to get better. It’s not just luck, it’s functionally broken and the team has to force Pascal Vincent to introduce some more freedom to the centre-post umbrella pattern. The Jets clearly have talented players who can score. The centre-post umbrella works when the opposition isn’t sure who should take the high slot assignment. Movement into and out of that formation can be very disorienting. But the Jets don’t have any of that. It’s very easy to defend a single look with no re-group area. Puck support is the cure, movement is the cure – just as it was last year in a brief stretch of success.

Second, the team ranks 21st in goals against per game, despite two shutouts. In games in which teams score at all, they average over 3 goals. That’s outrageous.

Jets Defence

  • Clitsome – Byfuglien
  • Enstrom – Bogosian
  • Pardy – Ellerby
  • Pavelec
  • Montoya

Pavelec had a prototypical ‘big game goalie’ performance against San Jose. He played as though some goals were worth more than others, making stops in big moments, but failing to stop some easier pucks. After a shutout performance against Nashville, it was a little scary to see. 

The key for the Jets is to prevent the lateral puck movement Detroit uses so well. Most teams try to tie up people going to the net or back-door area, but structurally, the Jets have never done it under Noel. He wants them to play the puck and make a stop on the pass while the puck carrier is pressured. I can only assume it’s for his fast-break plans. Still, it can be a roll of the dice against Detroit. Al Montoya was the one to shut down their few chances last week. 

Also of note is that in Winnipeg, the Enstrom/Bogosian pair was matched against Alfredsson/Weiss/Cleary and dominated them to the tune of a 70% corsi share. Buf and Clitsome held their own against the Datsyuk line. But in Detroit’s barn, Mike Babcock has last change. What will happen with more Datsyuk and Zetterberg minutes against Pardy and Ellerby? What is the matchup Babcock will pursue?

Red Wings Forwards

  • Zetterberg – Datsyuk – Bertuzzi
  • Franzen – Helm – Alfredsson
  • Tatar – Andersson – Samuelsson
  • Miller – Glendening – Abdelkader

A new line up this week, with Franzen back, Helm rounding into shape after a long injury, and Stephen Weiss joining the other injured Red Wings in the press box. 

That first line is still the most frightening. Bertuzzi isn’t the player he was in Vancouver, but he has a great mind of the game and goes about his work methodically and thoughtfully. He controls passing lanes well, his stick is always in the right place, and he creates some havoc down low. And, of course, his linemates are two of the best in the game.

The Alfredsson line is quite a bit different than the last time these teams met, and it might be to the detriment of Winnipeg. The Mule is hard to manage for any defencemen save Byfuglien, but it’s likely Bogosian draws the assignment. Helm’s speed is another physical feature that teams struggle to control, and again we haven’t gotten to the best player on the line. It is a strange mix, though, and I can’t remember how a Fat-Skinny-Medium combo works in Nintendo’s Ice Hockey, so I have limited insight.

Line three could be called the Costanza Chuckers. They will put all the rubber on net they can. Effectively? Well… it’s still dangerous according to that Wayne Gretzky aphorism. 

In total, it’s another formidible group on paper with more depth and higher peaks of pure talent than the Jets have in their top 12. That said, Alfredsson has been pointless since the teams met last week, still sitting at 13 points in now 18 games. Samuelsson has just a point in 6 games, and Helm the same in 4. Franzen’s injuries have left him slower each time he returns it seems.

Though the team is an impressive 9-5-4, and sits tied for third in the East, Detroit is also -3 in goal differential and is starting to show signs that their name recognition on paper is no long depth on the ice.

Red Wings Defence

  • DeKeyser – Kronwall
  • Quincey – Oullet
  • Kindl – Lashoff
  • Howard
  • Coreau

That said, the team has done better with many injuries this year than the Jets have while remaining healthy. Brenden Smith and Jonathan Ericsson remain out, as does Jonas Gustavsson in net. The Jets made Kyle Quincey look foolish in game one of the season series – he was posterized on the sweet Scheifele assist, for instance. Tonight he will play with rookie Xavier Oullet, who has had 44 shifts in the NHL as a 20 year old.

Oullet is much younger than most Detroit rookies, drafted 48th overall in 2011 and already in the show. He’s also the second rookie in that top six, though DeKeyser is older. Oullet has done well for himself in two games to date, but Quincey might be in over his head this season, thanks to injury. Second pairing and sheltering a rookie is a tough assignment for Detroit’s version of Grant Clitsome. 

James Howard (did you get the memo? he’s a grown up now) is a solid netminder, but is unlikely to steal this game for them. 

The key for the Jets will be puck control. As they did in the first game against Detroit, they need to provide better puck support from goal line to goal line in order to limit turnovers against a talented and very smart team. If they can do that, the Red Wings’ limited defensive depth could be their undoing.

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  • Kevin McCartney

    The goalie came out and the defenceman stayed back to shot block. Nice goal by Bogosian. Off season golf during Olympic years is irons only. No more composite clubs. And don’t grip the clubs so tight; you want torque gently increasing toward contact;; there is no one to high-stick during the follow through;;; snipers should wear oven gloves off-season.