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Photo Credit: © James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

Three Lessons The Jets Can Learn From The Blues Playoff Run

When their season ended prematurely, it’s likely the last thing many of the Winnipeg Jets wanted to do was watch or even think of hockey for the next handful of weeks – the lack of any Jets going to the World Championships would be a great indication of that. But hopefully some members of the team both on the player side and coaching side have noted the playoff run that division rival St Louis has had and have taken some notes.

If not, I have a list of three things they could maybe take way from the last few months of Blues hockey as well as one extra lesson from the east champs as well…

Lesson 1: Let the players create offense

A lot of coaches in the NHL focus more on the defense side of things than they do offense because for a couple of decades now it’s been proven that you can practically take any professional hockey player and make them at the very least somewhat defensively responsible, that part is kinda easy. Getting goals is tougher and is where some skill is needed not to mention a little luck at times.

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You can take a middle or lower six forward and ask him to be sound positionally, make life tough for opposing teams in the defensive zone and despite a less than ideal ability to read and anticipate developing plays, he’ll still wind up being able to defend relatively well to the point where a coach can rely on him to do that part of his job. What a coach can’t rely on is that same player’s scoring. That same struggle he had reading the ice on the defensive end now multiplies. It could lead to a turnover in the neutral zone and a scoring chance for the other team. It could lead to a bad shot that might miss or a bad pinch along the boards to try and keep the puck in the offensive zone with another scoring chance for the other team.

Mistakes on one side of the ice are all too often punished on the other side with at best a prime scoring opportunity for the other team and at worst a goal against, which is why many coaches would still rather focus on playing sound defensive hockey first. Not to mention players can shoot from all over the place, generate scoring chances, but sometimes the puck just doesn’t go into the net. (Nik Ehlers in the playoffs anyone?) Offense even from star players can be unreliable at times, defense from those players is a more proven commodity.

How many times have you heard a player or coach allude to a team getting offense from strong defense? How many times did Paul Maurice when talking about a good night Patrik Laine had on the ice often brought up his work on defense more than his offensive prowess?

It’s not like Craig Berube didn’t care about team defense when he replaced Mike Yeo as head coach of the St. Louis Blues on November 19, 2018. What Berube did though was give his players more of a green light to attack and create offense.  Carry the puck into the offensive zone and generate your offense from that. Don’t just settle for shots from the blueline and try to get offense that way, work the puck low and attack the net and slot area.

Getting the kind of goaltending they did from Jordan Binnington obviously helped the Blues not having to focus so much time and energy into defense, but opposing teams can’t score on you if they are trying to defend their own net.

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Lesson 2: Don’t be afraid to mix things up especially at the top line.

Safe to say the Blues top two offensive players this season are center Ryan O’Reilly and right winger Vladimir Tarasenko and as such it makes logical sense to put them on a line together. Both are fantastic with the puck and would give teams headaches trying to defend most nights. They must have been kept together on the same line all season, right?

Credit: HockeyViz.com

 

Sure enough, lots of games spent mostly with Tarasenko, but the left side of the ice seemed to be a bit of a revolving door of teammates. Lots of Brayden Schenn in there, but David Perron and rookie Zach Stanford also got to skate with O’Reilly as well. Alex Steen and Kaden Schwartz also saw at least 10 games each with him. It’s worth noting that that area around the 70 game mark (the second last tick on the right hand side) is where Tarasenko missed time due to injury, or else that would likely be red as well, but the point remains that while O’Reilly and Tarasenko played a lot together, it wasn’t exactly exclusive to each other.

Now let’s take a look at the Jets top center, Mark Scheifele…

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Credit: HockeyViz.com

82 games with Blake Wheeler by his side. A credit to the ability of both players to stay healthy, but also a sure fire way to make your team very predictable for opposing teams to coach against and a sure fire way to allow complacency in your own players. Keep in mind this chart is just five on five minutes, they also spent pretty much every waking moment together on the power play.

And the list of players to play beside those two is pretty short as well. Kyle Connor, Nik Ehlers and about 13 games with Patrik Laine. That’s it, end of list.

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There is something to be said for keeping players together to give them time to mesh and develop chemistry, but Wheeler and Scheifele already had that and for the first half of the season were damn near unstoppable. At some point midway through the season though teams started figuring out how to stop them both with the man advantage and at even strength and Paul Maurice for reasons only known to him and maybe Blake and Mark as well refused to deviate from the plan.

Lesson 3: Firing a coach mid-season is always an option

Those of you who want to see Paul Maurice removed as head coach of the Winnipeg Jets likely aren’t going to get your wish this summer, but that’s not to say it might not happen at all in 2019 and it might still be a bit of a surprise when it happens.

Coming into this season there was some added pressure on Mike Yeo and the Blues to improve. They had added players such as O’Reilly and re-added Perron, they brought in depth players such as Tyler Bozak and Pat Maroon – all of which was supposed to boost the previously shallow offense. When an improvement didn’t happen, the Blues pulled the trigger and after just one full season as bench boss in St. Louis, Yeo was done.

The Blues didn’t go on an immediate tear right after the coaching switch – they went 4-5-1 in their next ten games after the coaching switch – but in the games that followed Mike Yeo’s departure, the Blues sure seemed like a different team and playing more like what many expected to see in the pre-season.

A bad start to next season and it’s not unreasonable to think Maurice doesn’t meet the same fate as the Jets will maybe even draw some inspiration from what the Blues have done this past season.

Bonus lesson from the Bruins: Veterans and ‘kids’ need to pull together

You may have seen this floating around Hockey Twitter the last few days…

For a team that was rife with rumors of a locker-room split, it seem to be wise for some players on the Jets to take these words from Zdeno Chara to heart next season.