JGD 31: Red Alert

Yeah, this is a real tesla coil engineered for the above tableau from the PC Game Command and Conquer: Red Alert.

The Jets are wrapping up their extrended road trip against a battered Tampa Bay squad. When healthy, the Lightning are the toughest competition on this Eastern Conference trip, but without Steven Stamkos, and now Victor Hedman, as well as 4 other starters, the Lightning are vulnerable.

Expectations were high for this road trip. Six winnable games were intended to put the team back in the playoff hunt. Instead, they’re at risk of going .500 on one the easiest stretches in their schedule. The team structure has fallen apart on the road, and coaching decisions have brought us back to the usual frustrations of prioritizing results over process. The Jets have faced the backup goalie in 4 of the 6 matchups on this trip, showing just how much respect the rest of the league has for Winnipeg.

Currently 9 points back of Minnesota for the final Divisional playoff spot, the Jets are miles from competitive despite considerable top end talent. It should be Red Alert for this club, and the manager should be making some of the simple changes required to be commanding on the ice, and be conquerors in the East. Instead, we live in fear of the Tesla Coil.


Jets Forwards

  • Ladd – Little – Wheeler
  • Thorburn – Jokinen – Setoguchi
  • Halischuk – Scheifele – Frolik
  • Wright – Albert – Peluso

I’ve already railed against the Thorburn placement a couple times. It’s like yelling into a void, in some respect. Making the same mistake in repetition is a problem. We’ve heard cliches and quotes to that effect in every area of life, including professional sports. Making mistakes is part of learning, but you have to do that learning.

The job of a coach is to prioritize process over results, to see the small parts of the game so as to manage the team toward constant improvement and emotional stability in an up-and-down, arduous year. Claude Noel admitted early in the year that he couldn’t see it any more. He didn’t have an answer for why the team couldn’t build on its success, and he’s giving us evidence that he still can’t.

Evander Kane is hard to play with – we know that. We can see it during games, we can see it in the numbers. He’s a one-man wrecking crew, but he needs helpers more than linemates. It’s entirely reasonable to argue (with two games of evidence now) that empowering Jokinen and Setoguchi to do more work on their line brings out the best in them. Chris Thorburn is still a liability, and there are 25 players available in any given NHL season for next to nothing that would do a better job in that spot. The Jets even have one – Michael Frolik.

Of course, Frolik is required to cover for Mark Scheifele, who continues to baffle on-lookers in his limited minutes. Shift to shift we can’t know if he’ll read the play correctly. His physical skills are there, and when he makes the reads, he’s effective. But he’s often a full decision behind the play. I don’t know what Frolik has to do to get a better chance on a hockey club. He’s the Jets’ 7th man in every respect, including being able to play in the top-6 when injury strikes. Much like the Albert promotion, Frolik remaining where he is sends a message to the team of irrational decision making. That’s a frustrating environment to work in (as many of us know from having managers and bosses who make irrational or emotional decisions).

I say this with all the hurt and betrayal felt by a fan of the team, but this lineup doesn’t deserve to win an NHL hockey game. It has 6 NHL quality players in it, and 6 who are replacement level or below. The Jets are a team that has enough talent in its top group that they can win games, but can’t put together a complete game because the manager won’t give up on failed experiments, waiver wire additions, and also-rans.

By the way Noel’s early season whipping boy Devin Setoguchi has 5 points on this road trip so far, and 16 on the year (tied with Frolik for 6th on the team). That’s a 45 point pace.

Jets Defence

  • Enstrom – Byfuglien
  • Clitsome – Trouba
  • Stuart – Ellerby
  • Montoya
  • Pavelec

Montoya gets his 7th start of the year after Pavelec turned in a stinker against Florida. I’m not sure if this was always intended or a reaction by the coach, but it might have been smarter to plan this the other way around – giving Pav the start tonight. That’s not hindsight speaking, that’s rational planning. The Lightning have scoring power even without Stamkos, and are 4th in the East (10th in the league) for goal differential in spite of constant injury problems.

Trouba is doing well to make me eat my words about him. He’s more positive than negative out there currently, and the lack of team defence (or team anything) is no individual issue.

Mark Stuart also turned in a positive corsi game against the Panthers – which is exceedingly rare for him. To my eye, a lot of that was Ellerby doing the puck movement, and we can hope that continues (the awful giveaway against New York aside).

Byfuglien is now -11 and a team worst by a wide margin (Wheeler is second at -6). That number is partly accounted for by the 5 shorthanded goals against the Jets. He’s a very challenging player to account for, but to my eye, he’s a bellwether, or an indicator species on this club. He handles the puck more than any other player, and is known for his high risk behaviour. In truth, I don’t think it’s his high risk behaviour. I think the appearance of excessive risk in his game coincides with the team failing to support the puck. If all that’s available is a 70′ stretch pass, he’ll try it. But it’s often not his fault that there isn’t a better option available. 

His 22 points are second on the team, and much like with Evander Kane, I would like to see the team address its depth problems before turning on its star players. The difference between teams that rebuild successfully (like Chicago) and those that rebuild perpetually (like Edmonton) is often just a matter of depth players that allow everyone else to play in a context to succeed.

Lightning Forwards

  • Killorn – Filpulla – Kucherov
  • Palat – Johnson – St Louis
  • Brown – Thompson – Purcell
  • Tyrell – Crombeen – Panik

With Stamkos, Malone, Tom Pyatt, and others out with injury, there are a lot of new names here. Those who follow the AHL will know a few.

Tyler Johnson is in at second line centre. He’s an undrafted, undersized (5’9" listed) goal scorer who won AHL MVP honours last year with 65 points (including 37 goals) in 62 regular season games. He also won the Calder Cup with the Crunch last year with 21 points in 18 playoff games. His AHL totals are gaudy – 168 points in 169 contests over two years (regular season and playoffs). He also has 20 points in 42 NHL games, and turned 23 this past summer.

Nikita Kucherov is just 20, and was called up 5 games ago. Last season he came to North America to play in the Q, and put up 87 points in 47 games (regular season and playoff). In his first professional season this year, he has 24 points in just 17 AHL games. He only has one point in his first 5 NHL contests, but needless the say, the kid can score.

Still, we can see the effect of injuries on the lineup. The Lightning are just 4-5-1 in their last ten games, and despite Ben Bishop’s incredible play of late, the team can’t give him any run support. They’ve been shut out 3 of their last 6 games.

Structurally, we can expect a physical game for the Jets’ right side. That’s to their advantage in the defensive zone, where Byfuglien, Trouba, and Ellerby are more than up for the challenge of the energetic port side of Killorn, Palat, and Brown.

Still, the skill of the Lightning’s right side is going to be a frustrating challenge for Thorburn, Halischuk, and Wright. We have to share in that frustration, sadly, and it will be up to Enstrom, Clitsome, and Stuart to contain them to the perimeter on zone entry. Blerg.

Lightning Defence

  • Salo – Gudas
  • Carle – Sustr
  • Barberio – Brewer
  • Lindback
  • Bishop

Tampa is the fourth of six teams to use a backup netminder against the Jets (whether because of injury like the Islanders or choice), and the Jets dropped games against Steve Mason and the Flyers and Tim Thomas and the Panthers. I think it shows how much respect the rest of the league has for the Jets. 

The Jets’ combined record against Tampa since 2011 is 6-10-0. It’s not pretty, given that Tampa hasn’t exactly been an All-Star team those three years.

Brewer and Gudas are freshly back to the lineup from injury, replacing Hedman and Aulie, who were both hurt in Tampa’s last game. It’s not clear if they’re being rushed, but it’s possible that right side is a mess for the Lightning tonight.

Diehards might remember Mark Barberio as the high scoring defenceman for the Norfolk Admirals that beat the St John’s IceCaps in the Calder finals two years ago. He scored 61 points in the regular season that year, and followed it up with a 42 point season and is not in the NHL full time as a 23 year old.

Johnson and Barberio are not the only returnees from that series. Tampa Head Coach Jon Cooper was also the Norfolk bench boss that year. So it’s not just Martin St Louis who has experience beating the Jets.