Jets Weekly Preview #10: Before the Storm

It’s week ten of the season already, and the Jets are off to their best start in history at 14-9-5. The Jets took five of a possible six points out of their home stand this past week, finally reaching a positive home record on the year at 6-5-2 and ending week nine with an even goal differential for the first time all year. In other words, who is this team?! 

Inside we’ll look at the week up-coming.

Games of the Week

The Jets face all Western conference teams this week, including two also-rans from the Central. 

December 9th 

 AT 

Remember when we were all excited to see the offensive powerhouse Stars? They’ve turned out to be the Oilers with more mature star players, as goaltending, defence, and structure have let them down. On paper the forward depth is remarkable – Horcoff, Eakin, Cole, Fiddler, Roussel – but ineffective play by UFA addition Ales Hemsky and the nagging injury to Valerie Nichushkin have left the team with fewer options than expected. Colton Sceviour and Curtis MacKenzie are playing top-6 minutes, and the team added an expensive liability in Travis Moen to fill-in on the 4th line. 

On the back end, the team boasts 5 active skating, puck moving defenders now, with Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka the odd balls on the roster. All that puck skill on the back-end is largely to compensate for poor structure coming out of the defensive zone, where the team has struggled. Starter Kari Lehtonen has the team’s best numbers with an unfortunate 3.03 GAA and .904sv%. 

The team ranks 17th in corsi % at even strength when the score is close – in the range with Carolina, New Jersey and Edmonton. It’s the tale of two teams, for the most part, with their stars pushing the play and their other regulars playing in their own zone too often. Winnipeg, for their part, is 6th in the league in corsi % 5on5 Close, and everyone but the fourth line are pulling their weight. 

As we saw when the teams met October 11th last season, the Stars can bury a team with offence when things go their way. That night, Seguin put up 4 points in the first 25 minutes and the Stars coasted to a 4-1 win. Still, on balance, the chaos of the Stars game currently is damning for long-time coach Lindy Ruff and spells opportunity for the Jets. 

December 11th

  AT 

The Avalanche make the Stars look like a cup contender. On paper, the roster is thin. With injuries, the roster is two lines of an AHL team tacked on the bottom of two lines with no defenders to get them the puck. Stats heads trumpet regression, and certainly the team was fortunate a year ago. But significant losses to a precariously balanced roster have left an inexperienced, hot-headed coach and his inexperienced Executive-whatever-in-control-of-things boss with very little to work with.  

The Jets trounced the Avs in week 9, and it’s hard to imagine another result. Winnipeg has collected 21 of a possible 24 points against teams currently sitting outside the playoffs. It’s circled as 2 points in Cheveldayoff’s calendar, and it’s just up to the team to collect.

December 13th

 VS 

The flip side of the team’s impressive tally of points against struggling clubs is their considerably less impressive record against playoff teams. The Jets are 4-8-4 against high-quality opponents, and the Ducks certainly qualify – even without superstar Corey Perry. 

In a matinee matchup this past Sunday, the Jets’ announcing crew compared Scheifele and Lowry to Getzlaf and Perry with only the faintest indication they knew they were pie-in-the-skying. In fact, Scheifele and Lowry are two of the few problems on the current Jets’ roster, with both scoring below expectations on a team struggling to put up goals. Despite injuries to three defenders (plus Sheldon Souray, technically – remember him?!), the Ducks don’t offer a lot of room to young players. Their speed and physicality can surprise those adjusting to the speed of the game, or those without a plan for the puck and it seems like the Jets’ young stars are somewhere along that spectrum at the moment. 

If the coaching staff is clever, we might see Hutchinson pull in for this game to give the team a chance to be on the right side of what will likely be another one-goal game. Make sure you tune in for this one – it will be a fast paced, physical contest.

In the Standings

The Jets currently sit 8th in the West, with San Jose a point back (in one more game played) and Minnesota just 4 points back with three games in hand. Of concern is the test at the end of the month – Chicago, a home-and-home against Minnesota, and then the up-start Islanders end 2014 for the Jets. Points in the standings this week could be a buttress for potential struggles over the holidays. 

Team News  

Evander Kane has been called before the Discipline Committee for his hit on Clayton Stoner in Sunday’s game against Anaheim. It was a clear hit from behind against a player who could reasonably expect not to be hit at all, and Kane traveled 80 feet to deliver the check. I deeply despise Clayton Stoner on a personal level, but it’s clear Kane will get at least 1 game. 

If Kane does miss time, it’s uncertain how the lines will look. We haven’t seen Eric O’Dell in the majors yet this season. His AHL numbers have fallen off his usual point-per-game pace, and the team is poised to lose is RFA rights at the end of the year. Any other hockey club would give O’Dell the chance in a scoring role to see what he’s got. On this club, previously waived TJ Galiardi likely suits up and Maurice plays his top-8 a few more minutes a piece.  

Jacob Trouba had 5 points last week – three against the Oilers (he’s becoming an Oiler killer!) and two against the Ducks. That gives him 9 points in his last 8 games, including three multi-point efforts. In his six game scoring slump preceding this streak, he fell to as few as 20 minutes in one game, but is back up to ~30 shifts and ~24 minutes a contest. Perhaps most remarkably, the young man carries Mark Stuart around to mostly positive results. The pairing still has the worst corsi among defenders – indicating they’re defending too often – but Trouba’s up-ice support is paying dividends for a team in need of goals. 

Dustin Byfuglien is earning praise for his play on the blue line, leading the team in minutes both games so far, playing over 26 minutes against the Avs and over 28 against Anaheim. He looks stable, even polished with the puck, is moving the team in the right direction, playing the body and controlling the flow of play in his own end. He did all of that last year, too, only for a very different hockey club. Last year, we looked at a succinct explanation of Byfuglien’s struggles here. Just seeing that breakout photo still makes me angry. 

On the OT winning goal by Kyle Palmieri Sunday, Paul Postma had backed down to his crease after Scheifele blew the gap on a curling Getzlaf. It was hardly his first poor defensive play of the season. Playing alongside the limited (though reasonably effective) Adam Pardy, behind rookie Ben Chairot, I wonder whether the team still has room for Big Buf on the back end after Clitsome, Enstrom, and Bogosian return from injury. The club is winning with Byfuglien at forward, but with the 28th ranked offence, there is still considerable room for improvement. 

For now, the team traded a third line winger for a 27 minute defender and managed nine goals in two games in a season where the team averages 2 goals per contest. Heck of a trade, Cheveldayoff. Keep up the good work!