JGD #24: The Majestic American Buffalo

The Jets’ mid-week, Eastern-conference-also-ran back-to-back concludes today with a contest against a team with an historical misnomer for a city name. You see, the American Bison (Bison Bison) is not a buffalo at all! (Gasps!) The contest is effectively won. I mean, try getting a fighter jet to change its migratory pattern just by building a cross-continental railway. (Rim shot!) 

Ahem. 

The Sabres enter tonight having won three straight to pull into a three-way tie for last with the lowly Oilers and the also lowly Blue Jackets. The team’s verbal is, of course, about getting their sea legs. Still, the team sports a league worst -34 goal differential and lost the three games prior to their winning streak by a combined 18-5. Are wins against Toronto, San Jose, and Washington enough to make us believe Ted Nolan has found a combination that works?

Lines

Jets Forwards

Andrew LaddBryan LittleBlake Wheeler

Evander KaneMathieu PerreaultDustin Byfuglien

Adam LowryMark ScheifeleMichael Frolik

Chris ThorburnJim SlaterMatt Halischuk

Matthieu Perreault left the game last night with an injury and his status is uncertain. TJ Galiardi was waived yesterday by the team, but hasn’t been assigned to the AHL. The smart money is on Anthony Peluso drawing in for Perreault, but Galiardi is still eligible as well. We might see Lowry return to centre, Scheifele slide up between Kane and Byfuglien, and Halischuk move to the third line. 

Michael Frolik’s early season struggles necessitated some considerable changes to the lineup from opening puck drop, but it’s possible coach Paul Maurice simply expected too much. The usage numbers show that the the Ladd/Little/Frolik line played exclusively hard minutes – almost impossibly hard minutes with a quality of competition above 2.0 – to shelter three lines with various reasons for needing that shelter. 

Despite an active line matching by Maurice, the team remains 9 forwards deep. TJ Galiardi was waived in part because of bad luck. His PDO rests at 923 with an on-ice scoring rate of just 1.85%. But equally, his process metrics are poor, with a relative corsi of -12… second worst to (dun dun dun!) Jim Slater at -23. That’s not a typo. The whole fourth line, in fact, sports a poor corsi number and terrible percentages (both save and shooting) despite the easiest competition of their careers as Jets. 

Jets Defence

Mark StuartJacob Trouba

Grant ClitsomeZach Bogosian

Adam PardyPaul Postma

Ondrej Pavelec

The Enstrom injury has left Mark Stuart as the team’s de facto top left defender. Thank goodness we’re playing Columbus and Buffalo this week. The Trouba and Stuart pairing are struggling at evens as the only pairing with a negative corsi rating. And it’s a doozy at -13.5 (relCorsi) through the first 21 games. As well, Stuart is taking more penalties per 60 minutes of ice time than at any other point in his Jets career. Their competition has been that of a second pairing and they’re not driving the play. Enstrom out moves the difficulty meter a little higher for the Sophomore and the advanced stats goat.  

As happens every season, Pavelec’s “backup” Michael Hutchinson has shown clear evidence that he’s the better netminder. Remarkably, Pavelec is playing the best hockey of his career by the numbers – a 2.29 GAA and .917 sv%. Arguably, that’s the Maurice effect, though we covered Pavelec’s November success earlier in the month. Even still, Hutchinson’s 1.50 GAA and .947 sv% in 321 minutes of play as a rookie puts Pav’s improvement to shame. Hutchinson played last night, so Pavelec likely gets the start. With the Jets barely inside a playoff spot at the moment, we face the annual moment of hope – will the coach do the rational thing and begin giving Hutchinson more starts? Or will he do the Winnipeg thing and keep playing Pavelec all the way to 10th place? 

Sabres Forwards

  • Moulson – Girgensons – Ennis
  • Flynn – Mitchell – Gionta
  • Deslaurier – Hodgson – Stafford
  • Foligno – Kaleta – Stewart
Wow. The Jets are only managing a 29th best 2.04 goals per game. But when you look at the lineup, the talent is obvious. The Sabres, on the other hand, have a league worst 1.62 goals per game (after an historically low 1.83 last season) and the lineup is mystifying. I’m a huge Girgensons fan. I think he’s a terrific defensive player at a very young age, has great range, good strength, and a brain to fawn over. But he’s never scored at any level before the NHL and there’s not a lot of reason to think that his current 11 points in 21 games is the bottom end of his potential after scoring 22 in 70 games as a rookie. Nevertheless, he’s very reasonably their top centre. 

Cody Hodgson’s struggles have been stunning. The once valued prospect has 2 points in 21 games. He’s not alone in the corner of shame (that’s the name of the Buffalo dressing room). Veteran and one-time 60-point man Chris Stewart also has 2 points, or exactly half the number of that Brian Flynn has. 

It’s ugly.

Sabres Defence

  • Strachan – Myers
  • Zadorov – Ristolainen
  • Weber – Meszaros

  • Enroth
  • Neuvirth

But hey, at least they have a 26 year old 5’10” netminder who has never posted better than a .916 sv % in back up duties in his career. 

You might remember Tyson Strachan for his 19 points for the Hershey Bears last year. The 30 year old journeyman will be playing his 150th NHL game against the Jets, for his 4th NHL team and 5th NHL organization. He shelters their young stars in Zadorov and Ristolainen, while Meszaros carries around Mike Weber, one of the worst defenders in the league by advanced metrics. I hope Buffalo gets McDavid. Because otherwise, this was not worth it.

Predictions

Game-Day Prediction: Sure, the Jets are tired and never great on back to backs. But Pavelec didn’t play both, and the opponents for each game are the worst available. Jets win 4-1. 

Obvious Prediction: Pavelec gets praised for allowing just one goal on 28 shots, but no one mentions that AHL players are shooting on him. 

Not-so-obvious Prediction: At one point, with the draw in the Jets end, Mark Stuart in the penalty box, and the score just 2-1 Jets early in the third period, Jacob Trouba looks up at the press box. Tobias Enstrom’s Swedish eyes glimmer for just a moment. Trouba feels his confidence increase. He can do this. Puck drops, won back to Trouba. He carries through the Buffalo forecheckers, through the neutral zone and hammers home a short handed goal after crossing the blue line.