The Winnipeg Jets franchise is making its first playoff appearance since moving to Winnipeg in 2011 and the second appearance in franchise history; the last appearance being in 2007 where they got swept. This time the Jets are not the overwhelming underdogs who got in because of the lovely divisional leader rule of the old format. The Jets were lucky to get the second Wild Card spot and face-off against Pacific Division winner and the highest points collecting team in the Western Conference, but the two teams are fairly equal and the Jets can avoid a Central Division opponent for the first two rounds if they move on.
The season series was 3-0 in the Ducks favour, but none of the games were blowouts and the Jets will hopefully have a full slate of players to dress in the first game of the playoffs. The two major health concerns on the Jets are first pairing left-handed defenceman Tobias Enstrom and forward Mathieu Perreault. Although not having Perreault and Enstrom is not ideal, the Jets have gotten through injuries before and should be able to handle the losses.
This is a really hard to predict because both teams are known for having unstable goaltending. The Jets will enter the playoffs with Ondrej Pavelec as the starter and Michael Hutchinson as the back-up. Pavelec has been on a tear entering the playoffs, but he has never played this well before and there are questions about how much longer he can sustain it. Hutchinson has been solidly in the back-up role for a while now and played well in the last game of the season. Pavelec has the best save percentage of any goalie in this series with a .920 in all situations and a .927 at even strength. Hutchinson has a .914 all situations save percentage and a .924 even strength save percentage. It is interesting to note that Connor Hellebuyck has been sent back down to the AHL for the time being. Expect him to be called back up before Thursday so the Jets have a third goalie in the building in the case of a goalie emergency.
The Anaheim Ducks also have some instability in net with last year's eventual playoff started John Gibson injured and Jason Labarbera is currently the back up. The Ducks two main goalies, the aforementioned Gibson and Frederick Andersen both have identical .914 save percentages. Andersen's even strength save percentage is .920 and Gibson has a .927 even strength save percentage. The current back-up is Jason Labarbera until Gibson returns to health, which could happen before the series begins on Thursday. Labarbera may very well stay up with the Ducks even after Gibson returns to health.
The graph above shows PDO on the Y-Axis and Zone Starts on the X-axis with Shot Attempts relative to teammates on coloured with blue being better. As you can see, both the Ducks and the Jets have relatively lucky first pairs on defence, while most of the defencemen have average luck.
The Winnipeg Jets defence really depends on the health of Tobias Enstrom. He was able to practice on his regular day yesterday, but nothing is confirmed in regards to his availability for game one yet. Although the Jets managed to survive through numerous defensive injuries throughout the season, the playoffs are a whole different ball game in terms of advanced scouting and the Jets lack of depth on the left side of the defence after Enstrom could easily be exposed. The rest of the defence looks pretty set with the right side being particularly strong with Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers.
The Anaheim Ducks remade their defence at the trade deadline by adding Simon Despres for Ben Lovejoy, acquiring a younger, more skilled player at the expense of an old one. Outside of that trade, the Ducks have a young and mobile defence that is fairly good at holding onto the puck.and making offensive plays. This does not mean that the Ducks are perfect, but the defensive match-up could be a difficult one for the Jets.
The graph above shows PDO on the Y-Axis and Zone Starts on the X-axis with Shot Attempts relative to teammates on coloured with blue being better. As you can see, both the Ducks and the Jets have centres with fairly average luck, with the exceptions of Lowry and Kesler, who are both unlucky.
The Winnipeg Jets have three strong lines and a fourth line that can do thing when they have Jiri Tlusty on the line. The Jets are not known for their centre depth, yet they managed without their number one centre, Bryan Little, for ten games without missing a beat. This is wonderful news for the Jets, even if they are relying on a pair of 21 year olds to hold down the second and third line centre roles. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made some wonderful depth acquisitions at the trade deadline to help out with the Jets pitiful depth at wing. These moves have paid off by allowing the Jets to aid any perceived weakness down the middle with strong wingers. The Jets do not really play a match-up game, but look for Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau to try to keep Ryan Getzlaf away from Bryan Little.
The Ducks centres are a fairly strong group as well. What makes them really interesting from a Jets perspective is their fourth line centre, Nate Thompson, who was chosen over Jets winger Mathieu Perreault as the player to keep out of those two. Edit: Thompson is possibly injured and if he cannot play than Chris Wagner will draw in. The rest of the Ducks forwards are a solid group of skaters. Corey Perry is always dangerous and sneaky dirty. Ryan Getzlaf is from Regina, which makes him a mortal enemy in Winnipeg everyday of the week. Most of their wingers are speedy with some offensive skill. Although he has never taken off offensively in the NHL, Emerson Etem provides a speed element on the fourth line that could become troublesome for the Jets fourth line and third pairing.
The lower lines may be where the series is won and loss, unless Little or Scheifele gain an upper-hand on Ryan Kesler, then the Jets may have to lean on the likes of Lowry's line and Slater's line to beat the Ducks. Thankfully, the Jets have some good wingers to help the centres in all areas of the game, especially producing offence. This depth may mean the difference between golfing and the second round.
Both teams have middle of the pack penalty-kills and both teams have goalies with NHL average goaltending on the penalty-kill, so there is little advantage to gain there.
The power play is a different story, with the Jets having a more effective power play. Although the Jets power play is middle of the pack, the Ducks power play is near the bottom of the league. The Jets take a lot of unnecessary penalties, so they still need to be cautious in that regard, but they are not playing a vaunted power play to say the least.
This series should be a lot closer than a typical first place/second wild card matchup would normally be. The Jets are a talented team who can beat the Ducks as long as they stay disciplined and get league average goaltending. The Ducks can beat the Jets by doing the same things.
A note about Teemu:
This series is more important than many first round series in the NHL. Teemu Selanne was a prominent member of the Jets until he was traded in 1996 to the Anaheim Ducks. The winner of the series gets to claim Teemu as theirs and only theirs.