There have been some who accuse Arctic Ice Hockey for being negative. In actuality, we are a community of multiple different voices, with multiple different opinions, and views. However, the evidence provided by the on-ice results will never be subjective. Sometimes the results will be negative, and sometimes positive. That's just the way it is.
Saying the Winnipeg Jets have not played very well this season would be a severe understatement. When looking at all shot attempts (AKA Corsi), currently the Jets have the worst differential in 5v5 Close Game situations (when the score hasn't gotten out of hand, as in within 2 points or less). Only the Buffalo Sabres are worse in this department, and they are actually better than the Jets when the score is tied or if you remove blocked shots. At a sample size of 10-15 games this becomes a pretty good predictor of future success, even more so than a team's win% or goal differential. This is not damning yet for future predictions, but it's very promising either.
In spite of all this, there has been one pair of bright lights in the Jets' roster: Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien.
So... they are good?
Yes. Very much so, yes.
Over the last two seasons, they compared very, very well with some of the top pairs in the league. Adjusting for zone starts and score effects, the pair achieved a 54.9% Corsi% and a 60.0 Goal% (+/- as a percent) over their first two seasons as a Jet. That's pretty good, especially on a team with a negative goal differential that sat around a 50% Corsi in the same situations.
They also bring out the best in each other, with the Jets' performing much better when both are on the ice than just one.
Well that's the past, what about this season?
Lots has changed with the team, yet not much has changed for these two previous All-Stars.
Two seasons of data isn't very good for goal differentials, let alone 6 games worth, but we'll look at it anyways. The Jets goal% with the pairing has ranged around 50-60%; however, it falls to around 15-30% when they are not on the ice (inexact numbers due to them sometimes being separated).
But that could be all from sample effects, so let's look at his Corsi%.
As previously mentioned, the Jets are not doing well in this department as a whole. The team is bottom two in the league for all shot metics in close game situations: shots, non-blocked shot attempts (ie: Fenwick) and shot attempts (ie: Corsi). Currently only 3 players fall above 50% in any and all of the three categories and the team is performing at 42.2% Corsi%. Two of them are Byfuglien and Enstrom.
In fact, their Corsi% with zone adjustments in close game situations has been at 54.8%, only 0.01 off of their previous two years. You can deduce two things out of this:
1) In-spite of playing for a very sub-par (in performance) team, Tobi-Buff have still been as effective as ever.
2) They are driving the boat in the team's puck possession and scoring chances with them on the ice.
On top of this, Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien have been asked to do some heavy lifting, taking more then their share of the tough minutes with Claude Noel trying to shelter the rest of his defensemen. This isn't likely going to change any time soon too, with 3/4 of the Jets bottom four being comprised of a good defensemen learning a new side, a rookie (albeit good rookie), and a defensemen past his prime.
Ya, well they may be good offensively but they are terrible in their own zone...
Ya, but no...
While it is likely true that their defensive zone coverage may not be the greatest in the league nor their greatest strength, their deficiencies in this area have been far over exaggerated and it is not true that this has made them an overall liability.
The pairing is a prime example of "it is hard to be scored on when the other team never has the puck."
Dave Tippett realized early in his coaching career that how liable a player is defensively overall is more than just how well a player defends:
"We had a player that was supposed to be a great, shut-down defenseman. He was supposedly the be-all, end-all of defensemen. But when you did a 10-game analysis of him, you found out he was defending all the time because he can't move the puck.
"Then we had another guy, who supposedly couldn't defend a lick. Well, he was defending only 20 percent of the time because he's making good plays out of our end. He may not be the strongest defender, but he's only doing it 20 percent of the time. So the equation works out better the other way. I ended up trading the other defenseman."
While in reality the only concern should be the differential, some may over exaggerate the two defensmen's defensive liability.
It's more than just creation of offensive opportunities, but also a decrease in the other team's offensive opportunities that makes the two blue-liners so efficient.
While the sample size is small thus far, the two defensemen have been exceptional in moving the puck out of the Jets zone without error.
Despite what some would like you to believe, Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien are more than just offensively minded defensemen. They are able to take tough minutes and outperform their competition. When they are on the ice the Winnipeg Jets are likely to out shoot, chance and score their opposition.
They accomplish this with more than just their own offensive zone prowess, but overall on-ice domination. While some may point at things like Enstrom's size or Byfuglien's limited back-checking, the results indicate they are still one of the top in the game... and that's what matters.
The proof is in the pudding as they say.