This is part 3 of the X-Factor Series: How the Winnipeg Jets Can Win the Playoffs. In part one, Kyle Connor was determined to be a player who could influence the series with his offensive abilities. In part two, Josh Morrissey was given X-Factor status due to his stable defensive play and importance to the defensive core.
With both the offensive and defensive games being outlined in part one and two of this series, the goal of part three is to look at a different aspect of playoff hockey. Our third X-Factor is…
Playoff hockey is a different beast than the regular season. The individual line matchups are more prevalent, the hits are harder and the space is tighter. The Winnipeg Jets are a very young team this season with nearly half of the current players not around for their previous playoff run in 2014-2015. Bryan Little was one of the leaders during this last playoff series and he is poised to have the same role when the Jets start their first round series Wednesday evening.
Veteran leadership from players like Little, Wheeler,and Byfuglien, is what helps these young players blossom into consistent and dependable contributors. In addition, Little’s calm demeanor will be vital during the games as he keeps his emotions in check and is not liable for taking any poor penalties.
Bryan Little did not play well against the Minnesota Wild during the regular season, but there are signs that this will change in the playoffs. During the four games against the Wild this season, Little amassed only one goal and five shots. While playing over 17 minutes a game, Little did not impact the stat sheet in any other way.
In addition to these underwhelming numbers, Little had a CF% of 44.4% against the Wild this season highlighted by a dismal night on October 31 where he posted a CF% of 28.6%.
When looking at Little’s performances during wins and losses, a peculiar pattern emerges. During the 52 regulation wins this season, Little has 14 goals and 20 assists, totaling 34 points. When looking at the 20 regulation losses this season, Little only has one goal and five assists. While the disparity in goals is slightly surprising, it becomes more puzzling when looking at the number of shots per game:
|Category||# of Games||Goals||Shots||Shooting %||Shots Per Game|
As shown in the table above, Little has scored the 14 goals during wins using only 80 shots. This gives a shooting percentage of 17.5%. When looking at the losses, Little has attempted 36 shots and only scored one goal. This means that Little’s shooting percentage during regulation losses is a measly 2.8%, which is well below league average. The most interesting part of these numbers is that Little took 0.26 more shots during the losses than during the wins. Despite his low numbers against the Wild this season, Little is still going to have an important role to play.
Little’s role for the Winnipeg Jets has continually changed as the season progressed. Most notably, Little moved from the second line to the third line when Paul Stastny was brought in at the trade deadline. There is a large difference between playing on the second and third lines as there is less pressure to score and easier matchups to play against when moving down the lineup. This third line will be vital for the Winnipeg Jets because of the nature of their competition.
The most likely scenario is the Lowry line will be used in a defensive role and will be playing against Minnesota’s best offensive unit. On the other hand, Minnesota will be putting their best defensive line against Scheifele, while their second best defensive line will most likely play against Stastny. This means that Little’s line will be playing against Minnesota’s weakest players. This opportunity to capitalize against the weaker competition gives the Jets a huge competitive advantage as the series progresses.
The matchup oriented style of playoff hockey will bode well for Little as he battles against a weaker defensive line throughout the series. In addition to this, Little’s veteran presence will be able to settle the nerves of the young players who are making their first foray into the playoff atmosphere. While his numbers against Minnesota during the regular season were not strong, most of those games were before Stastny was brought in to lighten Little’s load. This favorable matchup coupled with his strong leadership makes Little a tenacious X-Factor for the Winnipeg Jets.