The best team Manitoba ever sent to Ottawa. Louis Riel and his councillors, 1869
It might have just been 2013 that the Red River Rebels entered the Canadian capital to play the Bureaucrats,but it feels like an age. The central question will be as it always has been with Ottawa – who will dictate how this game is played?
During the team’s three game winning streak, the Jets’ speed and size has been on display. From Ladd bullying Mike Weber to get the puck back to Byfuglien crowding Varlamov’s crease on the game winner to Kane and Frolik scoring shorthanded while Suter spun himself into the ice.
Claude Noel has been demanding his team dump the puck since game 20 or so, but the story remains the same as before – the Jets want to skip the neutral zone and play in the ‘body zones’ first and foremost. Noel wants the offence to start off the end-boards and for all chances to come with chaos in front of the net.
In contrast, the Senators are puck focused in the Detroit style of keeping the play away from those checkable areas. They will reset in the neutral zone, and have a number of creative zone entries meant to stretch defences and get behind them with puck movement. It’s not skill over work – we’ll see McArthur and Michalek and Greening and Smith and more go to those tough areas. Instead, it’s about a focus on where the puck is rather than where the bodies are.
If the Senators can convince the Jets to play with that focus, they will get them chasing the puck and we’ll see all sorts of open opportunities. On the other hand, if the Jets can use their speed to start their forecheck by getting a body on the first puck carrier, the Senator’s five man offence will be pulled apart and we can expect an uneven game from a team with limited scoring talent.
Dog sled at the Red River settlement, c. 1872
- Ladd – Little – Wheeler
- Kane – Scheifele – Frolik
- Thorburn – Jokinen – Setoguchi
- Tangradi – Wright – Peluso
We saw the Jokinen line generate quite a few chances in the Buffalo game, but Thorburn happened to be the trigger man on a number of them and his hands are sub-replacement level. The line was unreasonably shut out on the night.
Peluso got the empty net goal (his second) to pull within one of the injured Matt Halischuk for 9th among forwards in scoring. In other words, the Jets continue to be a top-8 and bottom-4 squad up front. Thorburn and Wright are still without goals on the season, and Tangradi has just one (albeit in fewer minutes than either of the doughnut holders).
Luckily, the top two lines have been excellent. Blake Wheeler was named to the USA Olympic team (did you hear that yet?) after 14 points in 14 December games, good for 18th in the league. The Jets’ top line has 93 points combined and account for 34% of the Jets’ goals on the season. That’s especially impressive given Wheeler’s start to the year and the struggles the whole line had as a result.
Scheifele’s points streak came to an end in Edmonton, but with two points in his last two games, he ended December with 11 – almost double his output from November. His 23 shots last month were also a high for the year and show he’s shooting a little more. Personally, I’d like to see him get all the way to 2 shots a game. His wrister has real impact and a quick release. He has trouble targeting it, but it will create a lot of rebounds if he just starts putting it on.
- Enstrom – Trouba
- Ellerby – Byfuglien
- Stuart – Bogosian
Trouba looked a little too comfortable against Buffalo, but it’s remarkable that he doesn’t seem to feel the fear of NHL defending at just 19 years of age. He makes very few mistakes of under-confidence.
I didn’t like Ellerby’s last game, but he and Buf shut out Duchene in their 9 minutes against the goal machine. Buf hasn’t made many visible blunders with Ellerby and is +4 since Christmas. Sharing the tough minutes assignment has helped him a ton.
Mark Stuart continues to make his partners worse. And Bogo is still skating into his forwards a few times a game. That’s a three year problem, not a recent one. It’s just a mental thing for the highly talented defender, as he sometimes chooses to skate his way out of any passing options and go off script. He didn’t do it when he was tasked with a simple game next to Trouba. Bogo has bright future still, but despite finding his game under Huddy in year two, has never quite delivered on his promise. In this game, I hope to see him manage passing lanes rather than go for the crashing hit. I’d also like to see him use his reach to cover for his limited mobility. He has so many tools that I think he sometimes wants to make more of a play than he has to – hit over stick check, slaloming carry-in over passing, and so forth. Patience and economy of movement are skills that develop over a very long time. He’s on track.
- McArthur – Turris – Ryan
- Conacher – Zibanejad – Michalek
- Greening – Smith – Condra
- Kassian – Pageau – Stone
Cory Conacher lit up the Jets the first time he played them as a rookie with the Lightning with 2 goals and an assist in just his 7th NHL game. I wrote about him way back in February with the central question of finding a reasonable comparable. It’s a good read, you should look at it. Ottawa has calmed his fire somewhat, but with just 12 points in 40 games this season, he’s in a vulnerable position on a squad that needs to make changes.
Jason Spezza is still injured (lower body), which puts a big hole in this roster. His 30 points and general talent are a big deal for this club. But, like Big Buf, the conversation rages about his value as his +/- this season is a confusing -14.
Similarly, Milan Michalek is -18 and has been moved to every spot on the roster they can find. He continues to play big minutes on a shallow club, and delivered one of his 18 points on the season in the Sens’ last game. But his struggles are a big reason for the team’s sub-.500 record.
Chris Neil is also out. Shucks.
- Cowen – Karlsson
- Ceci – Methot
- Phillips – Corvo
Marc Methot was invited to the Canadian Olympic meet and greet to start the year in a classic nod to hockey’s love of simple defenders. He’s the next Mike Komisarek! (Wait, that’s not good?)
Suffice to say, he looked better in a shortened season next to Karlsson than he does in the long form. Not that he’s been bad – he’s an even corsi player with 11 points and respectable extras. Just like Jared Cowen and Chris Phillips.
Robin Lehner is stealing Anderson’s job this season, so this is the back-up (as the Jets very often face), but he’s still among the better tenders to face the Jets from the East so far. He may be available for help up front. Think the Senators want Setoguchi? Lord I hope so.
Erik Karlsson is the only defender to out-score our Dustin Byfuglien over the last four seasons, and has done it while skating to a minus rating. They should definitely trade him. He’s really holding them back.
The Jets have a winning streak on the line for the first time in forever, and Ottawa is hardly a power house. The game will come down to whether the Jets can be pro-active in their defence, starting at Ottawa’s end boards, and not chase the puck against a team that prefers to keep it.