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Press Box Musings: Were The Winnipeg Jets Considered "The Back-Up Plan" By Their Opposition?

"You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet!" Andrew Ladd yelled, as he roofed this goal over Dallas Stars backup goalie Richard Bachman.
"You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet!" Andrew Ladd yelled, as he roofed this goal over Dallas Stars backup goalie Richard Bachman.

I forget at what point in the season I noticed this, but one day I was checking Daily Faceoff (an excellent site by the way for fantasy hockey) to see which goalies were starting that evening, and the Jets were facing a teams back-up goalie that night. It then dawned on me that the Winnipeg Jets appeared to see a lot of back-up goalies throughout the season. Sure, the Jets faced Vezina finalists in Henrik Lundqvist and Pekka Rinne multiple times, and also tried to get the puck behind the likes of Carey Price, Martin Brodeur, Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard, Miikka Kiprusoff and other #1 goalies. But it also seemed to me that we saw an awful lot of guys like Martin Biron, Brian Boucher, Tuukka Rask, Ray Emery, Richard Bachman, Scott Clemmensen and Cory Schneider. Heck, there was also a Rick DiPietro sighting this year.

So I thought I'd go back and look at the goalies that started each game this year (the number of starts they made are in the brackets). These are not games played, but instead are games started. I also made a note of the venue (Home or Away) as well as whether or not the Jets or the opposing team were in the midst of a back-to-back situation, and which game (first or second half) of the back-to-back it was. The results were very interesting to me, so figured I'd share them with you. Check out the chart after the jump.

JetsB2B OPP B2B Jets B2B OPP B2B
1st 2nd 1st 2nd 1st 2nd 1st 2nd
1 MTL Carey Price (65) H 42 BOS Tuukka Rask (22) A
2 CHI Ray Emery (27) A 43 SJS Antti Niemi (68) H
3 PHX Mike Smith (67) A 44 NJD Martin Brodeur (59) H
4 PIT Marc-Andre Fleury (64) H * 45 OTT Craig Anderson (60) A * *
5 TOR James Reimer (34) A * * 46 NJD Martin Brodeur (59) A *
6 OTT Craig Anderson (60) A * 47 BUF Ryan Miller (60) H *
7 CAR Brian Boucher (8) H * 48 FLA Scott Clemmensen (25) H *
8 NYR Martin Biron (20) H 49 CAR Cam Ward (68) A *
9 PHI Sergei Bobrovsky (25) A * 50 NYR Henrik Lundqvist (62) A *
10 TBL Dwayne Roloson (31) A 51 PHI Ilya Bryzgalov (57) A
11 FLA Jose Theodore (51) A 52 TBL Mathieu Garon (44) A *
12 NYI Rick DiPietro (6) A 53 FLA Scott Clemmensen (25) A * *
13 NJD Martin Brodeur (59) A * 54 MTL Carey Price (65) A *
14 NYR Martin Biron (20) A * * 55 TOR Jonas Gustavsson (36) H *
15 BUF Ryan Miller (60) A 56 WSH Tomas Vokoun (46) A
16 FLA Jose Theodore (51) H 57 PIT Marc-Andre Fleury (64) A *
17 CLB Steve Mason (45) A 58 NYI Evgeni Nabokov (41) H
18 TBL Dwayne Roloson (31) H 59 MIN Niklas Backstrom (45) A *
19 WSH Michal Neuvirth (30) H 60 BOS Tuukka Rask (22) H *
20 PHI Sergei Bobrovsky (25) H 61 COL Semyon Varlamov (52) H
21 WSH Tomas Vokoun (46) A 62 PHI Ilya Bryzgalov (57) H
22 CAR Cam Ward (68) A * 63 TBL Mathieu Garon (44) H
23 BOS Tim Thomas (55) A * 64 STL Jaroslav Halak (46) H
24 OTT Craig Anderson (60) H 65 EDM Devan Dubnyk (42) H
25 PHX Mike Smith (67) H 66 FLA Jose Theodore (51) H
26 NJD Johan Hedberg (23) H * 67 BUF Ryan Miller (60) H
27 BOS Tuukka Rask (22) H * 68 VAN Cory Schneider (28) A *
28 CAR Cam Ward (68) H * 69 CGY Miikka Kiprusoff (68) A *
29 DET Jimmy Howard (57) A * 70 DAL Richard Bachman (15) H *
30 MIN Niklas Backstrom (45) H * 71 WSH Tomas Vokoun (46) H
31 WSH Michal Neuvirth (30) H 72 CAR Cam Ward (68) H
32 ANA Dan Ellis (5) H * 73 PIT Brad Thiessen (4) A
33 NYI Al Montoya (26) H 74 WSH Michael Neuvirth (30) A * *
34 MTL Carey Price (65) H * * 75 NSH Pekka Rinne (72) A * *
35 PIT Marc-Andre Fleury (64) H * 76 OTT Craig Anderson (60) H
36 COL Jean-Sebastien Giguere (30) A * 77 NYR Henrik Lundqvist (62) H *
37 LAK Jonathan Bernier (13) H * 78 CAR Cam Ward (68) A *
38 TOR James Reimer (34) H 79 TBL Sebastien Caron (2) A *
39 MTL Carey Price (65) A * 80 FLA Jose Theodore (51) A
40 TOR Jonas Gustavsson (36) A * 81 NYI Al Montoya (26) A
41 BUF Jhonas Enroth (22) A * 82 TBL Dwayne Roloson (31) H

  • First things first, I did not make a note of whether or not the Jets started Ondrej Pavelec or Chris Mason. That could have made a difference when opposing coaches decided who to start on that given night. It wouldn't be that hard to add to the chart, but with Mason only making 15 starts I figured I'd leave it as is.
  • Secondly, I didn't look in depth to find out if anyone was injured, or who was the "#1" goalie at the time if it was a #1A - #1B type of situation. I just looked at who started the game. Injuries obviously hampered a number of goalies this past season, as guys like Niklas Backstrom, James Reimer, Craig Anderson and poor old Rick Dipietro all spent time on the IR.
  • Thirdly, I'm not quite sure what criteria people use to define a starter compared to a back-up, and I'm not trying to invent one either. For the sake of this piece, I'm going with starters as having played 51 games or more and back-up goaltenders as having started 30 games or less. This way, guys like jean-Sebastien Giguire, Josh Harding and Cory Schneider fit the bill for backups, while a guy like Jose Theodore and his 51 starts makes him a starter. Also, I'm going to say that if a team didn't have a goalie play more then 50 games, then they don't have an "official" starter but instead used some other sort of rotation. Jaroslav Halak (46) and Brian Elliot (36) thus make up the "1A-1B" component that would fit under this system, as would Jonas Gustavsson (36) and James Reimer (34) in Toronto and Niklas Backstrom (46) and Josh Harding (34) in Minnesota. Tomas Vokoun (46) and Michal Neuvirth (30) in Washington are an example of why this method isn't perfect, as they don't have a starter but they do have a backup, but Braden Holtby did start six games so that team was hard to judge.
  • Using the above criteria, here is a chart of the types of goalies we saw throughout the season:

Home Starts vs. Starters 18 Home Starts vs. 1A-1B 10 Home Starts vs. Backups 13
Away Starts vs. Starters 20 Away Starts vs. 1A-1B 8 Away Starts vs. Backups 13

  • An initial glance at these numbers seems to indicate that we didn't see a major difference between home and away games. However, of our 82 games this season, we did the see a backup (or a goalie with 30 or less starts) 26 times in total, or 31.71% of the time. That seems rather high to me, though I have no insight as to what the league average would be. On the other hand, we saw a "starting goalie" only 38 times, or in 46.34% of our games. That seems low to me as well. Having said that, we did get a goalie that started between 30 and 50 games 18 times, or 21.95% of the time. Another way to look at it is that we faced a goalie with 50 or less starts 44 times, or 53.66% of the time. The fact that we saw "starting" goalies with 51 or more starts less then half of the time suggests to me that the Jets were in fact considered a back-up plan by our opposition this season.

Goalie Faced When Jets Played 2nd Game of B2B 13
Starter 8
1A-1B 1
Backup 4
  • It's easy to see on the main chart the back-to-back games that the Jets played, and we all know how awful their record was in the 2nd-half of them... (1-11-1 if you'd mercifully forgotten). Looking at the data directly above, part of the reason that the Jets struggled in those games is likely because that they saw the starting goalie eight times, or in 61.53% of these games. When looking even closer at those five games without the starter in net, when the Jets saw Biron in NYR and Clemmensen in FLA both of those teams were also in the midst of a back-to-back situation. And if I recall correctly, Gustavsson had the net in Toronto at that time when Reimer was still concussed, and when the Lightning played Caron it was because everyone else was either injured, old or both. The opposition was obviously looking to take advantage of a tired Jets team.

Goalie Faced when Opp Played 2nd Game of B2B 17
Starter 4
1A-1B 1
Backup 12

  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Jets managed to get their opponents on the second half of a B2B situation 17 times. Judging by the fact that the backup played 12 times, or 70.58% of these games, it suggests to me the other teams judged Winnipeg as the easier match-up and saved the backup for them. Only seeing 4 starters in these 17 games, or 23.53%, confirms that in my mind.
  • Still looking at these 17 games with the opposition in the back-to-back, the Jets were also in a B2B situation of their own in only three of them, and 11 of them were at the MTS Centre. In those 11 games, the Jets saw the starting goalie only three times (Miller, Price and Lundqvist). Maybe that's why it seemed like we'd seen so many back-up goalies. Brian Boucher, Johan Hedberg, Tuuka Rask, Dan Ellis, Jonathan Bernier and Richard Bachman all started games in Winnipeg. Were teams protecting their starters from the jeers of the Jets faithful? Or did the lengthy travel day from Toronto, Minnesota or Chicago from the night before necessitate a game from their back-up? Regardless, this is likely a major reason why the Jets were so successful when the opposition vistied the MTS Centre in the 2nd half of their back-to-backs.
  • Some interesting team strategies I noticed were that the Montreal Canadiens started Carey Price against the Jets in all four match-ups, whereas the Boston Bruins only gave Tim Thomas the single start versus three from Tuukka Rask. The first two matchups from the New York Rangers treated us to starts from Martin Biron, while the final two involved "King" Henrik Lundqvist. And for teams from the West that we only saw once or twice, we got starters in Miikka Kiprusoff, Pekka Rinne, Antti Niemi and Jimmy Howard, but also got backups in Corey Schneider (hey, he was the backup until the playoffs), Ray Emery and Richard Bachman.
  • As for the Southeast Division, the Washington Capitals gave us Tomas Vokoun and Michael Neuvirth three times each. The Florida Panthers gave us Jose Theodore four times and Scott Clemmensen twice, while the Tampa Bay Lightning sent us Dwayne Roloson three times, Mathieu Garon twice and Sebastion Caron once. As for the Carolina Hurricanes, we saw Cam Ward five times and Brian Boucher just the once.
  • These numbers and stats above may have absolutely zero meaning, but I found them interesting nonetheless so I thought I'd share them with you. If you think that my criteria for labeling goaltenders as starters, 1A-1B or backups is silly, that is fine. I just wanted to have something to break it down with. Feel free to let me know if you think that the criteria should be adjusted in the comments section.