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Recap: Jets vs. Blue Jackets – January 21, 2015

After going up 2-0 just six minutes into the game, the Jets were never really threatened in this game. Once the Jets were up by four, Columbus was unable to swing the momentum in the game, or mount a sustained attack in the Jets’ zone. The game finished up at 4-0, with Michael Hutchinson picking up a 29-save shut-out, his second of the season.

(1) Since they lost to Phoenix on January 8th, the Jets have gone 6-0-1. The streak started in the second of a 6 game in 9 day road trip which included wins against LA, Chicago, and Dallas. Not coincidentally, the first game of the streak – the win against LA – saw the return of Enstrom and Stuart. (Zach Bogosian had returned just one game prior). As they say, defence kills. (They say that, right?)

(2) With four even-strength goals for, naturally some players were going to pad their plus-minus stats. Tonight, it was the pair of Ben Chiarot and Dustin Byfuglien, who were +3. Chiarot is now +6 on the year, while Byfuglien is +9. that’s pretty impressive considering they had a month-long stretch as the clear top-pair, and even more so when you consider that Chiarot had played only one NHL game prior to this season.This pairing has to be the best thing which came out of the rash of injuries on the back-end.

(3) Jay Harrison scored his 3rd goal in just 16 games as a Jet. That puts him ahead of 10 other Jets players, including Enstrom, Stuart, Halischuk, Postma, Chiarot, Slater, Clitsome, Pardy, Peluso, and Galiardi. Granted, Harrison’s primarily role is to play solid defence, rather than score goals, but that’s twice now that he’s walked into the high slot and beat a goaltender – the other was against San Jose. As a veteran with good size (6’4, 220), and just a ~$1M cap hit to the team, the Jets could do worse as their 6/7 defenceman. (If Harrison is here last year, do the Jets extend Mark Stuart to the tune of $2.625 per over 4 years…?)

(4) Jacob Trouba returned to the lineup tonight – his first game since December 13th. His most noticeable play of the night was a big giveaway in his own zone to Brandon Dubinsky which led to extended zone time for Columbus. That said, the game was well in hand halfway through this game, so it was nice for Trouba to ease back into the game without much pressure. That said, he still played 20:16, fourth among Jets defencemen.

(5) On the Corsi front, the pair of Byfuglien and Chiarot continued to shine, with Chiarot at +11, and Buff at +9. Furthermore, they help control play against the Jackets’ top led by Ryan Johansen, who was -5 on the night. On the bad end, Toby Enstrom was -9, and Zach Bogosian was -15. All the Jets forwards were around even on the night (Little +3, Slater -2, everyone else in between.)

(6) I could have sworn that Elliot Freedman declared that Bryan Little should replace Patrice Bergeron in the all-star game. Did I hear that right? Little has long been my favourite Jets forward, because he does so much on the ice, and with so little fanfare. Does he have a weakness? He’s surprisingly strong on the puck for a smaller player, he almost never gets hurt, and his speed, smarts, hands, shot, and shoot-out prowess are all above average. It’s nice to see him getting some recognition around the league. The only drawback if Little were to make an unlikely appearance at all-star weekend is that he would probably be the last player taken in the “I pick Stamkos”, school-yard style, team selection process. I would hate to see him compared to Phil Kessel, the last pick in 2012.

(7) Michael Hutchinson is now 14-4-2 on the season, with a 1.90 G.A.A, .935 save %, and two shut-outs. Granted, it wasn’t an overly tough game for him, as the Jets opened up a two-goal lead very early on, but you have to appreciate how cool Hutch is in net. As far as style goes (not comparing potential), Hutchinson reminds me a bit of Carey Price – big, calm, and technically sound, pucks just seem to hit him, and he doesn’t appear to let out many bad rebounds. While Pavelec is the kind of goalie who thrives on tons of shots, but can be a sieve at other times, Hutchinson is solid almost every night, and certainly seems to be the goalie you want when you have a lead. If you haven’t thanked Craig Heisinger yet for this find, you should send him an email. On a side note, what are the odds that Hutchinson comes in top-3 in Calder voting? I’d say he’s a lock for top-4, but Ekblad, Gaudreau, and Forsberg, will be tough to unseat.

(8) The Jets go into the all-star break with 60 points in 48 games, 22 regulation wins, and an overall record of 26-14-8. At +18, their goal differential ranks fourth in the Central Division, but would be at or near tops in the Pacific, depending on exactly how tonight’s Anaheim-Calgary game concludes. Most importantly, the Jets now sit well ahead of all those chasing in the Central Division, 11 points ahead of their nearest rival, the Dallas Stars. Down the stretch, Jets fans will turn their attention towards Vancouver, San Jose, Calgary, and Los Angeles, who currently sit just a few points apart, (exact figures pending tonight’s results) and will challenge Winnipeg for final two, wildcard spots in the Western Conference.

(9) If roughly 95 points is the last playoff spot in the West, can you believe that the Jets are in a position where they only need 35 points in their last 34 games? That's a record of, say, 16-15-3. Even the most optimistic Jets fan couldn't have expected this performance, particularly given the defensive injuries which decimated the club in December. In my case, I expected the Jets to be a mediocre team in a very strong division – a borderline playoff team in the East, and roughly a 10th place team in the West. Fortunately, goaltending in Minnesota and Dallas has helped, and Colorado has come crashing down to earth, as analytics long predicted.

(10) It’s no secret that the Jets should soon have 9 healthy defencemen. What does Chevy do? After the obvious top-4 – Byfuglien, Enstrom, Trouba, Bogosian, Chiarot should and will stay in the lineup with Byfuglien, Stuart likely pairs with Trouba once healthy, and Harrison is the 7th D. That leaves Postma and Pardy as 8 and 9, and most teams only carry 7 defencemen, never mind 8. The easiest thing to do would be to put Adam Pardy on waivers – it’s unlikely that he’d be claimed, and he would be sent to the AHL. However, if the Jets don’t believe that Paul Postma will be a regular defenceman on this team going forward, another option would be to deal him, and perhaps a throw in a late-round pick, and acquire a bottom-6 forward. Perhaps a team like Detroit, who is always searching for a right-handed defenceman, might be interested. They have a wealth of forwards to choose from – perhaps a young depth forward like Joakim Andersson would make sense – he’s been passed on the depth chart by younger players like Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar, and Tomas Jurco, and like Postma, is 25, and has had trouble establishing himself as a regular NHL’er.

What did you think of tonight's game? And what are your thoughts going into the All-Star break?

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