The Wild came out flat for a Saturday afternoon contest north of the border. The Jets have done poorly in their typical game preparation of late, but jumped on the Wild early in this one to the tune of a 14-4 shot lead, and a 5-0 lead in scoring chances through 20 minutes.
A 17 minute break was all the Wild needed to fix things, however, and by three minutes into the second frame, the Wild had rested control away from the Jets. Mistakes piled up, turnovers mounted, and the Jets infuriating powerplay was beaten for their fourth shorthanded goal against to send the game to extra time and eventually the skills competition.
It was another object lesson in taking what is given in the Western Conference, in the need to execute on the chances you get.
Niklas Backstrom played an excellent game – his first back from injury and a surprise start after Harding was injured in warm-up. Fourteen saves in the first alone means he’s definitely wearing whatever locker room MVP vestment is handed out by the Wild (I assume it’s a Where the Wild Things Are plushy costume). Still, chances passed up by Scheifele and Frolik in the first, and countless scrambles and rebounds lost make it hard to believe the Jets were firing at a wall.
The Jets did manage to score first on a rebound scramble won by Frolik with seven minutes let the second, and took a second lead in the game 5 minutes into the third when a #ScheifeleDown moment cleared a passing lane across the slot for a Frolik to Halischuk connection.
But if you could measure their neutral zone effectiveness on the game in a line graph, it would look a little like this:
Just another Central Division disappointment. Nothing to see here.
Byfuglien rocking out to AC/DC after blocking a shot on the penalty kill
There was plenty of good in this game. The team started the game well, which has been a problem again this week. They not only led shots 14-4 in 20 minutes, they also led hits 16-3 thanks to a punishing and active forecheck. A big team with speed, the Jets need to create space with their bodies in the offensive zone, and they did just that.
They also managed the neutral zone very nicely, with great puck pressure from the forwards and clean zone entries thanks to their speed pushing the Wild back.
The third line of Scheifele/Frolik/Halischuk had a very visible game. Frolik and Halischuk each had two points, and Halischuk’s second goal came because he tracked Heatley down, picked his pocket and drove the play the other way. He had a few excellent shifts, but somewhat surprisingly was on for more even strength shot attempts against than for. He was a 41% corsi player when his linemates were 63% (Scheifele) and 55% (Frolik).
It’s not hard to explain – Scheifele and Frolik played shifts on other lines in the offensive zone. But it is disappointing that what will be talked about as the best line of the game gave up more chances at the net than they had themselves. We’ll wait for Travis’s scoring chance numbers to make a final determination, but I don’t think Scheifele did as much to quell O’Dell as many others will claim. His one point, after all, came from him falling again.
Kane put a mountain of rubber at the net with 11 personal shot attempts. He, Jokinen, and Setoguchi created some great pressure again in this game, as they do when Setoguchi isn’t benched.
The true drivers in this game was the pairing of Adam Pardy and Grant Clitsome. Read it again if you have to. Check the title of the section – yes, this is The Good.
They led the team’s defence is corsi numbers, but were also on for both Jets goals and no goals against. Pardy was calm and effective at managing the puck like we haven’t seen this year, and instead of being cast as the defensively responsible partner, Clitsome had the opportunity to create. He drove into the zone, switched with forwards, and generated shots.
Of course, none of that would be possible without Enstrom and Byfuglien leading the way. They faced the top line for almost 15 minutes of even strength ice time, and held them to almost nothing. They were on for both goals against, but as Brian Engblom showed, the shorthanded was mostly a Bryan Little error. I think they created more than they gave up, and did so while sheltering the rest of the defence group.
If you can believe this, Blake Wheeler STILL runs into Ladd and Little on this play. His wing is behind him and he just came off the bench.
Did I mention that the Jets’ neutral zone play went down hill during the game?
The top line for the Jet did some nice things on the day, but were not the powerhouse group we’re used to. Bryan Little, in particular, had an off-game. He still supported the puck well. Blake Wheeler was still flying at times, too. But Little was 23% in the faceoff dot and the line let through 12 shots on net against, and Little was on for 20 shot attempts against. He even played fewer minutes that Jokinen in the game.
Mark Stuart played his first game in over three weeks, but looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. He was on the ice for 24 shot attempts against at even strength, just like old times. Not only was it the team’s worst corsi % (he was on for just 12 shot attempts for), but the worst absolute number as well. His most common forward opponents were Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, and Dany Heatley, and he made all of them look like stars.
The team goes on the road to visit the Eastern conference next week. This point was well earned, but could have been two as the Wild were simply unprepared to start the game and got on their heels early. The Jets need to learn that killer instinct soon and put teams away when they falter.
It starts with their offensive rebound work. The forwards have to stop floating through the slot looking for rebounds and stop there instead. They need to layer their rebounders, instead of sending in one man to inspect the area.
They also need more structure and less individual effort in the neutral zone. Consistency comes from a game plan, not from catching lightning in a bottle by expecting 20 players to each individually contribute 82 times.
Yeah, I wasn’t kidding.