Will the problem on this team please stand up?
Dustin Byfuglien fans can feel vindicated in this contest. The Jets struggled in every aspect of defending – pushing the big bodies of the Columbus forwards, managing gaps, controlling passing lanes, and moving the puck. Five fewer minutes of Byfuglien and an end to his turnovers only meant that the Blue Jackets steamrolled the Jets in their own end and the good guys had no answer.
It’s rare to see an NHL hockey team fail so completely at defending. Every one of the Jackets’ goals could go on a highlight reel. Some would make it for individual dominance, like Letstu’s shorthanded breakaway to tie the game in the second or Boone Jenner’s penalty shot goal less than 9 minutes and a whole 3 Columbus goals later. Others would make it for the precision passing through the centre of the ice like Atkinson’s – which Mark Lee described as "shooting in the empty net." The others might make it for a game plan well executed. Johansen drew three Jets and the goalie to focus on the puck below the goal line only to feed it out to the wide open Foligno for a tap-in. In the third, both Jenner’s and Letestu’s second goals were on rebound-passes off the pillows of Pavelec. Naturally, in all cases, the Jets might as well have been in the bucket seats behind the glass enjoying a beer.
It wasn’t just the goals, though. Teams have breakdowns, and they can pile up when a team is on a losing streak and feeling uncomfortable on the ice. No, it was mostly constant. Passing lanes through the middle ice were open often, even in set-zone play. The Blue Jackets crossed the blue line without pressure all night and dump ins were beyond rare. The gaps by Jets defenders made a lateral space between the back checking forwards and the Jets’ blueliners in transition, and created an open back door in set-zone play.
Once on the boards, we saw the team really struggle to manage the bodies of the Jackets, and Enstrom in particular was exposed for his lack of size. Trouba, too, was beaten constantly along the wall, not able to effectively pin or separate his man from the puck.
And moving the puck? Well, Mark Stuart’s turnovers in the form of bad passes and dumps to soft spots in the zone continued, and some awkward forward transitions resulted from Setoguchi being on his off-wing.
But there were good parts to the Jets game. They generated a lot from the offensive point. An early Mark Stuart shot was tipped in by Setoguchi but called back for a high stick. Moments later O’Dell forced a puck home on a rebound from an Ellerby shot off the end boards to open the scoring. Little hit a cross bar in the first on the powerplay, and actually potted a powerplay goal in the third on a rebound from a Byfuglien point shot. Enstrom had the other Jets goal on a wired clapper low blocker side. Enstrom led the team in shots with 5, and of the 31 the team recorded, 14 were from blue liners. Of course, that doesn’t count the tipped shots or recycle plays from the point.
Overall, it was a miserable way to lose a 5th game in a row and while it wasn’t quite as defeating at the Tampa game, Columbus exposed the true problems on this team and gave fans a glimpse at what life without Byfuglien on defence would look like.
Congrats to Eric O’Dell for getting his first NHL goal in his first game on an NHL line. He only had 13:48 in ice time, and no special teams. As was true in smaller samples with the 4th line, he was a dominant corsi player. His line with Scheifele and Frolik led the team in shot attempt differential, showing that they were in the offensive zone more than the defensive. Byfuglien is the only other forward who can claim that. Very impressive.
Now, they did it against the Jackets’ third pairing mostly, but still positive. As well, by eye it was Michael Frolik stirring the drink. That man was all over the ice tonight, defended well, transitioned extremely well and seemed to be around a lot Jets’ scoring chances. He looked in control of his edges and the puck in a way we haven’t seen for whole game-long stretches before. Very exciting game for Frolik.
Dustin Byfuglien was extremely effective. His board play was phenomenal and his forecheck created a lot of turnovers. Even against a big Columbus team, he imposed. He created a little at the net and was his usual self from the point on the powerplay. He played just over 17 and a half minutes, including 4:21 on the PP, and the Jets honestly could have used more of him. Still, his ceiling as a forward is just not as high. He doesn’t have the in-tight passing to be a dynamic forward. But he played the Jackets’ top group and was a positive corsi player, as well as on for two of the Jets’ three goals and just two of those against. He showed that the team needs him playing 24 minutes, sheltering the rest of the blue line, and that his mistakes are not the reason the Jets get scored on so much. He couldn’t have asked for a much better forward debut.
The Jets’ best defence pairing was Enstrom/Bogosian without a doubt. They combined for 9 personal shots and Enstrom had a goal. Both were positive corsi players by a wide margin (54%, 58% respectively). Still, they were on for more goals against than for. Enstrom was beaten twice by Jenner – on the boards and coming off the boards – on that player’s second goal. Both players were overloading with Little on the Foligno goal. They just followed the puck around.
Somehow Ellerby and Pardy were a positive corsi pairing. They played the fourth line most often but weren’t beaten for Letestu’s even strength goal. I thought Ellerby did some good things, and that Pardy wasn’t quite as strong. He took the penalty on the Jenner penalty shot after Ellerby had his shot blocked by the shaft of the stick of Jenner in a total fluke that Jenner couldn’t repeat. Unlucky.
Yeah… that’s not supposed to be open like that…
As I talked about when I compared this Jets team to the Oilers of 2009 this week, losing Buf isn’t just about losing Buf. It’s about losing the shelter he offers the rest of the defence group. This game was an example of that truth.
Jacob Trouba had his worst game of the season by a mile, and it was obvious he was simply over his head. He still hit people, and carried the puck, and hammered it on net. He didn’t make many mistakes with the puck, even, which have followed him around a bit his rookie season. No, he just flat out got exposed for thinking the game too slowly and not managing the game the way more experienced defenders do. He was played a team leading 22:29 (not unreasonably), was -3 and was on for 4 even strength shot attempts for and 18 against. Those are the worst numbers we’ve seen this season from any player not playing with Chris Thorburn or named Mark Stuart, and might be the worst period.
But he wasn’t a sore thumb out there – he did as well as most Jets defenders. He retreated to his goal line to defend and waited for the play to come to him, leaving lateral passing lanes open and playing flat footed constantly.
Mark Stuart also had increased ice time with Buf’s usual 23+ minutes missing. In over 20 minutes of play, he was on for 5 shot attempts for at evens, and 20 against. That’s 20% – a couple notches about Trouba in the direction of ‘not horrifyingly bad’. He was credited with three hits and three shot blocks and three giveaways. Somehow he managed to be on for only one goal against (and none for) despite constant ineffectiveness. Have I ever mentioned that I hate the way this player plays defence? Or that his gap work might as well be in a beer league? More minutes of this guy is ruinous.
Pavelec will have his defenders in this game. Given how the Jets played, it’s hard to say a different goalie would have done much better. But he shares in a number of goals against. Letestu beat him on a short handed breakaway, and Jenner on a penalty shot. Those are the team’s fault, but it would be nice to be even 50% on those one-on-one plays. As well, the final two goals were from his pad kicked right to the opposition. And finally, Kelly Hrudey was critical of the three Jets players who followed Johansen and puck behind the goal line and lost track of defending, but Pavelec did too. Too often he isn’t aware of the next play or where the passing options are for his opposing forwards. So five goals where the team screwed up, but he did too.
Chris Thorburn was awful from the 4th line. Wright and Tangradi created more than they had any right to, and Thorburn stuck out as the obvious worst in that threesome of bubble NHL players. Ouch.
The third line of Setoguchi/Jokinen/Wheeler had some moments. Wheeler showed some good speed and creativity, and Jokinen had a few chances at the net, and Setoguchi was fine inside the offensive end. But Seto was an awkward defender and neutral zone player from his off-wing, and the threesome were the Jets’ worst corsi players on the night as a result. As well, Wheeler really fell apart in the third period. It came down to needing the defence to help them make the transition to offence, but with no Buf, it just wasn’t always possible.
As well, the powerplay went 1/5 and failed on a number of game-changing opportunities. Frustrating.
In sum, it was a game where the Jets’ lack of structural discipline showed, and the value of Byfuglien as someone who can overcome that with his individual performance was clear. Before the game, the HNIC panel ripped Byfuglien for being lazy and making mistakes. With the scape goat removed from the situation, the narrative falls flat. Time to consider that Buf is actually out performing the system he’s instructed to play.