The Jets 2.1 are on a one game winning streak! A convincing 5-1 win over the ‘Yotes have the Jets primed for games against the Alberta duo. First up, the league’s second lowest scoring team, the Calgary Flames.
The story in Winnipeg is, of course, the hiring of Paul Maurice. An effortful performance by the team in his first game behind the bench, plus two unexpected roster moves and a few slick press conferences have earned him a graceful and hopeful entrance into an organization that’s not used to change.
He’s promised defensive structure and focus, but with just a few practices, it’s more likely the Jets will continue their brand of effort-based hockey for another game.
Luckily, the opponent has the third worst goal differential in the league at -43. That’s almost a full -1 in every game played. In part, that’s been the fault of the offence, with just 105 goals scored (the Jets have managed 133 for reference). Former Atlanta bench boss Bob Hartley has managed to squeeze some wins out of an under-talented roster through, and a handful of players have managed quality seasons. The Flames are roughly what pundits thought they’d be to start the season. Still, the last time these teams met the Flames won 5-4 in a shootout on the back of 43 saves by the unheralded Reto Berra. The Flames played a physical game with tight formations and puck support, such that even the Jets’ greater skill, speed, and size wasn’t enough to best them.
It’s not an automatic win for these Jets, and they’ll have to overcome their penchant for brain cramps to get it done.
- Ladd – Little – Frolik
- Thorburn – Scheifele – Wheeler
- Setoguchi – Jokinen – Byfuglien
- Wright – O’Dell – Peluso
These are the lines from Maurice’s first game. He told us before that one that wasn’t going to make many changes and just wanted to observe. The team put Kane on IR, retroactive to the 7th, and brought up Carl Klingberg, who hasn’t skated in the regular season since the Jets’ first season. Thorburn stuck out negatively even in a 5-1 game, and the call up might mean Maurice is ready to make those changes.
At the same time, it wasn’t known whether Setoguchi could play (all signs point to yes), and so Klingberg might just be insurance. In either case, it’s a bit of an odd lineup and certainly miles from what one might expect from an outsider. Thorburn is up the roster on his off-wing while we still await his first goal of the year (Lucic-esque powerforward though he may be). Setoguchi is on his off wing, where he was awkward in defending. Big Buf is on forward where he’s effective but not used to his full potential.
I hope we see something less tangled from the coach, something with fewer explanations necessary. Tangradi and Klingberg on the port side, with Buf on defence and Setoguchi on his natural side would make a lot more intuitive sense, and it’s hard to see the reasoning for this grouping on-ice.
- Enstrom – Bogosian
- Stuart – Trouba
- Pardy – Ellerby
Pav gets another start after a fine performance in a game where he wasn’t challenged much. If Buf stays at forward, we can look forward to having Mark Stuart playing top four minutes. To his advantage is that Calgary lacks game breakers, and Stuart is a fine corner mucker for the most part. Still, Huddler loves to use the top of the zone to create offence, and Stuart gives away the blue line like it’s a plan. It could make for some dangerous chances, or the exposure of young Trouba.
Pardy and Ellerby have done well against lesser opposition, and there’s more of that to go around on Calgary (word play!). Still, with Buf away, the entire defence hinges on Tobias Enstrom, who we can hope is hard matched to Calgary’s top unit.
- Hudler – Backlund – Stempniak
- Bouma – Stajan – Galiardi
- Colbourne – Monahan – Byron
- Westgarth – Street – McGratton
The challenge of the Flames is a combination of injury and top-6 quality. Cammalleri and Glencross bolster that left wing immeasurably, and their fill-ins are less than inspiring (though still better than Thorburn on his off-wing…). Backlund has started to pop up in trade rumours because of his effective possession play and underlying numbers – things we know new King of Hockey Brian "Bowser" Burke doesn’t believe in. He wants size down the middle typically, and the Flames don’t have it.
To make up for it, perhaps, the fourth line is atrocious and straight out of the dead puck era. Ben Street has good speed and a motor that won’t quit, but takes contact like a non-pro, bearing the full brunt at awkward angles and with his body spread open. I’m not sure the last time I saw someone last a half season with that bullet on their resume. Maybe he’s not getting hit any more as he skates around with the Pillars of Hockey Justice on either side. And by that I mean, two guys who use violence to stay relevant in a fast paced game.
Jiri Hudler has managed a remarkable season in spite of being in the classic Calgary position of ‘lone scorer.’ In 47 games, he’s managed 39 points and to be +3 on a goal differential submarine. Not that it’s a perfect stat, as everyone is forced to mention, but Cammalleri is -20 in just 37 games. So to be +3 is kinda like being a unicorn on this club. (And we all know that unicorns don’t go to the Olympics, so don’t mention it).
Young Monahan has slowed his scoring since his injury at the end of November. Since returning December 14th, he has just 4 points in 16 games (all goals) and has slipped to 11th in rookie scoring. Prior to the injury, he had 13 points in 24 contests. That’s what I get for taking him in my fantasy keeper pool…
It will be a gritty affair if only because the Flames don’t have any other options for how to play. The key will be weather the Jets: a) give up the zone and allow entry, and b) box out the front of the net. Under Noel, the team didn’t box out in front and prepared to collect rebounds instead. Well, Pav gives a lot of them and we know where the Flames will be standing any time they can set up a play.
- Brodie – Giordano
- Smid – Butler
- Wideman – O’Brien
This is one of those moments that I hope DailyFaceoff.com is wrong about the lines. Is Wideman really on the third pairing? Maybe if they’d paid him another million, he’d be better. (Sorry, Calgary fans. I bully because my team isn’t good either. I have low team-esteem.)
TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano are quality hockey players, though. Again, it’s a lack of overall quality that makes this a mess and not a total lack of hockey players. Giordano plays heavy minutes on this club, has 19 points in 29 games (including 10 PP points), and is almost even in his possession numbers. That’s incredible.
His partner, the young and dynamic TJ Brodie has had an up-and-down year, but at just 23 is above average in corsi numbers, is scoring well, and shows exceptional puck skills and vision. It’s very hard on a defender to play with limited skill up front. The play tends to flow to your own end more, outlets are turned over or lost, the plays available are more simple and repetitive. Patience is required to play in those circumstances, and that can be frustrating for young and for dynamic players. Brodie has some turnover over issues, some brain cramps, but it’s because he tries to do a lot and with experience and help on the roster, he’ll start to show more of that patience. For now, he remains a danger to the opposition and able to exploit mistakes while still being an above average defender on a poor club. Very exciting future for Brodie.
In fact, replacing Butler and O’Brien with NHL quality players would go a long way to making this a reasonable defence group. With 148 goals against, they’re just 2 worse than the Jets for 26th spot in the league. It’s not pretty, but both clubs are in the same boat.
It’s a battle of clubs facing lost winters. Jets fans can celebrate a new coach and hope for a better considered lineup in games to come. Calgary can celebrate the oil money in their city and the fact that it wasn’t colder than Mars there. But yeah, the hockey club is not looking good at the moment.