In the event they lose, the Jets have a ready-made excuse for tonight’s game. Coach Claude Noel is clearly stuck in a temporal rift, and is forever repeating the same coaching mistakes until someone can free him. It’s like that Groundhog’s Day inspired episode of Star Trek "Cause and Effect" turned into a hockey team. Until Noel can realize he’s in the loop and adjust his decisions accordingly, he’s doomed to repeat failure.
Travis pointed out a Blake Wheeler comment from after the Edmonton game that I found particularly interesting. Wheeler noted that the team has to dump and chase because they don’t create anything off the rush. Coming into the season, the team had an offence designed to create offence off the rush, and fans and the team alike were unimpressed with noted half-court possession players Nik Antropov, Alex Burmistrov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Eric Tangradi, and many more. It should have come as no surprise that speedsters Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane took off under Noel, and that Dustin Byfuglien filled a unique place in jumpstarting an offence with a massive gap between forwards and defenders. The team even brought in Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi to fit that system.
After an early string of ugly losses demonstrated that the team couldn’t afford to play such an open style in the West given their goaltending, Noel started to change things. The forwards break out together now, instead of sending one for a long pass. The forecheck became more defensively minded. And the team is starting to dump and chase, even when not trapped in the neutral zone.
We still see vestiges of the old system, but increasingly, Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler are performing below expectations, Dustin Byfuglien’s mistakes are gaining attention, and Chris Thorburn has won favour for exemplifying Noel’s desire for a grinding, mucking game the same way speedy fourth-liner James Wright won favour last season for exemplifying Noel’s desire for a vertical game.
The problem, of course, is neither system per se (though both are far more simple and ‘by the book’ than most NHL systems). The problem is that Claude Noel insists on having one system. His stubbornness to have players that will do the job he demands, rather than creating jobs for the players he has makes him an ‘old school’ coach, so to speak, and a bit of a dinosaur in an NHL with incredible scarcity for certain types of players. Moreover, the team’s ‘inconsistency’ is simply a reality for any single system. You don’t dump and chase against the puck-moving defenders on the Oilers. You will lose badly. Luckily, they don’t control the neutral zone well, so can carry in and manage the puck starting from the red line. You might dump and chase against the Wild, but unless you play with their discipline for defence, it’s just a matter of time before they beat you. You’re left hoping they needed 70 or 80 minutes to get it done, rather than taking control of the game with speed and puck support.
This coach has been out of ideas for three years, and we’re back to another odd-ball lineup and talking about "A" games and effort. The team can end the cycle, but only by making some new decisions.
- Ladd – Little – Wheeler
- Kane – Scheifele – Frolik
- Thorburn – Jokinen – Setoguchi
- Tangradi – Wright – Peluso
These are the lines posted on DailyFaceoff.com. They have some first-half review stuff up right now, and tons of fantasy news and updates. I use it a lot.
Today’s lines are breathtaking in their absurdity. O’Dell has taken three bad penalties and is minus two in just 24 minutes of NHL ice time. Anyone who hasn’t watched the games would say conclusively that the kid isn’t ready. But we know that those numbers come with a massive asterisk. He’s been played almost exclusively on a line of players who have been buried at even strength all season, and has single-handedly pulled them into the offensive zone and created shots and chances for the Jets. He’s fiesty, and I’m not sure how to get him to stay on his game and not take penalties, but I suspect giving him linemates would help, since he wouldn’t be chasing the puck constantly and playing short handed with the expectations of forcing his way up the lineup hanging over him.
Why bring up an offensive player and stick him on the (below league average) fourth line? Why even bother?
James Wright has played better at centre, though, and I think the solution to moving O’Dell up the lineup was obvious and made more obvious by the continued poor play of Chris Thorburn. But as we discussed above, Claude Noel doesn’t do ‘best chance to win’ lineups.
Once again, we’re talking about the bottom of this roster as the reason the Jets can’t win. It’s 6-8 minutes a game for a fourth line that frequently loses the momentum. It’s another 14+ minutes to a third line that plays short handed. The mantra of playing ’60 minutes’ just doesn’t apply to this team. If they can play 45 good minutes, it’s overcoming the odds.
- Ellerby – Byfuglien
- Enstrom – Pardy
- Stuart – Trouba
Noel announced these pairings earlier in the day. Clitsome is on IR, Bogosian is a scratch, and Julian Melchiori was recalled. Melchiori has yet to dress for a game, and as we saw in our prospect update, isn’t exactly tearing up the minor leagues. He’s been on for just 16 goals for and 24 against. As a defence first type, we don’t expect him to score much himself. But we do expect the team to look better in goal differential with him than without him. Sadly, with Melchiori off the ice, the team is 70 goals for, 50 against. Melchiori is last among regular defenders in goals for % on/off differential. He’s the Ron Hainsey of the IceCaps.
But let’s stick to the people in the lineup!
- Niederreiter – Koivu – Coyle
- Heatley – Granlund – Pominville
- Cooke – Brodziak – Fontaine
- Veilleux – Konopka – Mitchell
The Wild are without Zach Parise, whose continued foot issues have finally come to a head. The team is losing and he’s not healing, so Coach Yeo has ordered him off the ice. He’s listed him as a day to day, but his original prognosis back in late November was 2-3 weeks and he came back after just one game. The fact (well, rumour) that it’s still bothering him means he might finally have to sit a full 10+ days this time around.
In the meantime, the team hasn’t won in regulation since December 8th. The 7 game spread included two shootout wins and 5 regulation losses. Ouch. That streak has let Dallas back into it, and given Minnesota its first negative goal differential of the season. Dallas is now just three points back of Minnesota for fourth in the Central with three games in hand.
Where are the Jets? Oh, yeah, well, we’re in the same Division. We’re one point up on Nashville for last in that Division, and 8 points back of Minnesota. If Parise has leprosy in that foot and Heatley gets 25 minutes a game, we have a chance to close the gap.
This game is winnable for the Jets, though. The Wild are the lowest scoring team in the league for December at just 1.64 goals per game. (The Jets helped Buffalo out of that basement just last week!) Worse, they’re averaging just 24 shots a game. It’s not just percentages, the team is genuinely struggling to create offence. Their 88 goals for this season are tied with Florida for ‘Terrible.’
Parise is also their top scorer with 27 points, including 10 of them in 13 contests against Central Division opponents. Tied with Parise is linemate and two-way centre extraordinaire Mikko Koivu. Pominville is third with 26 points. Those three effectively are the offence of this club, with youngsters Granlund, Coyle, Fontaine, and Jason Zucker (back in the AHL) expected to bring more than they have, and aging pylon Dany Heatley a serious problem with just 11 points and a team worst (by double) -11.
If the Jets give up meaningful offence agianst this club, so help me…
- Suter – Brodin
- Scandella – Spurgeon
- Ballard – Prosser
The Wild have the tenth ranked defence in the league with just 96 goals against. Stand out netminder Josh Harding has been in and out of the lineup as he continues to battle MS. The former backup has a 1.51 GAA and .939 in 27 games.
Meanwhile, Nik Backstrom has also struggled with injury (mostly to his groins) and has just two wins in 14 starts. His GAA is over 3 and his sv % sub-900. Yikes. He has two more years after this one on an over 35 deal with a NMC that’s starting to look like a major cap inefficiency. But hey, he’s paid less than Pavelec!
Ryan Suter is a stud. He’s fourth on the team with 22 points and leads the NHL in ice time. And when I say leads, I mean he plays almost 30 minutes a game and two minutes more per game than Erik Karlsson in second. Wow. He’s so profoundly low event that he’s been on for just 37 total goals against (of the team’s 96) while playing half the game.
The rest of the defence corps is not quite as brilliant. They managed 59 goals against in the other half a game, after all. Suter is back with Sophomore pro Jonas Brodin who suffered a broken cheek bone earlier in the year (missed three games) and moved around the lineup a little when the pairing wasn’t quite what everyone remembered from a season ago. In fact, with Brodin, Suter is a 47% corsi player, and without him this season, a 52% one. In Suter’s 150 minutes with Spurgeon, the pairing out shot and out chanced their opponents (not to mention making my fantasy team a lot better) by a sizeable margin.
The devolution of Keith Ballard continues as well. The curse of Florida has turned him from a top-4 guy in the Sunshine State to a 6th man on a playoff bubble team.
All together, the Wild are struggling due to injury and ineffectiveness. At the same time, Claude Noel has set this game up as a lesson instead of a win, and it seems like a stretch to imagine it coming out any other way.