The Winnipeg Jets begin their quest for the Stanley Cup in earnest tonight against the Minnesota Wild. Time to break down these two teams in five key areas to see if the Jets truly do hold an advantage over the Wild as many fans and experts have suggested.
The Jets led the Western conference in goals for with 277 while the Wild are in the middle of the west pack with 253. Both teams feature a 40+ goal scorer (Patrik Laine for Winnipeg with 44 and Eric Staal for Minnesota with 42) as well as a 30+ goal scorer (Kyle Connor with 31 and Jason Zucker with 33). Where the teams seperate a bit is in the depth scoring department where the Wild only have three more players after that with 15 or more goals on the season, while the Jets have five more players that can boast 15 or more goals.
5 on 5, the Jets are leagues ahead of the Wild in terms of regular stats and advance numbers. The Jets CF/60 in 5 on 5 situations comes in at 58.6% while the Wild are near the bottom of the entire league at 52.08%
The Wild aren’t quite the same old “Neutral Zone Trap” bore-fest of years gone by, but to hang with the Jets in this series, they might want to think about a return to that style of play.
We can point out here that through the regular season, the Minnesota Wild were actually a slight bit better on defense than the Winnipeg Jets. Sure, the Jets overall gave up fewer goals against overall – 218 to the Wild’s 232 – but when playing 5 on 5, the numbers would suggest that it was actually the Wild that held a bit of an edge, albeit ever so slightly by giving up 2.19 goals per 60 minutes as opposed to the Jets 2.12 goals given up per 60 minutes of play.
That all said, that was with pretty much a full season of Ryan Suter as a playing member of the Minnesota Wild while the Jets went for long stretched without Jacob Trouba and Tobias Enstrom. Suter isn’t playing in this series and Jared Spurgeon will be questionable for most of it. Trouba and Enstrom are dinged up as well but Trouba for sure is playing and the Jets have posted those numbers with Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey playing regular minutes.
The Jets rank 5th on the power play with a 23.36% success rate while the Wild were middle of the league at 17th with a 20.42% conversion rate. Penalty kill wise the Jets hold a slight edge on their opposition, having the league’s 9th best PK unit (81.75%) which is four spots higher than the WIld who claim 13th with just a few hundredths a difference separating them. (81.25%)
Again, the loss of Ryan Suter hurts the Wild as he was the guy that was leaned on to kill penalties – he averaged an even three minutes of ice time while short handed per game – and as well was a minute muncher when the Wild had a man advantage – 3:05 of ice time per game.
Both teams are even when it comes to penalty minutes taken per game this season (8.1) but the Jets do hold an advantage in opposition penalty minutes taken 8.2 to 7.8. It’s that extra penalty that could make the difference in this series.
This is Connor Hellebuyck’s first trip to the NHL Playoffs. Devan Dubnyk has been here before in the playoffs, but to suggest he has a wealth of experience over Connor Hellebuyck is a bit misleading. Dubnyk was the man in net when the 2015 Wild made it to the second round of the playoffs, but his .908 save percentage in the 10 games played was less than idea. Last year in the playoffs he was fantastic posting a much better .925 save percentage, but he had zero scoring support in front of him as the Wild fell in five games.
This season, Hellebuyck has already put together a rather impressive season as we have previously noted. Dubnyk was coming off a season where he was an Vezina and Hart trophy candidate, so when one says his numbers have dipped this season is true, but his numbers simply regressed to “really good goalie” range with a 35-16-7 record as well as a .918 save percentage.
Many have given the edge to Winnipeg simply based on the season the Jets have had, but playoff hockey is always a different animal and while we don’t expect anything to change, there is extra pressure and at least Dubnyk has performed in it before. At best, this is a push but it’s leaning already towards Winnipeg. We’ll see how Helle-boy does in the first couple of games.
We all know that the Winnipeg faithful are going to be amped right up for this series as they will be the entire playoffs. What will be interesting is what the scene will be like in St. Paul. Jets fans will travel well taking the day-trip about six hours south – two of the three home dates the Wild have are on a Sunday – and Wild fans already have a bit of a reputation for sitting on their hands in even some of the most intense playoff games. The Wild are already reeling a bit from the loss of Ryan Suter and questionable status of Jared Spurgeon.
At this rate, the only real advantage the Wild may get is a feeling of nothing left to lose going up against a heavily favored Jets club. That won’t be enough though against a Jets club who will treat this as “business as usual” led by a captain who will not let his team be complacent with leads or series advantages.