JGD 22: The State of Hockey


Minnesota has a fine tradition of hockey at every level. But that’s not all. As proud anti-federalist Americans, Minnesotans will tell you that their State Fair is the best State Fair. The Fair even has poutine, they’ll tell a curious foreigner, sold from a stand decorated with a moose in a mountie costume.

What I’m trying to tell you is that they’re just pretending to be Canadian. In keeping with that, the Xcel Energy Center also has the highest beer prices in the NHL at $9.50 a throw. You want to know what’s Wild? When calculated by the ounce, that’s the equivalent of a $35 six-pack. Of Budweiser. 

That leads me to a single important question – how does anyone get through a Minnesota Wild game?

I’ve written about my extreme boredom at watching the Wild in the pre-season. We’ve also discussed their defensive transition structure – something Claude Noel called ‘tracking above the puck‘ while lamenting the 15 shots the Jets managed against the Wild in their first meeting this season. I submit to you still that any team to design their tactics around the defensive transition they want is boring. The Wild are boring. 

So if after the game, the Wild are 8 points up on the Jets in the standings with a game in hand, you can mollify your frustration at a dearth of scoring chances by reminding yourself that you don’t have to watch neutral zone re-groups for 55 minutes 82 times a year. At least the Jets make losing interesting. 


Jets Forwards

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

I have to imagine Peluso draws in for Thorburn tonight, after yet another game where Thorburn saw the ice very little and played poorly when he did. As well, Wright and Thorburn are like oil and water out there, in that neither should be expected to play NHL hockey for lack of a brain. I kid, I kid. Of course, I mean that they don’t work well together. When the pair play together, they have a 40% corsi rate at even strength. Apart, Wright’s number grows to a respectable 48%, and Thorburn’s spikes to an illusory and hilarious 53% (he’s played just 10 minutes away from Wright this year). So, you know, don’t play them together.

We knew Setoguchi is a streaky player when he came to the Peg. That’s always been his book. But right now he’s red hot. He led the forwards in scoring chance differential through 20 games, and has been dominating the shot clock at even strength. We’re still waiting for the scoring, but it feels like that’s just around the corner. 

On paper, then, the Jets have three lines that can score. I can’t remember seeing both lines 2 and 3 going in the same game, though, and they’re going to need to be dangerous in every possible moment against the Wild. When mistakes happen, they need to capitalize. 

Against a team as well structured as the Wild, gritty goals become the default approach. But that doesn’t mean dumping and chasing. Against Ryan Suter, the Jets will never get the puck back. The Wild do have impressive pressure through the neutral zone, though, and control the middle lane from the opposition’s break out to their inevitable turnover. 

The Jets have a laddered transition in their repetoire, and they’re going to have to use it. What does that mean? Instead of moving the puck horizontally in the neutral zone in order to get away from vertical containment and enter the zone with control, the Jets are going to have to move the puck vertically with players swinging toward it. We’ve seen it before, and for example Ladd might bounce it off the boards to Little swooping into the left wing. Wheeler might swing over for another vertical pass, or follow Little in for a drop option. It prevents the Wild defencemen from closing their gaps, and while that lane is easily isolated, it’s not easily contained or pressured with puck support crashing into it. 

Jets Defence

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

Bogosian’s injury is to his groin, and the team is calling him ‘week to week.’ It’s just the opportunity Zach Redmond needed to make an impact at the NHL level before Jacob Trouba returns. Trouba is skating with the team, so may be back later this week. Redmond probably gets 2 games to prove he belongs.

Fans and coaches alike have been impressed with Ellerby’s debut. He moves up into the top-4 with Enstrom. That assignment means tougher opposition, and no one can be sure he’s ready. He’s never played in a top-4 role in the NHL. We should keep in mind that Ellerby is left handed, and has played exclusively on his off-handed side with the Jets. It’s the kind of versatility that makes one depth player more valuable than another, and it makes his performance to date that much more impressive.

This isn’t the group many fans would pick as ideal to matchup against a tenacious and skilled Wild forward group. Foot speed and defensive decision making are their flaws, size and puck movement their strengths. They’re going to have a difficult night mentally, with little open up-ice, and the responsibility to defend an efficient and ruthless attack. Time to see if they can dance.

Wild Forwards

  • Parise – Koivu – Coyle
  • Niederreiter – Granlund – Pominville
  • Cooke – Brodziak – Fontaine
  • Mitchell – Konopka – Heatley

Yikes. Heater has hit the bottom of the pile. I’m guessing he’s not quite as dangerous with Konopka. That said, he has a better mind for the game than any Jets’ fourth liner, and for that he remains dangerous.

Of course, it’s that top-6 that does most of the scoring. Parise leads the team with 17 points, Pominville is second with 16. Coyle and Granlund are the team’s future scorers, and each are having much better seasons than they did as rookies in the lockout shortened season. Granlund has 10 assists and 12 points, while Coyle has 4 points in just 8 games after missing time with a knee injury.

Of course, Mikko Koivu is among the best two-way centres in the league. It’s a handful for the LLW line, and if coach Mike Yeo works the lineups, we could see Thorburn or Peluso chasing around Zach Parise at some point tonight. Let’s hope the Jets get Pavelec from Detroit, not Pavelec from Chicago.

Wild Defence

  • Suter – Brodin
  • Spurgeon – Scandella
  • Dumba – Stoner
  • Harding
  • Gustafsson

Brodin is still healing from a broken cheekbone. He wears a face bubble, and has come under criticism since he returned 7 games ago. No points, too many turnovers, and repeated icings show he’s not managing the puck well at the moment, whether for reasons of physical or mental comfort. Whatever the reason, he’s not himself and the Jets need to take advantage.

As well, Matthew Dumba draws in after 6 healthy stratches. The reason, according to Yeo, is that he plays well against the Jets. In broad strokes, however, he’s a liability at 12 minutes a night. A former 1st round pick with solid open ice hitting, some grit, and excellent puck skills, Dumba is making the case that he’s not ready for the NHL just yet. 

It’s the best chance the Jets are going to have against a deep and disciplined Divisional opponent. They need to use their size and strength against the small Spurgeon, tenative Brodin, and rookie Dumba. Fingers crossed the Jets can get even one even strength scoring chance this time around.

I wish this was a joke. Where are the farmer’s shoes?!