The Winnipeg Jets currently hold a three game deficit in a best of seven series versus the Anaheim Ducks.
The Jets have been out shot, out played, and outscored. It is a confusing matter since the Jets were rarely out done in all three conditions during the regular season. These are not the same Jets of the regular season and now they are in very real danger of being swept.
Now let’s look at what changes could fix the Jets and what the numbers say they should do.
Despite some loudly voiced opinions over the internet, the top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Michael Frolik has been fine. Better than fine even. They have not scored much but they have generated chances and have been out playing their match-ups. Their shot metric numbers have actually been better than the regular season.
The issues fall after. The Drew Stafford, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler line has been extremely exposed. The Adam Lowry line struggled in the first game but has since improved, owing a great part to the return of Mathieu Perreault.
And then there is the fourth line…
Return of Ladd’s Little Wheeler
The first line has done well in out possessing their opponents but there is room for improvement, and deploying Frolik’s defensive acumen elsewhere may help out as well.
Traditionally speaking, Ladd and Little have performed similar in possession of shot attempts whether with Frolik or Wheeler. The top line has controlled 55.1 percent of shot attempts with Wheeler, while controlling 54.6 percent with Frolik. Wheeler is a superior point scorer though than Frolik and adds a superior offensive option.
The difference in expected goal differential over 82 games with Wheeler on the line than Frolik is fairly similar despite the large difference in actual goals. Even with the small difference in shot metrics, the underlying chemistry factors of the most used trio since 2010 may add some extra hidden value.
While the gulf in impact between Wheeler and Frolik on the top line may be marginal, the impact of Frolik and Wheeler in the middle six is not. Frolik becomes free to elevate the Scheifele line, something he has done before.
Give Scheifele back his best linemates
Scheifele has spent major minutes with five different wingers: Wheeler, Frolik, Perreault, Stafford, and Evander Kane. His two best wingers for Corsi results has been Perreault and Frolik. His worst has been when with Drew Stafford.
We would expect a line like the Jets current second line to be outscored by about four goals over the season, while a Perreault-Scheifele-Wheeler line would likely outscore their opponents by about 6 goals.
The actual experienced difference has been the opposite, but this has been predominately due to goaltender save percentage fluctuations. The SSW line has carried a PD0 of +10. This means the Jets shooting percentage is 10 points higher than their opponents when this line has been on the ice.
Of course, putting the best three players does not always work optimally. Chemistry is real in hockey. While the time with certain players is often over exaggerated in impact, players have differing skill sets which causes certain combinations to perform differently than the sum of their parts.
The SSW line has suffered due to a lack of defensive skill. None of the three players are particularly adept in defensive zone coverage, puck battles, or puck support. Stafford has been the worst in these areas.
Lowry gets the best of the rest
As you move down the line up, the analysis process becomes more difficult and less certain.
The players have been together less consistently and less often. This increases variance and makes it harder to detect skill sets that work well with each other. Confidence in any numbers or eyes becomes severely diminished.
Adam Lowry has performed extremely well with many of his linemates. His Corsi percentage when with Perreault or Frolik has been in the mid-fifties. Still, his results with Lee Stempniak is even better.
Together, the Jets have controlled 62.3 percent of shot attempts with both Stempniak and Lowry on the ice. While 82 minutes does create some confidence issues, both are players who excel playing a heavy forecheck, straight-line game.
The issue comes with who should play on the left wing with the pair. Both Jiri Tlusty and Drew Stafford have their strengths and weaknesses. Stafford has outscored Tlusty both in aggregate and relative to ice time, but Tlusty has performed better in the two-way numbers.
This is where one would have to rely on the eye-test and gut-intuition.
Bring in Eric O`Dell
Even Paul Maurice noted that analytics indicate coaches are overly concerned on face off stats. Winning a face off is only one small part of the battle in gaining possession after a whistle, which is only one small part of the overall game.
Fourth line players tend not to be the team’s top performer. They do not have as much finishing talent and often are outscored even when they do out possess their opponents. Better to be outscored a little bit though than a lot.
Like all fourth line players, Eric O`Dell is not perfect, but his impact on overall results has been much better than Jim Slater.
The minimal ice time of a fourth line player limits the gap in expected goal differentials despite the disparity in their Corsi.
Keep the same or similar
The Jets issues with puck possession has primarily resulted from two factors. The forwards have not been able to sustain control in the opposition’s zone over extended periods of time and the Jets second line keeps getting trapped in their own zone. There are other issues in the neutral zone, but these two are the major factors and can be fixed with forward deployment.
When it comes to the results, all three of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Dustin Byfuglien carry their best results when with Tobias Enstrom. Still, Trouba and Byfuglien are good enough players to elevated Mark Stuart, Ben Chiarot and Adam Pardy from their natural talent levels.
The above levels are for all minutes as a Jet defender, so Byfuglien’s forward minutes and Myers’ minutes as a Buffalo Sabre have been removed.
No matter which way you slice it, the player with Enstrom will gain a bump. Placing Entsrom with Myers though allows the Jets to roll three pairs that tend to sit above 50 percent. As long as the Jets can fix the mess in their forwards, the Jets defense should do fine.
Bring on Hutchinson, or don’t
There are some who argue that Ondrej Pavelec is the reason why the Jets are in the playoffs. This comes along with the false idea that points late in the season are more meaningful than points early in the season.
Both Pavelec and Hutchinson have struggled at parts in the season. Both Pavelec and Hutchinson have excelled at parts in the season.
A late stretch of shutouts caused Pavelec to out perform Michael Hutchinson as a whole this season, while Hutchinson has out performed Pavelec over their respective careers.
Most likely Hutchinson is a better goalie than Pavelec, but Hutchinson’s true talent level is relatively unknown. We do know though that Pavelec currently has sat with a 0.893 save percentage so far in the playoffs.
Either way, it is pretty much a coin flip on who will play better next game… even if one side is slightly weighed more than the other.
As we have noted previously, the margins in winning is quite limited.
There is a tonne of parity at both the team and player level in the NHL. Goals are rare events and often come from broken or fluke plays. Players are humans and can vary in performance greatly from game to game.
All these factors and more cause very little differentiation between optimal and most used non-optimal deployments.
If Hutchinson is indeed the better goaltender, using Hutchinson over Pavelec likely improves a game where the Jets have a 53 percent chance at winning to a 54 or 55 (numbers are arbitrarily made up). Putting the best lines together or good lines together does not change things significantly. Sitting one fourth line player over the other doesn’t move a team from pretender to contender.
Still, the margins being small also means every little bit helps.
The Jets are down three games and are in danger of being swept. Only four teams have come back from a three game deficit.
Why not just go for it and deploy the players by the numbers?