Another game, another ugly win for the Winnipeg Jets. Outshot 46-31 (to say nothing of the #fancystats) by the Chicago Blackhawks, yet triumphant over the reigning Stanley Cup Champions to the tune of 3-1. I'm not usually one to give credence to "a win's a win", but against a Central Division opponent, I'll take it. Now commence the complaining!
Laggards and dilly-dalliers abound: It's often said that goalies like to get into the game early, whether it's by making a save or two, handling the puck a little, etc. The 2015-16 Winnipeg Jets clearly put a bit too much stock into this, because 18 seconds into the game Toby Enstrom took a holding penalty for being a bit too handsy with Jonathan Toews. This allowed Hutch the chance to see rubber early and often, the only problem being that Chicago then proceeded to score on said power play. Long story short, slow starts lead to penalties, penalties lead to goals against, goals against...**pause**...lead to suffering. Playing from behind is an exhausting game plan (as is playing constantly in one's zone, but OH WELL).
Patrick Kane: Like it or not, keeping #88 on the active roster has paid on-ice dividends for the Chicago Blackhawks. In my last preview, I mentioned the danger of Los Angeles' "TLC" line; Chicago's rough equivalent is the duo of Panarin and Kane. Prior to this game, the two had combined for 20 points in 9 games, and they connected again tonight:
I don't envy Mark Stuart in this position. He's effectively being asked to respect three things at once: the net front presence of Shaw, the shot from Kane and the potential pass to Toews. He dissuades Kane from the Toews option, but to no avail. While Hutch got a piece of it, Kane was a split-second faster.
Panarin Power: 10 games in, Artemi Panarin is the kind of European free agent signing GMs dream of. That no look cross-ice pass he sends Kane's way is just another example of his incredible awareness, coupled with the ability to execute. It's easy to see why some folks regard him as Kane-lite. Get to know him well, Jets fans, because he's probably going to make our lives miserable for years to come.
Winning Faceoffs Can't Hurt: The value of faceoffs won in terms of goal output is a contested subject, but tonight served as a nice reminder of its potential value. On the Jets' tying goal, Bryan Little outworks Jonathan Toews and sends the pass back to Blake Wheeler, who snaps it between Hjalmarsson and Hossa. See for yourself:
Somewhere from heaven, Yanic Perreault is smiling (and yes, I know that he's perfectly alive and well). Prior to this game, the Jets were third worst in the league with a 47.0 faceoff winning percentage. Maybe this will provide further incentive for improvement.
Speaking of Perreaults: During live play, I didn't think the hit on Perreault by Trevor Daley was that bad. And then I saw this still-image tweet:
Yikes. Seeing Perreault subsequently wincing in pain on the ice reminded me of two things: 1) how incredibly valuable he is to the Winnipeg Jets forward corps; and 2) how I'll be surprised if he plays more than 70 games, much less 80. Both at even strength and on the power play, Perreault is such a creative, dynamic, tenacious presence for this team. Who needs 4th line energy guys when you have MP85, our spark plug with skill.
Mathieu Perreault is playing in his 300th career NHL game tonight.— Winnipeg Jets PR (@WpgJetsPR) October 30, 2015
Perreault is full effort every time. How many times a game does he dive at loose puck?— Arctic Ice Hockey (@arcticicehockey) October 30, 2015
When sight and stats align: Overall, I'd say this was one of those games where the eye test and advanced stats ran parallel to one another. Whether it was the Jets appearing to spot Chicago five minutes of zone time to start things off, or Winnipeg coming on stronger in the 2nd before receding in the face of an increasingly dangerous Blackhawks squad, there was congruence between sight and spreadsheet. Between this game and the one against LA, the improved fancy stats against Tampa Bay and Minnesota now seem a distant memory.
Hutch and Goaltending: Fortunately for Winnipeg, after allowing 12 goals in 3 games, the Jets goaltenders have returned to greatness. Last game against LA, Pavelec posted a .933 SV%, and tonight against Chicago, Hutchinson saved our bacon with a .978 SV%.
While I presume this was said in jest, I'll be honest, tonight I thought of an equally horrifying comparison: the 2012-13 Toronto Maple Leafs. Now of course, things are not nearly so dire as that, for a multitude of reasons. But if the subpar possession numbers continue, both Pavelec and Hutchinson will have to be exceptional on a more regular basis than I'm comfortable with.
The must-win battles: Look at this absolute beauty of a goal. I'll admit, I may have lost my you know what when it happened:
Ehlers puts in most of the hard work, racing and beating Daley to the puck before sending a perfect pass onto the stick of Scheifele, who then proceeds to snipe it past Crawford. What a magnificent bang-bang play. The thing I love most about Nik Ehlers being on this team is that between linemates and minutes, he was given the opportunity to succeed and has since earned it. Meanwhile, Andrew Copp had 7:06 TOI and Chris Thorburn (or is it that Thorburn has Copp?).
The must-win games: We all know how much of a bloodbath the Central is, which of course makes it all the more important that Winnipeg win these games against divisional opponents. Even better, it was a win in regulation time. While it's hard to appreciate the benefit now in October, these points (or lack thereof in Chicago's case tonight) will quickly add up. Now, every squad needs to win games in which they are not the better team, and the Jets were not the better team tonight. It's just that the ratio of ugly wins to nice looking losses (or nice looking loss, depending on whether you're Team Phil or Team Cassidy) is becoming a bit worrying.
On the road again: And with that, Winnipeg's six game homestand is at an end, during which they went 3-2-1 overall, and 2-1-0 against Central Division opponents. The latter record is to be expected, the former can be improved upon. Off to Columbus, against a team Winnipeg will be expected to beat, Tortorella or no Tortorella.
Thanks for reading!