JGD #27: Winning in the Division

The long existing schism in the Dustin Byfuglien fan-base is about to explode. Injuries have piled up on the back-end at the NHL level (Enstrom, Clitsome, Bogosian) and AHL level (Ellerby, Fredheim), and a blue line that boasted Adam Pardy and Paul Postma as regulars wasn’t deep to begin with. 

Andrew Halipchuk looked at the move of Byfuglien back to defence yesterday, arguing that despite the holes, the team was better off with him at forward. Against a talented (but so far unsuccessful) Avs club, Big Buf pulls in on defence for the first time under Paul Maurice.

Lines

Jets Forwards

Andrew Ladd Bryan Little Blake Wheeler 

Evander Kane Mathieu PerreaultMichael Frolik

Adam Lowry Mark Scheifele Matt Halischuk

Chris Thorburn Jim SlaterAnthony Peluso

It’s definitely a thinner group without Byfuglien. 

We looked at Scheifele’s performance through his first 100 games today, and one of the lingering problems appeared to be his time with Matt Halischuk – who once again graces his wing. This remains the best top-6 the Jets have iced in their 3+ seasons of existence, but the bottom six continues to thin out as poor acquisitions (Galiardi) and injury play out.

Mathieu Perreault has moved into the second line centre role admirably, adding the speed and centre lane control we hoped. But he was never imagined as a scoring force on this hockey club, having just 121 NHL points in 253 games. His 8 points in 25 contests this season trail Scheifele’s 10 as the two continue to jockey position. For tonight, we can expect Scheifele in a sheltered position without much offensive help.

Jets Defence

Mark Stuart Jacob Trouba 

Ben Chiarot Dustin Byfuglien

Adam Pardy Paul Postma

Michael Hutchinson

The team’s secret weapon – a goalie not named Pavelec – pulls in to backstop a cobbled together defence group. I say this often, but just to remember – Mark Stuart was this team’s 5th defenceman two years ago. The coaching was a mess then, so we can only imagine what Paul Maurice could have gotten out of a deeper group. 

Ben Chairot’s return to the NHL against the Oilers was much better than his NHL debut. He played twice as much (21:20) as his first game, and came out with 4 hits and a shot. Structure. What a blessing to a young defenceman.

That same structure will be under evaluation for Dustin Byfuglien. I’ve argued for years that Buf was a central reason Claude Noel didn’t get fired immediately – he overcame deficiencies in the fast break system by doing more than any other individual defender typically could. Will he look better with more structure? Or will he be out of step? 

Avalanche Forwards

  • Tanguay – Duchene – O’Reilly
  • Landeskog – MacKinnon – Iginla
  • Vincour – Talbot – Briere
  • MacLeod – Sgarbossa – Holden

The Avalanche forward group has been decimated by injury, to the point of defenceman Nick Holden playing right wing and Max Talbot moved to centre. Jamie McGinn, Jesse Winchester, Patrick Bourdeleau, John Mitchell, MA Cliche, and AHL call-up Dennis Everberg are all out with injuries. Not exactly a Hall of Fame ballot, but the core of their bottom-six group. In fact, an entire bottom-6 group! Coming off an OT battle with Calgary just last night, the lack of bodies could be a serious problem.

The switch of Parenteau for Briere has been problematic for the club as well, and of course the loss of Paul Stastny hasn’t been overcome by the addition of Jarome Iginla. The hockey club is not as good on paper as the one that won the Division title last season – and even that club lacked balance and depth, with five 60 point getters and the next highest scoring forward recording just 38. 

Still, the talent is there, and a Duchene ‘through the legs toe drag into a peanut butter jar breaker’ might rattle a young goaltender.

Avalanche Defence 

  • Hejda – Johnson
  • Guenin – Barrie
  • Stollery – Redmond
  • Varlamov
  • Berra

Welcome back to Winnipeg, Zach Redmond!

National media talk a lot about the PDO regression of this team, but it lost some key pieces as well. Andre Benoit has been an under respected contributor on three teams now, and was an important part of their second unit. He added mobility that Roy used primarily in defensive transition, bringing the weak side defender across the neutral zone to generate pressure before the red line. Ryan Wilson is injured again this year. Cory Sarich is not exactly Charlie Huddy, but might be better than Karl Stollery. Nate Guenin was the 5th/6th man a season ago, and even Tyson Barrie played a more sheltered role. 

It was never an All-Star back-end, but it’s thinner than it was a year ago. 

Predictions

Game Day Prediction: The Jets just acquired a top flight defender for this game in the midst of injuries, and it’s the difference tonight. Buf scores two in the third to take it 5-2.

Obvious Prediction: Matt Duchene draws drool from your lips.

Not So Obvious Prediction: Zach Redmond is in beast-mode, with a goal, assist, and 5 hits. He also annoys Evander Kane with his personality – just like old times – and Kane refuses to come out for the third period as a result.