The very first shift ended fears that the Jets were going to roll over in this game. Evander Kane threw a punishing hit, and the Jets new look second line picked up where they left off – with offensive pressure and slick scoring chances. Kane aggrivated the Panthers, the powerplay scored two, and the Jets never backed down in a high-emotion affair. Somehow confidence abounded on the struggling club as 10 different Jets recorded points in team’s first home win in regulation since November 8th.
It was shift three, however, when the reality of this team hit home. After two dazzling shifts of forceful offence, Jokinen/Setoguchi/Thorburn came on with Trouba/Stuart and the Panthers were able to break containment and begin to participate in the game. Thorburn’s fight with Krys Barch and the line’s broad ineffectiveness saw Wright promoted to Jokinen’s left side intermittently, but the pattern continued throughout. In a game where the Jets outshot the Panthers 25-18 at even strength, the Jokinen line managed 3 shots for and 10 against. That’s 12% of the Jets shots created by that line, and 55% of the team’s shots against with 27% of the even strength ice time.
Yet, the Panthers goals came off giveaways by Byfuglien (assist to Frolik) and Kane. Pavelec turned aside a few other five alarm chances, including a double tap by Huberdeau from the top of the crease, but it will be interesting to see Travis’s scoring chance numbers on this night.
By eye, much of the game turned on the Panthers’ penalty trouble, the Kane line’s forecheck, and how awful Jacob Markstrom is at the NHL level. The first Jets’ goal started with a slick move from Trouba stepping down the middle shooting lane from the point, and as he tripped he flung the puck toward the Kane at the far post and it went off Gilbert’s skate and in. A 5-on-3 later in the period created two powerplay goals in 33 seconds for the Jets – Enstrom slapped a bouncing puck from the point, and then Wheeler tipped home a Bogosian clapper. The first period ended 3-1 on the score board, and the teams had combined for 28 penalty minutes.
The second period opened with a nifty Frolik saucer pass on a 2-on-1 into Kane’s skate, which he quickly managed up to this stick and then into the top half of the yawning cage. And the period closed with Frolik burying a pass off Markstrom’s pad by Ladd.
The Jets didn’t score in the third, but Kane’s game-long battle with Scottie Upshall bubbled over with Kane attacking him with two quick fists to the face before being pulled back and sent down the tunnel.
Kane was an absolute beast. If you had to list the positive qualities of Kane – fast, mean, physical, hard wrister with a disguised release point, and a scoring chance machine – you could show this game for examples of all of it. He got under the skin of ever Panther he came across. Barch was yelling at him in the first from the bench, Gudbranson in the second, and it was Upshall in the third. His range was exceptional, and his size and physicality created space for his linemates. Just a terrific game.
Mark Scheifele is finding his range. He has points in 5 straight, and 12 of his 17 points have come in his last 13 games (starting with the Minnesota loss before the Eastern road trip). Most of his points have come against lesser teams, sure, but he’s shaken off the idea that he doesn’t belong, despite continued (and understandable) defensive problems. His two assists on this night came from his change-up pacing. He generates so much more when he’s able to slow down, and Evander Kane allows him to do that by collapsing defenders with his speed ahead of the puck.
Frolik should be mentioned a well. The whole line made some mistakes in breakout, and a better team might have made them pay more heavily. As it was, the Panthers put in two goals against this line on turnovers during offensive transition. Still, Frolik had a goal and an assist and is showing the whole league that his offence is far above that of a defensive specialist. While playing from the third line without much help, Frolik has quietly managed 21 points – more than any Florida Panther. He and Kane led the way in terms of shot attempt differential – 14 for, 8 against.
Bogosian played fewer than 18 minutes and had a few turnovers trying to carry out of the zone. But overall, it as a positive return. He showed off his skating, his calm puck movement, and even his outrageous strength. He slammed Huberdeau into the boards in the second and even he looked a little shocked at just how heavy the hit had been. He’s a critical part of the team’s defence.
Trouba’s goal started with a very confident slice into the defensive box, but was honestly pretty flukey. He crossed his hands over his body as he fell away from the play to put the puck in front, and a skate got in the way. Still, he played over 22 minutes in a convincing win. That’s a lot for a young man. He was the team’s worst defender by corsi numbers (just 44%), but we can see the Stuart effect in the numbers as things start to even out when you take out the blocked shots. As well, Trouba’s most common forward linemates were the Jokinen line, and as we saw in yesterday’s Forward Usage piece, the defenders get dragged down playing with Thorburn or Wright. In other words, I think there’s a fair argument he carried a line tonight.
We’ve talked about the Jets third line already. I think the worst that can be said about this game actually came from the mouth of play by play man Dennis Beyak, who revealed that the team refers to a .500 record as ‘the line.’ Perhaps I’m over-analyzing the words of a man who has to fill over 2 hours of dead air, but he seemed to mean the line between acceptable and unacceptable. Of course, as a .500 team, the Jets are now 11th in the West.
The loss to Florida two weeks ago was so awful to watch in part because the Jets should be able to beat the Panthers each and every contest. Too often this team pats itself on the back for the most basic of accomplishments, and I’d like to see them aim higher. Higher expectations may even make obvious who is able to acheive those and who is simply not capable of being a productive part of a good hockey club.
That’s not to take away from their success on this evening, which is far from automatic. No doubt that room was filled with ice bags tonight, and the Jets won the game in part through their intensity and determination at winning it. But their depth was still exposed in this game, with Stuart being a below-50% corsi player in a dominating game, and their third and fourth lines playing exclusively in their own end. As I referenced, some casual mistakes made would have been more noteworthy against an opponent that could take advantage.
The Jets earned a win to salvage their pride in a frustrating month. But they still need to set their sights higher, and .500 can’t be the line.