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Photo Credit: © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets Day After: The Game Isn’t Played On Paper

Admit it, last night surprised you.

It’s ok to admit it. Maybe the level to which you were surprised wasn’t high as it was for others, but you had to be surprised none the less. I don’t know how you couldn’t have been. Even I – someone who tires to push #BelieveInTheJets any chance I get – couldn’t have envisioned the game going as well as it did. I especially didn’t envision it going as well as it did when Sidney Crosby scored 32 seconds into the game. I know I wasn’t the only one.

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It’s not about pointing out who is and isn’t a bad fan and who didn’t have faith. You can have all the faith in the world, but reality was the Jets dressed a six man defensive group that had a total of 350 career NHL games between them. Four of the seven defensemen that the Penguins dressed in the game had more than that individually.

The top minute pair for the Jets last night was a guy in his third year as a pro who by all metrics was one of the worst defensemen in the league in actually defending last season, and the other guy with less than 50 NHL games played was in Europe a week ago when the Jets claimed him via the waiver wire and had just joined the team this past weekend.

If you figured that was fine and that still the Jets had as good a chance to win as any – in freakin’ Pittsburgh of all places, where the franchise, not just the Winnipeg Jets, but the Jets/Thrashers franchise hasn’t won since December 2006 – then I (and you know I mean this because I rarely swear on this here website) call absolute bullshit.

But the great thing about hockey is it doesn’t always care that much for your narratives or your “on paper” theory. A game still had to be played. Maybe the Penguins took the Jets a bit too lightly? Maybe the injury issues the Penguins have had to their forward group are having just as much effect on them as the defensive issues are for the Jets. Maybe the Jets just stepped up their game for a night. It was maybe all of those things.

That’s not to say that it will always turn out that way. Paying attention to what the numbers say and what the probabilities are from those numbers is important. It’s why games like the one in Pittsburgh are more rare than they are commonplace. Because nine times out of ten, games will play out pretty much how we all expect them to based on past trends and numbers, but once in a while we’ll get three of the six Jets defensemen (who between them had a whopping total of 13 career NHL goals going into the game  with eight of those belonging to Neal Pionk) scoring goals and leading the offense.

It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s how this sport is at times and that’s one of the things that makes hockey great.

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Now, other brief thoughts on the game…

Ville’s staying

I don’t know how it can be up for debate at this point. Ville Heinola is staying. The kid has three points in four games, he’s been playing just a shade under 20 minutes a game and save for maybe the odd mistake which could be expected from any defenseman he’s been virtually flawless with his zone exits and just when and when not to pinch to keep a play going in the offensive zone. He’s obviously well liked by his teammates if the reaction to his first NHL goal is any indication.

That third period wasn’t ideal

A lot of the numbers from last night’s game – aside from the final score of course – heavily favor the Penguins and a lot of that can be attributed to a third period where the Penguins absolutely dominated the Jets.

Courtesy: Corsica.Hockey

Silly me thought that since the Jets were so weak in the back end and because they dd pretty well defending through the first forty minutes, I didn’t think “score effects” would be in play as much as they normally would be in a 4-1 contest, but wow I was wrong.

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The Jets played that third period hoping not to lose a three goal lead to a team that while hindered by injury still had Crosby on it. Patrik Laine admitted as much in post-game comments that the Jets played with the idea of trying to hold on to a lead which given their recent history is understandable, but it’s also one of the reasons the Jets have had that history. Playing the game with the idea that you don’t want to make a big mistake leads to overly cautious hockey. It means players don’t finish checks completely or take a reasonable risk to push a puck forward or keep it in the offensive zone or make a pass to an open guy. It meant last night that the Penguins were able to get the puck, fire it at Connor Hellebuyck, then get it back and shoot again.

That’s not the best way to win hockey games. It only worked out last night because…

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Connor Hellebuyck stepped up

Stopped 37 of 38 shots – 28 of those in the final two periods – and looked really good doing so. He didn’t over-play pucks, his angles were good and he was square to shooters. It was a much needed game from him in a lot of ways and while I don’t know if we can file it under “message received” after Paul Maurice started Laurent Brossoit on Long island on Sunday when conventional wisdom would have suggested it was Connor’s game to start, if Hellebuyck really did need a bit of a reminder that the crease isn’t completely his for the season, then last night we got a reminder from him that it probably should be.

No complaints about his game at all. That first goal isn’t even really on him as you’d be hard pressed to find a goalie at all who would fare well with one of the best players in the planet alone with the puck three feet away from you.

All this offense is coming at even strength

One thing to maybe make a note of: The Jets didn’t get a single power play last night so all that offense came at even strength 5v5 play. It can’t be understated how important that is going forward. Last season the Jets were very mediocre at 5 on 5 play. They were 20th in the NHL at CF% (Corsi for percentage) with 48.9 (basically they allowed 200 more shot attempts against than they had for), were 12th in the league in goals scored while 5 on 5 (168) and were 25th in HDF% with 46.6 (meaning they gave up about 40 more high danger scoring chances to teams than they had earned themselves)

Although it is super early on in the season, the CF% is is 3rd in the league at 59.0%. They are still giving up more high danger scoring chances than they are getting, but again it’s a small sample size and that game against the Islanders where they were extremely bad has a lot to do with the skewed numbers.

But so far the trends for the Jets at even strength are positive even with a questionable defense and it’s reason for hope. The Jets power play has only converted one of nine chances and will be better. It will be exciting to see just what this Jets offense could look like at it’s full potential and not having to worry so much about defense.

The offside rule / review is so dumb

Look, I get it… But at the same time, I don’t. This is stupid NHL.

The Penguins have three guys ready to defend. Mark Scheifele has a foot over the blue-line – not touching ice yes, but at the same time it’s not like he has an advantage streaking into the zone with Blake Wheeler.

And this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this play out where a guy has his foot BEHIND the blue-line, but because his skate blade is two inches off the ground, he’s considered offside as if his entire body has crossed the line.

If the NHL is going to insist on this stupid review, of negating offense that happened regardless of what had happened 20 seconds earlier on a simple zone entry, then at least fix it so that guys who have their foot behind the line are still onside even if the foot is off the ground.

Maybe I’m just salty because it took a fifth jets goal off the board and it was a really nice one too…

Still, a great night for Scheifele who had a three assist night. Also for Laine who also had three assists – each of them would have had four point nights if this goal would have counted.