Welcome to the second annual Playoff X-Factor series where we discuss who the key pieces will be in each round of the playoffs. This series was created last year to help identify which players could have the largest impact in a seven game series. There’s a case to be made that every single player will have an important role to play, and while that’s true, some players have the potential for a much larger impact during a short series.
The first X-Factor chosen might be the most obvious pick of all. He’s been out since February 24 and the team just isn’t the same without him. Let’s talk about Josh Morrissey.
Most importantly, Morrissey is not guaranteed to be playing in round one. All signs are pointing to him being in the lineup, but he hasn’t played in a month and a half and will need to see how practice goes before jumping right into a game. For the purpose of this analysis, we are going to assume Morrissey is back for the start of the playoffs.
If you are a longtime reader of Jetsnation, you might remember the X-Factor series from last year in which Josh Morrissey was chosen as a difference maker in round one. I wrote in the piece that “The Jets especially need Morrissey to fill the defensive deficiency on the left side of the blue line”. It’s funny how some things haven’t changed in the course of the year as the Jets are looking for Morrissey to bolster the left side once again.
While Nathan Beaulieu hasn’t been terrible in his role since coming to the team, having Morrissey back on the top pairing totally transforms the defense. It starts at the top as Morrissey and Trouba have been the number one pairing for Winnipeg for most of the last two seasons.
Morrissey and Trouba normally play together, but as you can see, Trouba gets much worse when playing without Morrissey. Interestingly, Morrissey also plays distinctly better away from Trouba although that may be due to such a small sample size. Having Morrissey back not only helps the team, but Trouba as well.
This season the Jets have used eight different pairings for more than 100 minutes at 5 on 5. The ugly part is that only two of those pairings have a CF% above 50%. Chiarot and Byfuglien rank first with a 51.9 CF% while Trouba and Morrissey are second with a 51.28 CF%. With the entire top four healthy again, the Jets will be a much different team than they have been over the past few months.
Looking at some of the individual stats also bode well for Morrissey. According to moneypuck.com, Morrissey is second on the team in on-ice xGoals % with 50.1%. Only Morrissey and Byfuglien are above 50% in that regard. Naturalstattrick also looks favourable for Morrissey as he’s second on the team in terms of high danger scoring chances for with 49.01%.
If you aren’t into advanced stats and want to see Morrissey’s impact, just look at the wins and losses without Morrissey in the lineup this year.
The #NHLJets have a record of 36-19-4 when Josh Morrissey is in the lineup and they are 10-11-1 without him.
— Spinorama 🔄 Hockey (@spinohockey) April 6, 2019
This is common sense as well. Not only does Morrissey help out the top pair, but it also allows the top four to play more minutes during the game. The third pairing of Kulikov and Myers has been under fire for the second half of the season for their poor play and bad turnovers. Having Morrissey back in the lineup allows Kulikov to play less which seems to be when he excels. Looking at Kulikov’s numbers show a distinct increase in TOI during the month of March compared to the rest of the year. He played 18:04 per game in the month of March compared to his season average of just 15:40.
It’s obvious that Morrissey is going to have an impact in this series but some people think the expectations being heaped on him aren’t fair. After all, he hasn’t played a game in a month and a half and people are expecting him to be the best defensmen on the ice during a battle with one of the hottest teams since Christmas.
The Expectations Placed On Josh Morrissey As He Returns To The Winnipeg Jets Lineup (2019) pic.twitter.com/NVrtwYTsvl
— Bartley Kives (@bkives) April 6, 2019
It’s definitely a tall order, but Jets fans need something to get excited about after relinquishing first in the division to Nashville. There’s no doubt Morrissey is an excellent defensemen, but the biggest question about his health still remains. Just the fact that there are so many unknowns surrounding his game makes him one of the biggest X-Factors in the series. If he doesn’t play, the Jets could continue to struggle. If he’s back in, he might be what pushes Winnipeg over the top in round one.