"…and if you give me another nut today, I promise to start hoarding for the winter tomorrow."
The Jets played a game against New Jersey that has everyone saying ‘they got two points’ as though the way they got them isn’t worth a conversation. In some ways, I guess discussing how a blind squirrel finds nuts becomes purely academic when it’s no longer hungry. (Too harsh?)
Game days have an uneasy feeling in the Nation – happiness for a game at all, of course, but mixed with the faint terror that the team could force its players to use ringette sticks at any moment. The Jets’ lack of consistency speaks to their lack of a game plan – a way to win they can execute game in and game out. We’ve watched the powerplay crumble, uneven performances from every player on the roster save Tobias Enstrom, and structures that make more sense in a video game. We’ve seen Pavelec’s improved game, and yet the goal differential continues to go in the wrong direction.
The problem, of course, is that this blind squirrel is hungry again, and no one can know how it intends to find another nut.
- Ladd – Little – Wheeler
- Kane – Jokinen – Setoguchi
- Halischuk – Scheifele – Frolik
- Tangradi – Wright – Thorburn
Despite luck and Pavelec keeping them in the game against New Jersey, the team will no doubt return with its cast of winning forwards. Scheifele has hit a short run of fortune and confidence, but his line is actually the worst on the team by process metrics. Their corsi % sits between 44 and 47%, and with the score close at even strength, only the injured Jim Slater is worse at getting the puck in the right end among forwards on the team. It’s a trio that started with some pizazz (yep – that word), but has been more liability than support cast.
The team’s second line, however, seems to be finding a rhythm over the last month. Kane and Setoguchi both got on the scoresheet last game after an extended period of poor percentages, bad bounces, and frustrated body language. They will be looked to for more offence during this road trip, and their success rate could determine how many nuts are found by this giant, Transformer-like squirrel.
Ladd and Little remain the team’s best and most important forwards. Together, they face the team’s toughest competition every night, and Little is currently 11th in the NHL for scoring with 24 points.
It’s not clear just how this group will improve their overall results, though. Little and Ladd have been fortunate as well as good. They have an on-ice shooting percentage of over 10%, and as the numbers begin to even out into the new year, the gains expected from the depth scorers will likely be countered by slumps by the top group.
Ah, it hasn’t happened until it’s happened, right Claude?
- Enstrom – Byfuglien
- Stuart – Ellerby
- Clitsome – Trouba
When I read on DailyFaceoff.com that the lines hadn’t changed on the back end, I googled and twittered madly to find a different answer. Surely the coaches saw that the Stuart/Ellerby pairing was a disaster. Right?!
The Trouba/Clitsome pairing had its moments. Trouba – the rookie! – was seen bailing Clitsome out of hot water a few times on the night, but for the most part the puck could only come out Clitsome’s side. Trouba was fresh back from injury and certainly wasn’t a liability in his 20 minutes, so it’s worth another shot with that line. But unless Noel feels confident he can hard-match Enstrom and Buf to Tavares tonight, we’re going to see Montoya sweat.
Mark Stuart might be the worst player on the Jets at the moment. His puck skills are below replacement level, and the need for a frenetic, physical defender disappeared with the clutch and grab era. No one can make up for his positional errors. Ahem, I meant punitive enthusiasm. It’s not bad defence if there is a bruise involved. My apologies.
Monty gets an unexpected start. The coach has never been a fan, and after he lost a point against Calgary, I assumed he would be Buffalo on December 17th. The Islanders are ahead of the Jets for scoring goals. They currently rank 13th with 2.71 a game. The coach could be setting up a barn burner.
- Vanek – Tavares – Okposo
- Grabner – Nielsen – Bailey
- Nelson – Regin – Clutterbuck
- Martin – Cizikas – Bouchard
Between Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, the Islanders have two of the league’s most frequent hitters. Shocking then, that they are only 17th in the league in that stat. Perhaps it’s because they have improved their possession play season-over-season, and tend to have the puck more often than they used to. They Isles currently break about even at corsi numbers, including ranking 14th at 5 on 5 with the score close. For context, the Jets rank 19th in that stat.
And the team hardly lacks for top-end talent. Vanek has had 6 points in his 8 Islander games, and (of course) the team is led in scoring by John Tavares with 27 in 24 games. Okposo and Nielsen both have 22 points.
The challenge for this forward group is in its depth scoring. Michael Grabner has to be coached to and for to generate offence. His vertical speed is still outrageous, but with no fast break offence, he’s not able to turn it into much. His shooting percentage has dipped to under 5% this season. Luck is part of that, of course, but so is opportunity.
Frans Nielsen is a very good hockey player, and continues to be the Islanders’ tough minutes centre. It means Grabner has been dragged into a defensive role, and while Tavares enjoys a 65% zone start push, Grabner is sharing his ice time with Clutterbuck in tight games. Perhaps coach Capuano is hoping for Grabner to find a counter-attack game, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Still, this is a dangerous group for the Jets, especially when the Jets are on the road. Winnipeg has limited depth, and Tavares earns a pretty penny turning lesser players inside out. It will be a tough night for the top line, but also a tough night for Claude Noel, who is tasked with trying to keep up with the matchups while on the road.
- MacDonald – Hamonic
- Martinek – Ness
- Donovan – Carkner
You would be forgiven for having a wrinkled brow at the moment, or for muttering ‘who?’ at this lineup. Visnovsky, Brain Strait, Thomas Hickey, and Evgeni Nabokov are all injured from this group at the moment. Even so, it’s not hard to see how this team could have the league’s worst penalty kill and the 27th ranked defence. Their 3.33 goals against per game seems like charity when you look at this roster on paper.
Some Andrew MacDonald went from a mildly fantasy relevant powerplay specialist a couple years ago to the team’s top left defenceman. He and Hamonic average over 20 minutes a game. MacDonald is team team’s worst defender by corsi at a miserable (but not Mark Stuart bad) 43%. Boy do they miss Mark Streit.
Still, Justin Bourne always liked MacDonald, and he might be described as the rich man’s Grant Clitsome. His game is not as cerebral as Enstrom’s, but his puck skills make him dangerous.
Kevin Poulin is a human being who will be strapped into goaltender’s gear and dressed in blue and orange tonight. Be kind.
The importance of this road trip is known far and wide. Every team is beatable, and the Islanders certainly have trouble keeping pucks out of their net. But they do tend to possess the puck more than the Jets do, and have a number of offensive weapons. Maybe the Jets win this game 3 times out of 5, but they only get to play it once, and a lot of it will come down to how well the Jets can defend John Tavares.