Hockey

We’ve perhaps, although maybe this is just our tendency to toot our own horn, led the charge on labeling Patrik Laine a passenger on the Jets. This will be the third straight season, likely, that he won’t live up to that 44-goal campaign he had. They’ve bent their team around him, they’ve given him a prove-it contract, and they’re mired in the muck. There are plenty of other factors, like Dustin Byfuglien fucking off to the ice fishing hut and Jacob Trouba escaping as soon as he could , which has stripped their blue line bare.

But perhaps they can find more answers in exchange for Laine, because they have a ready-made replacement on their top line in Nikolaj Ehlers.

The weird thing is, it seems like GM Kevin Chevyldayoff already likes Ehlers more than Laine, and has for a while. Whereas Laine went through a whole drama about his second contract, Ehlers was given one as soon as possible that will take him in unrestricted free agency in five years. There was no hesitation, as he was signed to it a full season before his entry level deal was up.

And there was little reason not to. Ehlers was coming off a 64-point season, which he would match in the first year of this contract. And while the Jets have always been a weird team in the sense they’ve usually been able to outshoot what their metrics say, Ehlers was the one player who had great underlying numbers. He has consistently been way in the black in Corsi and expected-goals, and this year his mark in the latter is a full six points above the team-rate. When he’s on the ice, the Jets have the puck more than they do when anyone else is out there.

Ehlers can’t manage the goals and points-total of late of Laine, but that might have a lot to do with getting less than half the power play time that Laine does. The first PP unit for the Jets has four forwards, the top line (Laine-Scheifele-Connor) plus Blake Wheeler. And they stay out there as long as they can. So Ehlers and the rest only get slightly more than a minute of time with the man-advantage.

You wonder what Ehlers might do with it, as he has the same amount of even-strength goals and points as Laine’s floating ass this year as he did last year. Other than his 20-PPG binge of ’17-’18, Laine hasn’t put numbers up on the power play that Ehlers would find impossible to reach.

Without the Finn, and a top line of Ehlers-Scheifele-Connor, the Jets would still have Wheeler, Copp, Roslovic, and a few forwards to make for one of the better bottom sixes in the league. The question is what Laine’s value is now. He only has one year on his second deal, though it’s only at $6.7M and he’ll still be restricted when it’s up. Can the Jets still get a top pairing d-man for him? It’s what they need desperately, as they lost both they had for this season and beyond.

Perhaps it’ll depend on how this season finishes for both. The Jets are in a scrap just to make the playoffs, and neither Ehlers or Laine have proven to be playoff dynamos yet. But if Ehlers comes to play these last 25 games or so, and Laine continues to wait for the game to come to him every night, the Jets’ roadmap should be obvious.

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

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.

Everything Else

Well, what can you say about this one? We knew it was going to be rough, and right out of the gate it felt doomed. But then for a moment it didn’t…until it did again, until the third, and then… let’s just get to the bullets:

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

– We’ve all been rightfully bitching about a lack of scoring depth, so didn’t we get a treat tonight with five goals coming from the dregs: Marcus Kruger, John Hayden, Jan Rutta, David Kampf, and Artem Anisimov (no, I don’t really think Kruger is the dregs but he’s acting like it right now). Kruger’s and Hayden’s came in the frantic mess that was the first period, where it seemed initially like the Jets were going to run away with it, but these goals exposed how Hellebuyck was already having an off night and the Jets defense wasn’t at their best. Both came from rebounds in scrums right in front of the net, as did Kampf’s late in the third. So I guess there’s a moral victory in that our shitty bottom six and possibly worst defenseman managed five goals against ostensibly one of the best teams in the Western Conference. Honestly I’m shocked we scored five goals at all, so I’m going to take a cue from the sunny disposition of the Canadian announcers whose feed supplanted the dogshit Comcast one, and be pleasantly surprised with our offense tonight.

– The Jets looked beatable at many points tonight, which is contributing to the frustration here. Yes, they have ridiculous scoring (more on that later), but the fucking Hawks were able to tie it up once and come within one whiffed shot of tying it twice. Jonathan Toews had the game on his stick in the final seconds of the third and it looked like he either had some equipment malfunction with the stick, or just missed the puck. He was at the top of the crease and had Hellebuyck moving the wrong way but no dice. Either way, the Jets did not dominate in possession—they best they managed was a 53 CF% at evens in the second, whereas in the third they had a measly 30 CF%. In fact during the third the Hawks had multiple long shifts in the offensive zone with plenty of cycling but not quite enough finish. Connor Hellebuyck finished with an .839 SV%, so he continued his underwhelming ways. But the Jets’ raw talent was enough to overcome suspect defense and goaltending.

– About that…Jesus christ, Patrik Laine is a beast. He only had two goals tonight, which feels like a win right there. In the third he straight-up robbed a hapless Jan Rutta in the defensive zone and walked right in to score easily. This guy has had three hat tricks this month alone—and in three different countries! This is what I learned thanks to Canadian announcers: hat tricks in Finland, Canada, and the US. Just this November. He’s terrifying. And even though Laine had an off night with less than 17 goals, Nikolaj Ehlers did the honors by getting a hat trick instead. He also made our defensemen look pathetic, including picking off a pass from Gustafsson for an easy breakaway that led to his third goal. That was the real difference between the teams tonight: when the Jets needed just enough to get out of a jam, their insanely talented players could do it, regardless of the rest of the team.

– The DeBrincat-Strome-Kane line got split up in the second and brought back together in the third. Their possession numbers didn’t turn out great (about a 29 CF%), yet in the third they turned it around a little and were responsible for a lot of that cycling and puck movement in the offensive zone I mentioned earlier, except there was that no-finish problem too. Personally I think they should be given time to make things work, and I’d rather not see Jeremy Colliton get antsy and start hitting the blender on these guys.

– Hellebuyck had a bad night but Crawford’s wasn’t any better. Granted, Crawford was facing far superior scoring threats and has the shittier defense in front of him. After destroying everything that came his way a week or so ago, I guess a bit of a correction is to be expected. But games like this where a better opponent is caught on an off night are exactly the ones where we need him to be super-human. Help me Corey Crawford, you’re my only hope.

– The broadcast issues were a bit comical, since at least for me it kept cutting out every time there was a goal. Finally they went to the Canadian broadcast and I was not sorry to hear someone other than Pat and Eddie, even if it was a couple of backwoods tundra-dwelling clods drunk on Labatt.

Only another 48 hours until we get to do this again! And it’s against another elite team…aren’t you just counting the minutes?

Beer de jour: Totally Naked by New Glarus

Line of the Night: “Good things happen to good people.” —Random Canadian hockey announcer, with what was the most Canadian thing ever said.

Everything Else

250px-Ozymandias vs. Kenny Smith

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN

EVANDER KANE FAN CLUB: Arctic Ice Hockey

Jets Stats

Jets War On Ice

The Hawks will take their Keithers-less act on the road for the first time tonight, and they’ll face a Jets team that was a major headache for them last year (though not at MTS Centre). Winnipeg won all three games at the United Center last year, and a couple of them pretty handily. This will be a major test for the Hawks’ reshaped blue line, and they very well could need Corey Crawford to bail them out again as he did Monday.