Jets Weekly Preview #11: Waffer thin

Paul Maurice is making room on his mantle for a Jack Adams award
right now, such is his confidence that a blue line without Enstrom,
Bogosian and now Trouba (the team’s top-3 defenders coming into the season) can
maintain the Jets’ winning pace. 

The Jets enter week 11 having snapped their streak of earning
points in 8 straight games but still hanging onto 8th place in the West.

Inside we’ll look at the week to come.

Games of the Week

The Jets have another soft schedule for week 11, hosting two
clubs in the hunt for a top-5 draft pick sandwiching a disappointing Bruins
squad still searching for answers.

December 16th, Buffalo vs Winnipeg

 vs 

Unfortunately for Winnipeg, it’s too early to count the points
just yet. At the same time as Jacob Trouba has been shut down for 6-10 weeks,
Buffalo comes into the MTS Centre having won 7 of their last 9 games and now
only the second worst team in the league for goal differential.

Pavelec is getting his 300th start against a hot team
with very little help in front of him. He’s no longer a developing prospect
(300 games is a lot for a player, never mind a goaltender), and his 2.91 GAA
and .906 sv% career numbers indicate that this season’s numbers are mostly
Maurice’s doing and the best we can ever hope for. The bottom remains hidden by
a trap door, and Jets fans should be slightly nervous as more and more talent
piles up in the infirmary that there will be cascading consequences. Most notably,
Pavelec could return to being a goaltender 8-10 points worse than he has been
so far this season.  

The Jets have been earning some attention as the league’s most
penalized team. It hasn’t burned them yet, as the PK currently sits 8th
and it will likely be a non-factor in this contest. The Sabres PP has been
worse than terrible this year, and on the road is just 1-for-32. It’s also
given up 3 SH goals, something for which Michael Frolik (2 SHG) should be
excited.

Latvian sophomore Zemgus Girgensons is second on the Sabres in
scoring, leads All-Star voting and is already just 5 points shy of tying his
total points from his rookie season. His range is remarkable and I encourage
you to enjoy a budding David Legwand.  

Dustin Byfuglien is also playing his 300th game for
the Jets. Back on the blueline the last 5 games, the team’s scoring problems
have disappeared (17 goals) and Big Buf himself has scored 3-3-6 and gone +4.
Garret Hohl over at Arctic Ice had a look at his numbers at forward and defence
to reveal that he’s a fairly average bottom 6 forward this season (the team has
struggled to score, remember) and a much better than average top-line defender
(bottom of this excellent piece).
Welcome back, Dustin. Yes, that whole experiment was silly. I agree.

December 19th, Boston vs Winnipeg

 vs 

The Jets’ penchant for physical play should matter more in this
contest, where two big, bruising teams go toe-to-toe. A 2-1 OT loss on November
28th was different than expected. Both teams are known for their
defence, but the game included 74 shots and just 46 recorded hits and 7 total
penalties and no fights.

The Bruins are a mess this season. David Krejci is the heart of
their offence, and his injuries have left them with the 22nd ranked
scoring (compared to 3rd a year ago). Milan Lucic has fallen to a de
facto third line, though with Chris Kelly and Craig Cunningham, it doesn’t have
the same panache as seasons past. Matt Fraser has moved past him on the roster
despite his 8 career points in 47 career games. At 24, it’s clear Fraser isn’t
going to be a scoring forward, but it’s also clear that Lucic lost more than his
aura of intimidation during the off-season.

Meanwhile, Tuuka Rask is posting a career worst .911 sv% (they
actually called 911 a long time ago about it, but they only come when they
wanna). That’s worse than Ondrej Pavelec. Uh huh. Tuuka Rask is having less
success than Ondrej Pavelec. Zdeno Chara is back from injury, however, which
should stabilize the back end.

December 21st, Philadelphia vs Winnipeg

 vs 

The Flyers are a brutal hockey club and are perhaps the best
retort to the annual, league-wide fan complaint that their team should have
just hired all the free agents. Philly does that every year, and has perhaps
the worst left wing group in the league, a disasterous defence group, a
medium-to-bad goaltender, and exactly as many good players as they were able to
draft.

Simmonds and Voracek are the exceptions (in that they were
acquired through trade). Voracek is tied for second in league scoring with
Malkin, one behind Seguin. He plays with 2006 22nd overall pick Claude
Giroux who was once described by Peter Laviolette as the league’s best player.
Rookie Scott Laughton has forced his way onto the team, simultaneously forcing
Lecavalier into the press box. Couturier and former Oiler farmhand Chris VandeVelde
finish out their centres.

Michael Raffl, Braydon Schenn, RJ Umberger and Zac Rinaldo roll
over the bench for the port side. (This is getting hard to go on.)

Michael Del Zotto is currently the 7th man on the
Flyers’ defence crew despite a positive RelCorsi and tougher minutes than his
replacement, Luke Schenn. The team boasts a record of 10-8-2 with Luke Schenn
in the lineup (1-5-1 without him), which is apparently evidence of his effectiveness.
He plays very protected minutes against mostly 4th liners, but maybe
he gives the best back rubs on the bench?

Naturally, he, Nick Schultz, and Nick Grossman all have to be
separated and paired with Andrew MacDonald, Braydon Coburn, and Mark Streit
respectively to avoid obvious citation from the Corsi Police. Did I mention the
defence is a disaster? Oh, and Steven Mason is the goaltender (with a .918 sv %
to his credit).

Despite a top scorer, the league’s 3rd best powerplay
at a dangerous 24%, and the 4th highest payroll, the Flyers sit with
Columbus, Dallas, and Colorado in the standings. Interestingly, it’s almost
entirely because of their road record. When coach Craig Berube owns the
matchups, the team is 8-4-2. On the road, they’re 3-9-3. An almost unplayable 4th
line, the Couturier/Read pair playing the toughest competition with the worst
zone start and the ‘Umberger Anchor’, and Grossman and Schultz each drowning at
evens has made this team all too easy to coach against. If the Jets can cobble
together just one defence unit to play against Giroux and Voracek, this should
be another 2 points.  

In the Standings

The Jets still sit 8th, with a falling Flames team
being replaced by the Sharks in the playoff picture. Though the Flames are
technically tied with the Jets for 8th, the real threat is still the
Wild. Just three points back, they also still have three games in hand and are
definitely better than the Flames on paper. Two games against the Wild still
loom at the end of the month, and points against struggling eastern conference
clubs are still points.

Team News

Of course, the big news is that Jacob Trouba is out until
February with an upper body injury. Grant Clitsome was activated from IR,
giving the team 6 healthy (if not exactly superstar) defenders.

Ben Chiarot is playing well alongside stud defender Dustin
Byfuglien, but is still error prone. Paul Postma is more forceful moving up the
ice, but still has defensive transition gaps large enough that you can count
the seconds between him and the attacker. Adam Pardy is effective in the
corner, but not really anywhere else. Finally, Grant Clitsome is moving over to
the right side as the most experienced and talented of the players not named
Dustin, but hasn’t looked like an effective NHL defender since the last time he
actually played alongside Byfuglien during the lockout season. And Mark Stuart
is now the team’s #2.

The corresponding news is not really news – Paul Maurice
engineered an 8 game point streak without two of his top defenders and has
turned a team that was always into the bottom of the league for goals against
into a defensively capable, frustrating team to play against. We’re seeing the
effect of structure, and the value of players like Mathieu Perreault and
Michael Frolik. The team just needs to get to January with this cobbled blue
line, and Maurice has made the case that he’s up to the challenge.