Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 26-24-8   Jets 29-25-5

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

SEARCHING FOR AN AIRPORT: Jets Nation

In the brilliant scheduling genius of the NHL, the Hawks will spend a second consecutive Sunday in Winnipeg, after having to bus in from Calgary last night because y’know, there’s no airport in Winnipeg. Once again, as they’ve seemingly done a dozen times this season and a dozen times last season, after last night’s win the Hawks have a chance to keep their season afloat with a win tonight.

It’s getting tiresome of course. We know what this team is, and what they probably need to do, but the longer they stay in the race the more justification they’ll have to kind of just float there, without making aggressive moves to bolster next year which should be the real goal here. A win would see the Hawks be within one point of the Jets, and four points within the Coyotes in the last spot with two games in hand. There’s a light week ahead with just two games at home against the Rangers and Predators, before what looks to be a killer roadtrip to close out February.

And we know how this goes. The Hawks probably can’t string together enough losses to fall out of it, due to both their own individual brilliance at the top of the roster and the Western Conference’s inability to not become a Cluseau-esque waiter. Which means three wins in a row are always around the corner to keep them right on the cusp, and then three losses right behind that to look over the edge of the precipice without going over. So it goes.

In the week since the Hawks were last here, the Jets biffed home games against the Rangers and Sharks, and deservedly so. Which somehow got Paul Maurice a contract-extension. This team has hated Maurice for two seasons at least, continues to be one of the worst defensive teams in the league and a good portion of that is because they simply don’t care to be anything else. But when they actually can be bothered, as they were for the last 40 minutes last week, they can still blow just about any team out of the building. Much like the Hawks, you can bet on them to keep yo-yoing between getting into the playoffs and ending their season without making a decision either way.

The Jets are still injured, with Lowry and Perreault still out and Letestu and Little long time casualties. That’s eroded something of their depth, which has led them to lean heavily on the top six and Andrew Copp and Jack Roslovic. There’s been some talk of shifting Blay Kweeler back to wing and Copp to 2C, and they’ll try both looks tonight you can be sure. They tore the Hawks asunder last week either way.

It’s been a pretty horrific roadie for the Hawks, and winning tonight will at least give them cover for not doing much at the trade deadline. They can argue they were robbed in Vancouver and lucky in Calgary somewhat, though eight goals is eight goals. They can say they split with the Jets, which is about what you’d expect from two games in a week against the same opponent. So the only blip, in their minds, will be losing to EdMo without McDavid. It’s the lowest hurdle to clear, but it’ll be enough for them.

We’re in this together.

Hockey

vs

Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, SportsNet, NHL Network, WGN-AM 720
Winnipeg Nights: Arctic Ice Hockey, Jets Nation

Similar to The Gambler’s Fallacy (of being “due”), when a team is mediocre-to-bad, nearly every game represents the potential for turning things around. The periphery of the playoff picture in the NHL is the very definition of the bare minimum of competence as far as sports are concerned, and the Hawks have once again put together a handful of wins against a cornucopia of teams somehow even worse than they are, and one win last night against a supposed contender, albeit one whose number they seem to have and has a blue line beset by injuries. So naturally that sets them up for a divisional matchup against the visiting Jets tonight where they could creep even closer to a wild card spot in the proverbial four-point game, the type of game they have found stunningly impressive ways to shit themselves in under Coach Cool Youth Pastor in the past season and a half.

Hockey

Perhaps it’s a vision of what Jonathan Toews will become before too long. After all, he’s just a shade over a year younger than Blake Wheeler. Wheeler is certainly the bigger boy, but you could argue Toews has played just as physical of a game as Wheeler has. We’ll show you what we mean in a second here.

Over the summer, during contract negotiations with Patrik Laine, the Finn made it clear that he would prefer to play with Mark Scheifele instead of Bryan Little as his center. That hasn’t really worked out much this year any better than the opposite formation did last year, but the Jets are sticking with it. In order to make room for that, it is Wheeler who has made way and moved to center the second line in Little’s absence. Though it’s likely he’ll stick as the #2 center whenever Little returns.

And at 33 now, it sure looks like Wheeler’s game has begun to decline. This is a player who piled up 71 assists last year and 91 points, so in truth he only had one way to go. But so far this year he’s only on pace for 67 points, and you can’t pin this on playing with Nikolaj Ehlers or Jack Roslovic, as neither are slouches.

Some of Wheeler’s metrics are down. Less assists per 60, less shots, and his possession numbers are going down along with the rest of the team’s. However, perhaps playing against less grueling checking lines has improved his game in other areas. Wheeler’s attempts, chances, and expected goals individually are up, as well as his goals per game. He’s not hitting the net quite as much, but when he is they’re going in more often than last year or the past few seasons. At the end of the day, he’s still only got nine goals and on course for 21. Which is about the mark that he always hits.

The Jets have bigger issues, but you can see where Wheeler’s $8.25M hit for the four seasons after this is going to become a sticking point. The Jets only have about $6M in space next year, and things will get dicier in the summer of 2021 when Laine and others are up again. Perhaps they’ll need Seattle to deprive them of a headache or two.

Still, it feels unfair to Wheeler to have him demoted simply due to Laine’s bitching, when he and Scheifele and Kyle Connor formed one of the more devastating lines in hockey for a few seasons. Scheifele and Connor will score regardless, but Wheeler took his slight demotion without saying much of anything. Maybe that’s what a captain does. Maybe he sees the clock on the wall. Still, if Laine continues to produce totals that barely raise an eyebrow, when Little returns the Jets could be having this discussion all over again.

A discussion the Hawks won’t evade forever either. Kirby Dach was clearly drafted to supplant Jonathan Toews as the #1 center. When will that happen exactly? Next year? What will Toews’s role be then? Purely checking center? Could he play wing? Perhaps it depends on who is delivering that message, but this is already a dressing room balking at the scratching of a pretty much useless Brent Seabrook. Toews will almost certainly defer to the greater good. It’s his way. But it will never be smooth.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Well, it’s a point? When you don’t have any, a point is like, better than nothing? I’m trying here.

The Hawks started well, then got blitzed in the middle, and then spent the third period playing awfully safe. Which didn’t work. Stop me if you’ve heard all this before. Well you can’t now, because I’ve said it all, but you get the idea. What the Hawks can do about it, I’m not sure. And I’m not even sure it’s a thing, but the Hawks seem to think it’s a thing.

Anyway, let’s clean it up.

The Two Obs

-Slo my colleague Matt McClure has said that this seven game homestand is an excellent time to really evaluate Jeremy Colliton. Because he’ll get seven games to pick his matchups and where he wants players and have the best chance to put his players in their best places to give the Hawks a chance to win. So far…ehhhhhh.

The Hawks definitely were matching up their D against certain lines of the Jets last night. Murphy and Keith drew the Scheifele line assignment. Seabrook and Maatta drew the Andrew Copp line. But the forwards didn’t really have any pattern like that, which is strange. Which means Scheifele got some shifts against David Kampf’s line, which didn’t work out all that well for the Jets. But then they got some shifts against the Dylan Strome line, which very much did. You can’t have Strome out there against top centers. It’s just not going to work right now.

-Whatever, that’s kind of nitpicking. Maybe Colliton is still figuring out who does what. What his team does though is still have massive defensive breakdowns in their own zone. And I don’t know if that’s mistakes or by design. Frequently, you’ll catch the Hawks with both d-men on the same side of the ice, and sometimes even in the same corner. Which just can’t be right. One of Lehner’s big saves on Scheifele came when Murphy tailed Wheeler behind the net all the way to the other circle, and Keith was on his post as he’s supposed to be. So who covers the other side? Is it Strome? Because no one did much of anything here:

For the tying goal, where are de Haan and Toews going exactly here?

These are obviously cherry-picked, but you see these things all the time. It still feels like guys are guessing where to be, or simply don’t care. This shouldn’t be happening this early in the season after MAGIC TRAINING CAMP.

-The Hawks made a big deal of struggling in the second period, as they did against San Jose. I’m not really sure this is a thing, but they seem to think it is. It could just be that San Jose and Winnipeg are that much better and just needed a period to wake up for a game on the road. Obviously, the only difference in the second is the long change, where the Hawks possession problems become exacerbated. It’s even harder for them to escape their zone, guys get stuck out longer, etc. I’m not sure it’s got that much to do with the second period itself.

-On the plus side, I’ve been surprised by Ryan Carpenter in the first three games, and he was excellent last night. The 4th line was actually the best for the Hawks in terms of attempts-share and second best in expected-goals. Carpenter is quick and just gets up the ice, which is how he created the shorthanded goal (the Jets defense being just about as slow as the Hawks’ didn’t hurt either). I think you could make an excellent checking unit out of him and Kampf to make room for Dach. Just sayin’.

-Rough night for Kampf’s line, as they get clocked in possession and chances. But it’s still unclear what they’re being set out to do. Yet, they’re still the only line that plays fast, i.e. just gets the puck and goes. That might be because Saad is the only winger other than Kane comfortable carrying the puck a long way (sometimes to his detriment), but the top two lines don’t play that way. Yet. They need to.

-Seen some people wondering if the Hawks are actually intentionally not clogging shooting lanes on the penalty kill. Ehlers goal was a touch strange:

Again, I can’t tell you if this is systematic or human error. Maatta is there, he knows where Ehlers is, I think, he seems to anticipate the pass to him, but he takes a weird angle, either wrongly trying to cut off the pass he’ll never get to or he thinks Ehlers is somewhere else. He’s certainly available to get in the lane for the shot. He just didn’t.

-Don’t look now but the power play is clown shoes again.

-Ok, so my first trip into the UC this season. That scoreboard is…let’s say garish? It’s not this weird screens on top of screens thing, so from certain angles, including mine, there are ads and graphics that get cut off by other screens. It kind of looks like he Pritzker Pavillon, but made of video screens. It’ll take some getting used to.

Onwards…

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Jets 3-2-0   Hawks 0-2-0

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

LOOKING FOR AN AIRPORT: Arctic Ice Hockey

The Hawks will try and get their first points of the season in the second of seven straight at home, and they’ll do it in their first division game of the nascent season. The Winnipeg Jets roll in having won their last two, steamrolling both the Penguins and Wild after opening the season being looser defensively than the current bond on my windshield wipers (minor car repair is not my thing).

In their first three games, Winnipeg surrendered 14 goals in the three-game New York swing. They’ve tightened up to only let in three in the last two, but this blue line is a mess either way. Jacob Trouba and Ben Chiarot are gone, Dustin Byfuglien is off looking for answers, and what’s left is a shallow and brackish pool. Or Poolman (KARROOOOOGGGAA!). When your top pairing has Dmitri Kulikov on it, you know you have issues. Neal Pionk and Josh Morrissey aren’t doing much to help, which is why the Jets are surrendering the third most shots per game at a touch over 36. That’s even worse than the Hawks! It can happen!

But, as you know after all these years with the Jets as division foes, if there’s any team that can outshoot its defensive waywardness and lack of possession, it’s this outfit. Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor have switched places on the top two lines, which hasn’t stopped the top one from scoring even though they have some truly whiff-tastic metrics. Bryan Little hasn’t started the season yet due to brain injury, but Andrew Copp has filled in admirably. The Jets still have that hybrid checking line of Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry, and now Mark Letestu. They can do just about whatever you ask.

Because the Jets’ defense is a whatever is hopping cargo trains into town, Connor Hellebuyck is going to need to have a stellar season. So far so good on that one, as he’s up at .927 in three starts. The Jets do play tomorrow, hosting the Penguins this time, so the Hawks might get a look at Laurent Brossoit, one of the league’s better backups last year.

For the Hawks, it took two games for the lineup that shook out of Magic Training Camp to be blown up. To be fair to coach Kelvin Gemstone, the new look lines do make some sense, with the top three having the Puck-Winner-Playmaker-Finisher combos that Quenneville favored. Alex DeBrincat will shuffle up to play with Toews and Caggiula, and Kane will slot down to play with Dylan Strome and Andrew Shaw. The third unit that started so brightly against San Jose before being broken up and torpedoing the whole arrangement remains intact of Saad-Kampf-Kubalik (A little bit of the Kubbly!)

The shuffling doesn’t stop at forward, as Calvin de Haan‘s season debut has rejiggered the d-pairs as well. After being the low-hanging target that Colliton could call out, Erik Gustaffson is dropped to the third pairing with de Haan, as Colliton was shocked to find out that Gus can’t actually play any defense. Connor Murphy will join Duncan Keith, a pairing that just hasn’t worked as well as you’d think in the past. Still, Murphy is just about the only d-man on the roster with the mobility to cover for Keith’s wanderings and meanderings at his own line and down low. Maybe this time it will be different.

Robin Lehner will make his Hawks debut so Corey Crawford can get some air.

There are no must-wins in October, but it would behoove the Hawks to get off the schneid tonight. 0-2 is nothing more than a blip, whatever worrying signs contained within. But 0-3 starts to border on a whole thing, and it wouldn’t be too much longer before the Hawks have to play catch-up for the whole season. There’s already a strain and pressure on the players and coach and front office, and another biffed start to the season is only going to make it worse. Maybe this time there will be real consequences.

As if.

Considering the state of each teams’ defenses here, this one should have some goals. Entertainment is all we ask, and should get it to kick off a Saturday night.

Hockey

For most of the summer, it looked like the Jets might struggle to get either of Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor into the fold by the season’s opening. Getting both seemed just east of Oz on the possibility scale. And yet they managed it. The strange thing was that they chose to lock up Connor long-term, while Laine only got a two-year bridge deal that won’t even take him into unrestricted free agency. But was it that strange, really?

At this point, it’s pretty well-documented how much Laine ran into the rock wall painted to look like a tunnel by Wile E. Coyote last year. From 44 goals to 30, from 70 points to 50, a 33% drop in shooting percentage, and some metrics that were truly horrifying. Meanwhile, Connor racked up his second straight 30+ goal season on the Jets’ top line, although his metrics weren’t all that impressive either. But when you’re skating with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, you’re probably always going to outscore what your metrics say.

Still, the thought that Connor was a product of his linemates and Laine had to do it himself was a popular one. It was even one Laine felt necessary to voice himself during the summer. If they switched spots, would Laine be the one the Jets felt they had to keep, and Connor the one they would wait-and-see on?

Connor actually spent as much time away from those other two forwards as he did with them last year. His attempts and shots per 60 percentage do go down without them, but the team’s goals-percentage when he was on the ice without them went up. More worryingly, the expected-goals count when down about five percentage points. The only thing that went up significantly was Connor’s shooting percentage, which appears to be blind luck thanks to the expected goals mark, and thus would explain the goals going up without Wheeler and Scheifele.

On the other side, Laine only got about 200 minutes last year with Wheeler and Scheifele, though that’s just about 15 games worth or so. Laine’s numbers hold steady whether he was skating with them or not. But what’s worth noting is how much worse the whole line’s numbers were than they were when Connor was on the top line. It’s four to five percentage points across the board. Quite simply, Laine was dragging them down.

So in that sense, it makes sense to see what Laine does for a further two seasons, and that’s both on the top line and away from it, to see who’s a product of whom. Laine’s bitching has got him on the top line this year to start though, where he’s put up 10 points in five games. And while the points are nice, once again the metrics say this line doesn’t work at all. Their Corsi % together is 29.7%. xGF % is 37.3%. Laine is outscoring it for now, but that can’t last much longer.

Meanwhile. Connor has been put on the second line with Nikolaj Ehlers and Andrew Copp, though that will be Bryan Little‘s spot again when he recovers from concussion. Their metrics still aren’t in the black, but they’re far better than what Laine is doing on the top line, though not with the end-product (three goals between them).

So it would appear that Connor is the more all-around player, capable of doing work anywhere, though we’ll obviously need a much bigger sample size. Laine is going to have to continue to shoot the lights out to outrun the fact that his line almost never has the puck. He’s done it before, but if he wants bigger numbers on his paycheck when these two years are up, he’s can’t stop.

Hockey

We bring our team previews to a close, where we most definitely didn’t skip anyone, with the team that has every chance to be the best comedy act in the league this year. A lettered captain has already fucked off for the all-you-can-eat-and-drink menu at Caesar’s. They hated their coach last year, and yet he’s still coaching. The defense has been ripped apart to the point where they really need Carl Dahlstrom. Patrik Laine bitched to everyone he wants to play on the top line, where there doesn’t appear to be any room, which will make his linemates on the second line feel very welcoming. There’s still a wealth of talent in Winnipeg, and on that alone they could cozy up to 100 points. Or they could deteriorate right out of the playoffs.

2018-2019

47-30-5  99 points (2nd in Central, out in 1st round)

3.29 GF/G (7th)  2.96 GA/G (15th)

48.9 CF% (19th)  47.7 xGF% (23rd)

24.6 PP% (4th)  79.2 PK% (22nd)

Goalies: Same as last year, as Connor Hellebuyck will be backed up by Laurent Brossoit. Hellebuyck didn’t hit the heights of the previous year, at a solid .913 overall. The problem for the Jets is they weren’t very good defensively, and they figure to be a measure worse this year. So .913 very well might not be near enough to not give up three goals per game or worse. More worrying, is that Hellebuyck lagged behind his expected save-percentage last year at evens, which simply can’t happen this year. Is he the .924 guy of ’17-’18 or is he more to the career .915? It’s probably the latter, but will that include enough miracles to keep their excellent finishing close enough to win games? Real question.

Brossoit was excellent as a backup last year, and if he puts up another .920 and Hellebuyck struggles a bit, Paul Maurice is going to have another headache he doesn’t know how to handle.

Defense: Goodness. This is a unit. Byfuglien has fucked off, and likely isn’t coming back. Jacob Trouba finally got his wish, which was an escape from Winnipeg. Tyler Myers shuffled off to Vancouver, though that’s not a bad thing. So the only remaining player from last year’s top four is Josh Morrissey, and we don’t know if he’s actually good or looked good next to Trouba. Dmitry Koulikov is still here, whatever that does for you. Promising kid Sami Niku has to start in the minors due to conditioning. Nathan Beaulieu, Anthony Bitteto, Dahlstrom, and Tucker Poolman are the very definition of “guys.” Maybe they think Neal Pionk is going to be more than the Rangers did, but this is a goddamn mess. And this was a team that didn’t have impressive metrics when it came to attempts and chances against last season. What’s it going to look like this one? Especially if they try and play as up-tempo as they have, which they kind of need to to get the most out of their forwards.

Forwards: With Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor back in the fold, there is still the ton of finish along with mainstays Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, Nikolaj Ehlers. There are the nifty two-way guys in Andrew Copp, Mathieu Perreault, Jack Roslovic, and Adam Lowry. It’s not the happiest bunch thanks to the windsock moods of Laine and how everyone feels about the coach. And they’re going to have to continue to outscore opponents and their own defense, because it could be a real challenge. There are going to be nights when they put up five and six. There are also going to be nights when they hit a couple posts or aren’t quite as dynamic and their defense gives up five or six. If the power play isn’t clicking above 20%, they’re going to have real issues.

Prediction: Tire fire. This team absolutely quit on its coach in the playoffs last year and not kicking Maurice to the curb, who’s never known what he’s doing, was a huge mistake. They’ll probably sacrifice the first four to six weeks waiting for Chevyldayoff to clear the gas leak in his office and can Maurice’s ass. From there it’s about the hire and whether the players are too far gone or respond. If they stick with Maurice too long, this will definitely go into the tank and they’re only eight points or so away from slipping out of the playoffs altogether. There’s so much that can go wrong here. If Hellebuyck is only solid, that might not be enough. If no one on the defense claims a higher spot, they’ll get run over. If Josh Morrissey isn’t up to being the guy, they could get run over. If the forwards think they’ve missed their window and give up the fight, which they did once, they won’t score enough to outlast their other problems. And it won’t take much for that asylum up in Manitoba to completely turn on them and turn into a complete zoo.

It’s on a knife’s edge up there, and the smart money is it falls off.

Everything Else

If hockey ever had its own version of Livia’s Soprano’s funeral, this would be it. Here was an utterly miserable team that made everyone around it utterly miserable, maybe even tried to kill a few of them, so how can anyone be upset they’re gone? It’s what they wanted, it’s what we wanted, and even if it came at the hands of the Blues, pretty much everyone is in agreement this was best for everyone involved. No one’s even pretending anymore.

It’s why the Jets were so miserable that makes for interesting debate. The easy out is to pin the blame on Paul Maurice, who seems to tout that he was the NHL’s youngest coach as Mr. Fuji’s salt to throw in the eyes of NHL GMs to blind them to the fact that he’s been an utter moron for a decade or more. Maurice got the Hurricanes to two conference final appearances and a Final appearance, and since then all he has to show for his work is Winnipeg’s two series wins last year. The Jets remain one of the dumber and more penalized teams in the league, even though their PK often looked like a set of beached sea lions near a fish trap. His only ploy when things weren’t working has been “MOAR HITZ”despite having maybe the most skilled set of forwards in the league.

Maurice also reportedly made his players hate life, though admittedly this is not a hard thing to do in Manitoba. Mark Scheifele and Blay Kweeler were allowed to do whatever they wanted, while everyone else got shifted up and down the lineup. Then again, they were the only ones to actually produce all season, so if Patrik Laine wants to bitch he could actually, oh I don’t know, MOVE.

This was a team that claimed missing Dustin Byfuglien for half the season harmed its defense irreparably, even though Buff has all the interest in playing defense of those aforementioned sea lions. And both scenes look strikingly similar. And the Jets were so convinced of this they actually made it true, such was Jacob Trouba’s determination to get out of town he’ll drive his value and salary to Trevor van Riemsdyk levels.

The Jets were actively trying to get Paul Maurice fired since November, when they stopped playing defense altogether, but their collection of talent and the inattentiveness of GM Kevin ShovelDayOff prevented them from doing so midseason. ShovelDayOff’s answer was to acquire Captain Stairwell Kevin Hayes, who was desperate to bolt New York. Did anyone think he would invest in Winnipeg after that? His five-year deal in Florida or Los Angeles, after begging unsuccessfully for the Bruins to sign him so he can go back to throwing up on BU freshmen at Fuller’s, is almost preordained at this point.

But it has to be more than the coach, right? This team that was about as electric as could be last year doesn’t just simply turn into the Wild simply because of one overbearing, overmatched coach. There has to be something else. And it’s probably living in Winnipeg. Patrik Laine might have torpedoed his own value simply because the thought of committing to a frozen bomb shelter for his 20s was so depressing he’s going to be showing up in Robert Smith eyeliner to training camp. It clearly has killed the will and zest of Nikolaj Ehlers, who was hastily trying to rearrange his nameplate to “Ennui” since Christmas.

And much like other teams that have already bitten it, this is the team they’re going to have. Laine and Connor are going to eat up most of the space they have, even if they try and commute from Duluth or anywhere that doesn’t pull their soul out through their nose. Letting Trouba and Myers walk might allow them to reconstruct a defense that’s been playing with things they found at an empty construction site all season, but ShovelDayOff is the same GM who brought in Kulkov and Myers and other fuckwits that got them here in the first place. And Byfuglien will be 35, so his lazy jaunts back into his own zone five seconds late will just become lazy jaunts back into the neutral zone that are five seconds late. But hey, we’ll always have that time he slew-footed Chris Pronger with the Hawks up four in Game 5 that gave every Grabowksi and white-hat in Chicago an erection they hadn’t seen in years.

It’s not just their season we don’t mourn the loss of. It’s their time in the spotlight. There was only ever going to be a short shelf life on Winnipeg itself not smothering the life out of a possibly-great team. You can’t drive to another town to use their airport every few days before you just can’t anymore. And so it seems to be with the Jets. Five years from now they’ll be planing their move to Portland.

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 Wednesday in Winnipeg, 7pm

Game 2 Friday in Winnipeg, 8:30

Game 3 Sunday in St. Louis, 6:30

Game 4 April 16th in St. Louis, 8:30

While everyone…ok, everyone in Toronto, might bitch about the playoff format, you can’t argue that the 2-3 matchups provide a fuckton of intrigue. Across the board here, three of the four of those look like they’ll be long, competitive, fun series, with only the Pens and Isles being the exception because Trotz will turn it into a local council meeting. And it will probably still be competitive. This one might be the hardest to call, because it’s hard to know what the fuck the Jets have been doing and it’s hard to know what the Blues really are. It probably comes down to whether Jordan Binnington waked up and realizes he’s Jordan Binnington or not. This one feels like it’s going the route.

Goalies: Again, Jordan Binnington. He’s been simply cosmically good since finally wresting the starter’s job from Jake Allen when the Blues couldn’t force-feed it to him anymore. He’s the main reason the Blues went from worst to a pubic hair within the division title. Another reason they almost did is the Jets and Preds could never really get going.

Still, it’s Jordan Binnington, who even St. Louis Gametime hadn’t heard of before he came up and those fuckers literally have nothing else to do but sit and think about the Blues and try and craft statues of Stan Musial out of their own ear/toe wax. Maybe he is this good, and he keeps rolling. But he came unstuck a little in the season’s last month, with only a .912 in March and April. That’s better than league average, but you wonder if league average is enough when the Blues are still basically one line and the Jets are three and a half.

Jets fans have been bitching about Connor Hellebuyck all season, it’s what they do to keep warm. And he’s been fine rather than the really good he was last year. .913 is not .924, but it’s still better than average. Hellebuyck wasn’t helped by his defense, but he also didn’t bail them out as much as he should have. He had one of the higher expected save-percentages in the league and didn’t live up to it. But as we stated when the Jets were here last week, they’ve been horrific defensively for a good portion of the season. It’s unlikely Hellebuyck wins this for the Jets, but it’s just as unlikely he loses it.

Defense: We have a policy of never being impressed by the Blues defense. Alex Pietrangelo is fine, but he’s never been the all-conquering heir to Chris Pronger everyone wants you to believe he is. Colton Parayko, Jabe O’Meester, Joel Edmundson actively suck. Robert Bortuzzo is an ox. They’re finally letting Vinne Bag O’ Dunn run around, which gives them a puck-mover they’ve never had since Kirk ShattenKevin fucked off. But they play a style that doesn’t ask these guys much more than to get in the way, and they keep it pretty well shielded. Again, they won’t wow or impress you, but their mistakes never amount to what you think they should. The Jets forwards are awfully deep and awfully fast and certainly big enough where the Blues drooling on them isn’t going to make them quake. And yet it never works that way.

The Jets have their own problems. They’ve been a shit-heap back there for most of the season. Paul Maurice hasn’t shown any inclination to try and change things. Josh Morrissey will return for this, which is a boon as in the past he and Trouba have done the mine-sweeping to let Dustin Byfuglien and his large cowboy act to take the stage. The Jets have played worse than their talent suggests, even if I think Tyler Myers is a puppet show for the truly bewildered. And yet you can’t trust them, can you?

Forwards: The big advantage for the Jets. While the Blues revival came with greater offense, it mostly came from one line containing Ryan O’Reilly’s hero act and Vladimir Tarasenko taking time out from trying to get yet another coach fired to actually playing. He usually brings it in the playoffs, at least when he’s not yelling at Ken Hitchcock. And I expect him to do the later even with Hitch in absentia.

But beyond that, there isn’t a lot. You count on David Perron if you want. All I see is a stupid third period penalty in waiting. They keep boasting about Robert Thomas. I’m not sure I’ve seen a shift of his I remember. Jaden Schwartz isn’t playing with the quality of players that makes him a weapon. ROR and Tank can probably score just enough where they only need the occasional chip-in from someone else.

But against the Jets, that’s not enough. They may suck to high heaven defensively but this is still the deepest forward crop found in the West. I know Laine has had a truly weird year. He’s also capable of putting up 10 goals in a series. The Jets boast at least three lines that can hurt you and a pretty productive fourth line as well. They will find the weak spots in the Blues defense.

Prediction: It really comes down to can the Jets outscore whatever damage their defense is doing to themselves. Strangely, these teams haven’t seen each other since the first week in December, so it’s hard to see what the leaky Jets look like against the new St. Louis Blues. They’re not going to make it simple, but there’s too much firepower for the Jets and I can’t see Hellebuyck being bad enough to not at least hold them up just close enough for the offense to get over the wall. But it’s going to take a while.

Jets in seven. 

 

Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Jets 45-29-4   Hawks 34-33-11

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: WGN

FROM YOUR FIRST CIGARETTE: Arctic Ice Hockey

And a one, and a two and a….WE SAIL THE OCEAN BLUE…

Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Anyway, the Hawks begin the last week of the season, and their last homestand, tonight against the Central-co-leading Jets. It’s also tonight when the axe could finally fall on their adorable yet futile playoff hopes, not that anyone hasn’t already considered those worthy of formaldehyde and makeup. The Hawks will claim they have to play until the final gong, but based on whatever that was in LA on Saturday, they can no longer hide from the truth either.

Not the case for the Jets, who will go on into the playoffs with great hope once again. Or they should have, based on what this roster was supposed to do. But despite their 94 points and shared throne at the moment, the angst and annoyance levels in Manitoba have been high for months. The Jets haven’t looked an all-powerful, planet-consuming monster they flashed earlier in the year and for most of last season. They still pile up wins and points through talent, but Jets observers will tell you it’s built on a foundation in the sand.

The big problem for the Jets is they’re just not very good defensively. They give up a lot of attempts, shots, and chances, and there’s been little they can do to stem the tide. The blue line has always been a touch short of glamorous, and it’s been missing Dustin Byfuglien for half the season. Which shouldn’t hurt the defensive game, but clearly has. The puck is in the Jets zone far more than you think it would, and there’s been no one around to change that. Josh Morrissey being hurt of late hasn’t helped that cause either. They lack a second puck-mover, and even Buff can go off the reservation at times.

The Jets forwards aren’t defensively-ignorant either, but don’t seem inclined as they have been in past seasons. This is a team that doesn’t need the puck in the offensive zone as much as anyone else to score, because the depth of talent in the front-12 is still ungodly. But they seem more interested in waiting around for it to get there instead of forcing it there.

Also not helping is that a Paul Maurice team has returned to being a dumb Paul Maurice team as is his wont, the fourth-most penalized team in the league. And when your PK sucks, and the Jets’ does, that’s a problem as well. Again, the massive amount of talent has overcome almost all of this for most of the season. But starting next week when the chaff gets culled and the Jets are only seeing good teams, they could get found out in a hurry. If they can win the division, then a matchup with either wildcard team shouldn’t really scare them, especially if Ben Bishop is hurt. Don’t and a true slog against the Blues awaits. But when the Predators come calling, or any of the Pacific after that, it might look a lot like it did last year. Which for this team, simply isn’t good enough.

They can get right against the Hawks of course, whom they’ve spanked twice in Winnipeg but played with their food long enough to let the Hawks hang around. The Hawks were able to get them to overtime in their one meeting on Madison, but again, that was more to do with the inattentiveness of the Jets. If the Jets can be bothered, the Hawks can’t match their speed or their size or anything close. That’s a bad combination. But if the Jets are still out where the buses don’t run, the Hawks can create some looks off this defense that can’t get right. Especially if Byfuglien and Myers are at their wanderlust best.

It doesn’t really matter anymore. With only four games left, there isn’t any “momentum” to be gained for next year. All this is is a test of the Hawks’ professionalism and pride, and whether they give a jot about what their coach has to say or planned. And even then, that’s a stretch. Some players can play themselves out of a spot next year I guess, but if you’re basing what you do on a final four games, that’s how some awfully shoddy decisions get made.

One last roundup…

 

 

Game #79 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built