Do the Winnipeg Jets play down to their competition

Do the Jets play down to their competition? Why is it that they seem to play well against the best teams?

These questions have been asked about the Winnipeg Jets, and it is neither the first or last time either. Team performance in both consistency and playing to their opponent is a fairly common concern throughout all fan bases.

Let’s take a look at this after the jump.

Instead of using the standings to determine the best and worst teams, score-adjusted Corsi (SAC) was used to approximate team talent. While both measures are imperfect, SAC tends to predict future performance over the next set of games than past wins, points, or goal differentials. The reason for this relationship is that Corsi approximates team strength better than the other methods, and the stronger team has a greater probability of winning in the long run.

First, we will look at how the Jets did in terms of out attempting their opponents for 5v5 situations depending on the strength of their opponent.

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As you can see, things vary depending on the game. We are dealing with humans and no one plays consistently to their maximum output every single game.

The overall trend though has the Jets as expected. The Jets tend to out shot-attempt opponents who are weaker relatively more often and substantially.

Of course, out attempting is only one part of the game. The end objective is outscoring the opponent to win the game, so secondly we will look at 5v5 goal performance.

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Again we see the same downward trend. The results are more spread out and less consistent, as goals carry a lot more luck and variance. On average their are 82 shot attempts per game versus 3.2 goal events for 5v5 situations.

Out scoring your opponent at 5v5 is one thing, but special teams and 4v4 matter as well.

Let’s look at how the Jets performed overall in their series against each team in outscoring their opposition.

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This is probably a bit flawed, as it is adding in empty net goals in addition to special team moments. Still, the trend persists with the Jets performing best against weaker teams.

The major outlier is against the Calgary Flames, where the Jets goaltending have carried a 0.857 save percentage with 56 shots against over two games.

Interestingly enough, the trend is actually stronger both in slope and coefficient of determination (R2) for all minutes than the previous look at 5v5 goal differentials.

Just like the last time I looked at the Jets performance against their opponents, it seems that the Jets play better against weaker teams despite the perception that they play to their opponent.

Why does this perception exist then?

Most likely the perception extends from the lying nature of human memory. Heuristics cause memory to find shortcuts to information. This causes memory to be largely impacted by high impact events rather than average trends.

An individual will remember their team playing poorly in a game they expected to dominate than their team meeting their expectations. The same holds true for remembering a game where a fan expected struggles but the team ends up dominating.

For fans this study gives two separate lessons.

It reminds fans to be aware that human memory is heavily flawed and influenced by particular events more than average performance.

It also should impact fans’ hopes in particular match ups for the playoffs.

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As it currently stands, the Jets have just over 50 percent chance of facing the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs. This includes the percent chance that the Jets miss the playoffs and face no one.

Between the Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators, and St. Louis Blues, the Ducks carry the weakest SAC percentage.

Despite the Ducks higher position in the standings, history suggests the Jets would hold a greater chance in moving to the second round against the Ducks than the other two main potential match ups.

The method used is not perfect. Due to injuries, trades, call ups, and line changes, it would be better to measure team strength using the previous 20-30 game SAC percentage as opposed to over the whole season, but the general idea still gets across.

There are aspects to the game besides out shot-attempting an opponent as well which can impact team strength, such as goaltending, discipline, and special teams performance.

Still, the overall trend persists. Shot metrics predict future performance and estimate team strength.