Hockey

Patrik Laine – All jokes about how he looks like he’d ask you three questions to let you cross his bridge, the Jets have bent over backwards for this guy in recent years and he’s pretty much just been a floater. They listened to him bitch incessantly last year about playing on the second line. So they handed him a new contract, shifted their captain back to center and Laine up to play on their top line. He’s given them a fine 30-goal pace season but also doesn’t impact the game in any other way. He is what everyone wanted to believe Alex Ovechkin was back in the day. His metrics are woeful. This guy stands around and waits to shoot and nothing else, and the Jets might want to consider what they could get for him in the trade market one day soon.

Kevin Chevyldayoff – Apparently two playoff series wins in team history is enough to re-sign your dumbass coach. Easier and easier to tell he used to work for the Hawks, huh?

Mark Scheifele – For someone 6-5 and built like a house he sure does end up on the ice a lot, doesn’t he?

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

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

I can’t remember the last time I was left with such a feeling of “meh” after a game. I guess it’s good the Hawks showed some gumption and fight to tie it late, and keep their braindead playoff hopes alive. If that’s what they were playing for. But I mean, the Jets really couldn’t be bothered, other than their fourth line. So it doesn’t really mean much. I can’t get emotional either way about overtime results. They’re a coin-flip. I was surprised to find out a 12th extra-time loss for the Hawks doesn’t lead the league. They’ve also won nine in overtime, so basically they’re getting to 50-50 that you would think is par for the course. I guess it means they aren’t good enough to win games in regulation but aren’t bad enough to get beat in regulation in those close games. But again, the overwhelming feeling is, “whatever.”

Anyway, let’s run through it.

The Two Obs

-Dylan Strome’s three-point game will take the headlines, which is good. It doesn’t mean he’s automatic, but he’s got sense you can’t teach and his second goal showed that, the ability to ghost into space and find just enough time to get a good shot off. And he’s got one. 54 points is more than Schmaltz ever put up. That’s nice. That said, Stome’s line was sporting a sub-30% Corsi for the night, which is U-G-L-Y. That’s what’s going to have to change starting next year, because he can’t start every shift in the offensive zone. At this rate he’ll have to.

-You can easily see the problem with the Jets. When you get into their zone they either can’t be bothered, their defense is slow in transition, and you never know when Byfuglien and Myers are going to get caught up the ice and leave someone exposed. They have the forward depth to cover it for a while, but the warts they and the Preds are showing means it will not be a surprise if the Stars or Blues find their way out of the division come May.

-Brent Seabrook, 14 minutes. The third straight game he’s been at 15 minutes or below. They see what we see.

-The only line above water for the night in possession was the Saad-Anisimov-Sikura line, which seems to be the case most nights.

-Every goddamn broadcast when John Hayden belches his way into the lineup contains some segment about how he hasn’t really gotten a chance or he should get a chance. He’s gotten his chance, and he sucks. The only shift he was noticeable was just because he delivered three hits that were all at least three seconds late and mattered not a jot. He can’t do anything, and his physical presence doesn’t do anyone any good because it doesn’t disrupt anything. It’s all for show, just to demonstrate to a coach how hard he’s playing. I hope he enjoys his time with Minnesota’s AHL team in Iowa next year. Or Europe.

-One of my big complaints about Jeremy Colliton is the lack of adjustment to his “system.” They keep telling us that he needs a training camp to really install it, which is a bunch of ripe shite but fine, but that means what you’re playing now should be tweaked to at least look more like what they used to do. Scheifele’s non-goal was an example, as the Hawks have to chase their man all over the zone, but they can’t keep up, and by the time Scheifele deposits the puck in the net Seabrook is out beyond the circles, Toews is nowhere, and everyone’s scrambling. They don’t have the speed to chase and harass. The Hawks should have been playing softer and leaving things to the outside to the outside months ago. When they get in serious trouble is when they’re trying to pressure outside or out high and get beat, and they will because they just don’t have enough speed. Now people don’t know whether to switch/commit and who to take when someone does. If they’d just sink into the middle of their zone and try and block shots, “Torts it” if you will, they probably would have surrendered less. Instead were stuck with this happy horseshit. And we will be next year too.

-They didn’t give up a power play goal. That’s something.

Onwards…

Everything Else

By all accounts, the Hawks had no business even being in this game. The Jets should be asking themselves tough questions about why this was as close as it was, although in the end their talent level was enough to let them do what good teams are supposed to do (i.e., beat shitty teams). The start of another losing streak? At least it has the qualifier of being an overtime loss. Let’s get to the bullets:

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

– Through the first two periods, this was honestly a game. Out of the gate the Hawks were fast, they were getting sticks in passing lanes at least a little bit, and they led in possession. Crawford gave up a power play goal to Mark Scheifele but it was off a ridiculously good pass from Blake Wheeler (basically the embodiment of what Fels talked about earlier today), and you could only tip your cap. And they ended the first tied at 1 thanks to Jonathan Toews‘ last-second goal, which also came from a great feed, this time from Saad to Keith to Toews. It was reminiscent of days past. Then Saad and Toews did it again in the second and the Hawks were leading…it was disconcerting, and while they played well they were by no means dominant.

– And that became apparent in the second when Patrik Laine just conjured a goal into being because he felt like it. This guy is insane, seriously. But fine, he’s too good for a team like the Hawks to thwart all night. The problem was later in the second when Mathieu Perreault was able to hop out of the penalty box and waltz in for a goal alone on Crawford. Granted, Crawford should have had that one but the power play preceding it was rather clown shoes and the Hawks couldn’t get set up well or hold onto the puck (obviously). And for the record, Pat and Eddie kept saying it was a short-handed goal and it was NOT SHORT HANDED WHEN THE GUY IN THE BOX SCORED. This is not rocket science—if the guy in the box scores then he is no longer in the box for the penalty that put him there. I just need someone to know this.

– Anyway, after that the Hawks pretty much deflated like a sad balloon. In the third they took repeated penalties and ended up down a man, and even when they finally had a power play themselves, John Hayden high-sticked Tyler Myers and they were right back where they started. They managed a pitiful 32 CF% in the third. But then…

–…Gustafsson gave them their second last-ditch goal of the night, tying it up with less than 10 seconds left, just as Toews had done in the first. You could tell Brossoit was pissed, and in the end he had nothing to worry about because the Hawks quickly coughed up the winning goal shortly into OT. But we got a point! We almost snuck one away from a far superior team! That’s now two games that HAVEN’T been regulation losses so…baby steps?

– Another positive: Brandon Saad had an excellent game. Defensively he looked good, like when he stopped Kulikov in the second and then took it down the ice for a nice opportunity, and he had two assists on the night. Add to that three shots, and he had a 54 and 58 CF% with Toews and Kahun respectively. We’re finding rays of hope wherever we can.

– The defense had its moments but also managed to be quite wobbly at times. Connor Murphy and Carl Dahlstrom were way underwater in possession, but there was Dahlstrom out against the Jets’ top line because why the fuck not? Duncan Keith on the other hand played well, looking like his old self at times. Except for when he was just standing around in OT watching Scheifele have his way with the puck and Crawford. Again, baby steps with a sort-of functioning defense at times, but there are still real fundamental problems here. At least we didn’t have to watch Brandon Manning.

– Jonathan Toews is continuing to play well and that’s nice. Alex DeBrincat did not continue his recent streak of playing well and that’s disappointing. Tonight his line managed barely over a 40 CF%, he only had one shot, plus he got picked on by Dustin Byfuglien being an asshole and running him over (that’s not Top Cat’s fault, it’s just the way things were going for him tonight). I know, he had two goals in his last two games, so give the guy a break. He just didn’t have it tonight and they could have used the help.

So it almost feels like a win to get even a point out of this game, when the Jets really should have brained these fools. The death march continues with four more games in the next week, against a lot more divisional opponents (i.e., good teams mostly). These last two have at least been watchable…onward and upward.

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Jets 20-9-2   Hawks 10-18-5

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

FOR WE’VE NOWHERE TO BE: Arctic Ice Hockey

Now that the Hawks have finally broken their duck, or the latest duck (no, not that duck), what better time for the first visit of the team that’s dribbled their head on the ground like a basketball twice this year? That’s right shitheads, whatever good feelings were generated by Wednesday’s win over the fading-titan Penguins is probably getting snuffed out by current titan Winnipeg Jets.

There isn’t much more to add to this one that we didn’t already say on Tuesday. You’d imagine that the Hawks want to keep as much the same as possible, when they played pretty well. So Dylan Sikura should stay with David Kampf and Brendan Perlini, which made for an awfully effective third line on Wednesday. The fourth line of Andreas Martinsen, Marcus Kruger, and John Hayden produced two goals, so you know they’re sticking together. I don’t know if they’re actually any good (yes I do, they’re not) but they work hard and the Hawks almost certainly need that right now. And we’ll get to see more of Dylan Strome, Top Cat, and Patrick Kane together and if they can outshoot their possession and defensive problems.

At the back, I would be of the opinion that Carl Dahlstrom should get another run-out with Connor Murphy (UNITY!), because they were really good against Pittsburgh and really, what the fuck are you holding onto here? If Erik Gustafsson is healthy he should replace Brandon Manning, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he replaces Dahlstrom. Corey Crawford will get a chance to build on his first win since the Bush administration.

As for the Jets, they rolled from their barely-breathing-hard win over the Hawks into an overtime win against the Oilers last night at TRUE NORTH. It wasn’t a pristine effort as they blew a 3-1 lead and needed Mark Scheifele to pull their ass out of a sling to tie it and set up the winner in overtime. They didn’t suffer any injuries so you’ll see the exact same team that rubbed the Hawks’ ass in the moonshine on Tuesday before they started dreaming of butterflies and fluffy clouds and let the Hawks back into it. That includes backup Lauren Brossoit, who was shaky against the Hawks. His last three starts have been iffy really, as he gave up three to the Devils before that and four to the Blues, which is a real trick as they’re actively trying to not win. Brossoit had a big start to the season but the shine is starting to fade. So there’s some hope for the Westside Hockey Club.

This is a rare scheduling bonus for the Hawks, who haven’t caught a lot of teams on the second of a back-to-back. Combine that with the Jets taking the Hawks lightly, which is always possible, and maybe you can get the jump on them quickly. Crawford was awfully stabby and jumpy against the Penguins but still got the 40 saves to get a win. He certainly needed the confidence boost and hopefully he begins to smooth out a bit and get on a roll, if nothing else than to prove he still can. Of course, any streak of old Corey is going to fire up the trade wishes/rumors again, but that’s the course we’ve been set.

Let’s to it, lads…

 

Game #34 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 9-17-5   Jets 18-9-2

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

WARM JETS: Arctic Ice Hockey

When you’ve lost seven in a row for the second time in a season, and really the second time in about five weeks, I think it’s healthy to play a team that’s better than you at every single position. It’s just crazy enough to work! It’s going to be an extremely busy week for the Hawks, and I can’t see how that’s a good thing if only because they’re going to plague society with their brand of hockey four times in the next six days. It kicks off in Manitoba tonight, where they just were and pretty much got flambed until the Jets completely turned off, and then the Jets will be here again Friday. The Hawks might just be getting deeper and deeper into the hot dog machine before they come up for anything resembling air again.

Not much has changed between these two teams since they last did this in the last game of November. The Hawks haven’t won,  and the Jets have only dropped one in the last five, somehow getting shut out by the Blues at home. Maybe they did that just to tease the Hawks and let the Blues pass them in the standings. They’re just that vindictive.

At this point, there isn’t much to inform you about the Jets. You now that they’re four lines of fury. You know that the top six is probably the best in hockey. You know that Adam Lowry and Matthieu Perreault form one of the best checking lines in hockey. You know that Jack Roslovic on the fourth line is going to burst out at some point soon. You know the defense is a little shaky, and especially this season, but that it matters little when the forwards are this good. You know that Connor Hellebuyck has been having a dodgy season, but since giving up five to the Hawks (mostly after the Jets had kicked their feet up and put on sunglasses), he’s given up just six goals in his last four appearances and three in his last three. And you know that plenty of other goalies of late have used the Hawks to remember what it feels like to feel good about oneself. The Hawks have become the ugly best friend to the rest of the league.

So yeah, the Jets come into this one rolling, pretty much healthy, and needing to keep pace with the Predators and Avalanche at the top of the Central. All that spells “FUUUUUUUCKK” for the Hawks.

As for the Hawks, a couple changes. Artem Anisimov is in a dark room somewhere, so David Kampf is moving back to center…Patrick Kane? Oh dear lord. Chris Kunitz looks like he’s coming back in to fuck things up, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Alex Fortin.

Gustav Forsling isn’t eligible to come off the IR yet, so Brandon Manning should keep his place in the lineup with Brent Seabrook, at least for a while. The only pairing that Jeremy Colliton seemed inclined to keep together on Sunday was Connor Murphy and Erik Gustafsson, and everyone else rotated (though some of that was due to Manning missing a good chunk).

There’s nothing I can say to make you think this one will go well. It probably won’t. The Hawks just aren’t cut out for this type of thing anymore. Maybe you catch the Jets in a midseason malaise or Hellebuyck has a game-long sneezing fit. But hey, we’re in this together.

 

Game #32 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

We wrap up our team previews with perhaps the class of the Central Division. There is no forward group you can love more than the Jets’. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re skilled, and when Paul Maurice finally woke up from his neanderthal nap last season and ceased to have the Jets be the dumbest team in the league and focused on merely skating every team out of their building and into the cold and unyielding Manitoba night, the Jets took off. Didn’t hurt that they finally got some goaltending, as Connor Hellebuyck finally lived up to the billing.

Sadly for the Jets, even though I will argue they were a superior team by some distance than Vegas last year, their seven-game Last Man Standing with the Preds left them softened up for the Knights. They may have outplayed Vegas in four or all five of those games, but Fleury was simply too much. It’s a fate they’ll look to avoid this time around, though it’ll most likely be an even more formidable Sharks team waiting should they escape the torture dungeon of the Central Division.

But they can do it. Let’s do it one last time before we kick this pig for real.

2017-2018: 52-20-10 114 points 277 GF 218 GA  51.5 CF% 52.7 xGF%  8.5 SH% .925 SV%

Goalies: When your goalie last year is 25 and coming off a Vezina-finalist run, there’s little reason to change much. Hellebuyck will look to back up his imperious season of last, and there’s really no reason to think he can’t back it up. His pedigree has always suggested this is what he should be, and the only fear would be fatigue. 67 games isn’ the heaviest load you’ll see, along with 17 playoff starts. He’d made 58 and 56 appearances in the seasons before though, either all in the AHL or splitting time between the bus-league and the plane-league. So it really shouldn’t be too much for him. Obviously, a lot hinges on Hellebuyck, because you can’t go anywhere with bad goaltending. The Jets know, they tried for like five seasons. Still, they’re one of the few teams in the league who can sleep pretty easy about their goaltending.

Laurent Brossoit, which is not a dessert, is going to back him up. Brossoit flashed being a competent goalie at this level in Edmonton two years ago, but with a bit more work last year he was terrible. Then again, being Cam Talbot‘s backup leads to a lot of nights staring at the lights contemplating what existence really means. Clearly, Hellebuyck’s health is paramount.

Defense: If there’s one minor complaint I would have about the Jets, is that their defense just quite isn’t there. It may improve a bit because Jacob Trouba is going to be in fuck-you-someone-will-pay-me mode all year, as he’s in the last year of his deal and previous negotiations with the Jets have been cantankerous. He’ll take on the hard stuff as usual with Josh Morrissey. Which leaves Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Chiarot to get cherry-er starts and opponents, which is a reason why Buff racks up the points he does. And yet you’ll never convince me. I know what the points say. I know what the underlying numbers say. I’ll always think Buff is just dumb and lazy enough to burn you in your own zone, and the only hits he looks for is when someone significantly smaller (which is just about everyone, to be fair) isn’t looking. And he’ll run out of position to get them. Against a fast team in a series this could be a problem, and it was something of one against Vegas but not Nashville.

The third pairing is rounded out by Dimitry Kulikov and Tyler Myers. This is where Myers should always be and Kulikov seems to take more shit than he deserves. Hmmm, wonder why that could be? Certainly not because he’s a good Ontario bo….oh, right.

Clearly, it’s not a bad unit. It’s good, even. Trouba might enter Norris discussion this year, though that would take a leap. It’s just not San Jose’s or Nashville’s. And maybe that’s fine. It was sort of last year.

Forwards: Whatever deficiencies there are are clearly made up by this group. It’s got front-line scoring in Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine and his bewildered face, and Kyle Connor hinted at being that last year as well. It’s got defensive solidity in Mathieu Perrault, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, and Brandon Tanev. Nikolai Ehlers is on the third line for fuck’s sake. Bryan Little has been underrated for so long. Jack Roslovic moves to center full-time. Kristian Vesalainen, their first-round pick last year who tore up the Finnish league at 18, joins the ranks now. It’s the best crop in the league. They’ll get you from everywhere. There’s not much more to say.

Outlook: Cup or bust, it’s that simple. As the game gets faster and teams move more and more away from asking their defensemen to do the pushing of the play, the Jets can get away with not having a blueblooded blue line. Because if they’re just getting the puck to these forwards as quickly as possible, they’re fine. More than fine. Sure, maybe some teams can throw out a top line better than the one the Jets have, though you can count them with Jason Pierre-Paul’s fingers. Maybe there are teams that can somewhat match the top six. But you can’t do that with the third line, much less the fourth. There’s just too much. Unless Hellebuyck backs up, you’ll probably find them in the West Final at worst again, But anything short of a parade on one of the three warm days Winnipeg has will be a failure.

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

Anaheim Ducks

Arizona Coyotes

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

L.A. Kings

San Jose Sharks

Vegas Golden Knights

Vancouver Canucks

Colorado Avalanche

Dallas Stars

Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators

St. Louis Blues

Everything Else

 vs. 

SCHEDULE: Game 1 Friday, Game 2 Sunday, Game 3 Tuesday, Game 4 May 4th

While Boston-Tampa will take most of the attention by merely being on the East Coast and everything Boston must be covered at all times otherwise Bill Simmons urinates on most of LA, this is the series that will hold the most entertainment value. These are certainly the two best teams in the West, and two of the four best in the NHL. Both are simply stacked at forward so goals should be prevalent. This one is going to be a coke-binge and catch as much as you can.

Goalies: Connor Hellebuyck didn’t really have to do much in the first round than maintain requisite oxygen intake in the first round, because the Minnesota Wild were barely there. But that’s probably a perfect way to wet your feet into playoff hockey, and he’s going to have to be much better this series. It did not go well for Hellebuyck in the regular season against the Preds, as he gave up 19 goals in five starts against them. That doesn’t really matter here, but you’d have to be the most cockeyed, Jets optimist with a fair amount of glue to huff to think that Hellebuyck is going to completely stonewall the Preds. How he reacts to his first playoff adversity is anyone’s guess.

It would be totally on course for the Pekka Rinne Ride to be pretty mediocre last regular season to a playoff marvel and then switch it this year to a Vezina-worthy season this year to turning into a Jalopi in the playoffs this year. He was very not good against the Avalanche, and they only have one line, which is daunting considering the Jets have four. Maybe he was playing down to the competition, maybe the whole team was. But a .909 against the Jets is going to see the Preds go home and probably rather quickly. He’s going to have to be better.

Defense: Again, it’s hard to learn much from the first round about the Jets’ defense when they were playing a bubble hockey opponent. The Jets look like they’ll get a boost back here with Toby Enstrom returning for this series, and he’ll be the one who holds the leash on Dustin Byfuglien. Trouba and Morrissey were excellent against the Wild, and punting Tyler Myers down to a third-pairing bum-slayer role is exactly what he was cut out for. You worry about what the Preds might do when Byfuglien goes out walkin’ after midnight searching for a McGriddle, but the rest of this outfit is pretty solid.

What it isn’t is as dynamic as the Preds’ blue line, though maybe as deep. They conspired to give up a ton of chances to the Avalanche, figuring they’d win a track meet with their depth. That’s what this blue line does, with Subban, Ellis, Josi, and Ekholm all willing and able to get up and down the entire surface. They know no other way, but leaving gaps against this Jets team is a different story than doing so against the Avs. Still, overall, possession-wise, the Preds kicked around Colorado, especially the pairing of Subban and Ekholm. Rougher ride here.

Forwards: The Jets depth is truly scary, and just about everyone chipped in during the first round. What we’re most looking forward to is if either coach settles for fighting fire with fire and has Scheifele match up with Johansen, because we’re fairly sure he’ll inhale Treat Boy. Johansen won’t find much more shelter with either Little or Stastny either. The Jets didn’t lose a step when Ehlers had to miss a game, but he’ll be back for Game 1. The best forward grouping in the league.

The Predators are hardly thin, but don’t boast quite the weapons on their bottom-six as the Jets do. And Forsberg isn’t going to get to go traipsing through three guys whenever he wants like he did against the rotted scarecrows of the Avalanche. If the Jets keep the top line of the Preds somewhat quiet, you then wonder if the Preds can come up with enough goals to run with them. Turris didn’t really do anything against the Avs, and this is much deeper water here and you feel like he comes out barely even or worse against either Little or Stastny. And Mike Fisher is not keeping up with this crew.

Prediction: Been waiting for this one for a while. The Preds have become everyone’s darling while ignoring what their flaws are. It’s a great blue line, but the Jets advantage at forward is just a touch bigger than the one the Preds have on defense. The goalies could be a wash, though you could see either melting down. With how many goals they’re likely to share, just about anything could happen. But if we expect, and Scheifele and Wheeler outplay Treat Boy and Forsberg, the Jets take this. But it’s going to be a ton of fun getting there. Jets in 7.