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Reviewing The Winnipeg Jets In October: Defense

With leaves falling down and Halloween right around the corner, it signals the end of the month for the Winnipeg Jets. We are doing a brief series on the Jets in October where we look at the different aspects of the Jets start to the season.

Yesterday we focused on the offensive woes in the early going. Today our focus will be on the defensive play to determine how well the Jets are defending after the first few weeks.

Even Strength

The Winnipeg Jets are an interesting team in terms of their defensive play. They are the tenth best team at keeping the puck out of the net (2.67 GA per game) despite allowing the seventh most shots against. Intuitively, this seems wrong. If the Jets are allowing 33.8 shots against per game, they should be near the bottom of the league in terms of goals against as well. Some would argue that it’s not about how many shots you give up, it’s about the quality of the chances. With that in mind, let’s see where the Jets are allowing shots from.

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This chart is not very encouraging. The Jets not only allow more shots on their own net than most teams, they are allowing shots from the inner slot at a high frequency. Skeptics still might say that the Jets boast one of the best goalies in Connor Hellebuyck. He is a Vezina finalist after all, so his performance should certainly make an impact.

While Hellebuyck’s impact is certainly positive, take a look at what the Jets were allowing last season when Hellebuyck was at the top of his game.

As you can see, the Jets are night and day when comparing between seasons. It’s clear to see why Hellebuyck was outstanding last year when seeing the low rates of slot shots he had to endure. (For the record, I’m not saying goaltending performance doesn’t matter, but last year Hellebucyk had a team playing much better defensively to help him out)

Similarly to yesterday, if you are someone who doesn’t like charts and graphs, the numbers can also tell a story. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Jets have given up the fifth most scoring chances against with 262. They go a step further and break down high danger scoring chances as well. The Jets rank near the bottom again as they have given up the sixth most high danger scoring chances to date. The amount of scoring chances given up definitely correlates with the above chart as it’s evident the Jets are allowing dangerous chances. These scoring chances have also affected their expected goals against. Corsica has the Jets ranked 20th in expected goals against per 60 minutes.

Lastly, if you are someone who doesn’t trust in charts or numbers, let’s take a look at the good old eye test. The Jets have fared poorly in that regard as well as they routinely get beat in the prime scoring areas. There have been plenty of times the Jets lose their man in front of the net and miss a box-out or tie-up. Not only that, but the Jets consistently struggle to get the puck out of their own end and get hemmed in for lengthy shifts far too often. This is especially an issue for the third pairing as Myers and Morrow have had a few rough games so far.

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Take for instance, Ilya Kovulchuk’s first goal back in the NHL who scores off a rush where Myers gets completely lost.

The problem is consistent as the Jets are allowing way too many chances from in the slot.

Notice the first and fourth goals by Toronto. The Leafs get a few cracks from a great area before it’s finally buried by Kapanen. On the fourth goal, Marner makes a nice move and Hellebuyck stops the initial shot only to have Tavares bang the rebound in while surrounded by multiple Jets. It was a missed box-out as the Jets got caught watching the play.

I think it really comes down to not moving their feet and getting caught puck-watching rather than finding the open man and tying him up.

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If the even strength results are discouraging is the penalty kill much better?

Penalty Kill

Perhaps the best penalty kill strategy is to not get a penalty in the first place. The Jets have had trouble with this in years past as they rank first by a wide margin in times shorthanded over the past five seasons. The Jets have been shorthanded 1,430 times while the second place team (Anaheim) has only been shorthanded 1,389. This problem is staying consistent this year as the Jets have been shorthanded 41 times, which is fifth most in the league.

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When the Jets are actually killing the penalties they are doing a great job as their PK% is tenth in the league at 82.9%. When looking at the shot charts though, it isn’t very encouraging despite the positive results so far.

This is even more puzzling when comparing to last season. The Jets made a conscious effort to eliminate the chances from inside the crease last year. This showed on the shot chart as the shots were kept to the outside. This season, the Jets are allowing chances from the left circle, as well as the right side of the crease. It seems like a recipe for disaster, especially given their dedication to eliminating the cross seam passes last season.

Player Performances

The Winnipeg Jets have run three consistent pairings in the month of October: Morrissey & Trouba, Chiarot & Byfuglien, and Morrow & Myers.

As you can see, there are is a major divide in the amount of icetime per game. There is a clear split between the upper half and the lower half. This is intuitive for Winnipeg as Morrissey and Trouba are clearly the best pairing and Byfuglien commands plenty of time on the powerplay.

The numbers back up this theory as Morissey and Trouba have a CF% of 53.93% while the other two pairings share an identical CF% of 49.42%.

It appears the Jets are also being weighed down by a few players. This makes the loss of Enstrom even more devastating for the back end. Look at how far away Kulikov is from everyone else. Chiarot has also been weighing his pairing down as his results haven’t been great. The really interesting thing is looking at how far Byfuglien and Myers are towards the ‘good’ corner of the map. These results are likely misleading as the Jets have only used this pairing while down and needing some offensive life. This is a prime example of score effects for a pairing with few minutes together.

In terms of watching the games, Myers and Morrow appear to be struggling the most. They tend to get hemmed in quite often and get fatigued due to the long shifts. The Jets have also been caught pinching a few too many times in the neutral zone as Chiarot likes to step up a la Mark Stuart and make the big hit in open ice. This leaves opportunities for other teams to strike on odd-man rushes.

It’s been a little bit of everything for the Jets. They allow too many shots, they allow dangerous shots, and they also allow teams to score off the rush or from set plays in the offensive zone. It seems that Winnipeg needs to find an identity and run with it because right now they are caught in the middle of a few bad trends.

There you have it, a synopsis on the month of October in regards to the Winnipeg Jets’ defense. Stay tuned in the coming days for a piece breaking down the goaltending. Let us know your thoughts. Are the Jets getting unlucky? Just not playing well? We want to hear from you!

  • I would like to see Poolman get some action to see if he can become a regular. If and when Maurice lets him play this could play this could open up trade possibilities for Myers, Kulikov and Morrow which could bring the Jets a reliable center until Maurice has confidence in playing Roslovic in the top 2. Some center has to play and develop some chemistry with Laine and Ehlers as they need someone who can play with them.