Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Stuck In Status Quo

It's becoming increasingly hard to watch the Winnipeg Jets play hockey this season. Andrew Ladd may have spoken about the lack of heart on this team a few days ago, but there has been little that has changed on the ice when it comes to how the Jets approach games. There's a lack of hustle, a lack of winning battles for pucks, and certainly a lack of going to the high-traffic areas on the ice where a lot of "garbage goals" are scored. But when you're a struggling team, those are the places where you have to start going to earn those goals. They aren't given, but rather they are earned. If there is one team in particular that needs to start earning a few of those goals in order to open some space on the ice, the Winnipeg Jets are it.

I will admit that I have been particularly harsh towards the Jets this season, but watching the second iteration struggle worse than the original, low-budget Jets did is difficult when you consider what kind of team is being put on the ice. There's very little heart, no character, and a serious void where leadership should be. Andrew Ladd can speak out all he wants, but until there is a change in the way this team plays the game on the ice, his words mean very little and are seemingly respected by his teammates even less.

Consider the following: as of today, the Jets find themselves tied with Washington in terms of points for the basement spot in the Eastern Conference. Two weeks ago, they were in seventh-place in the conference and looking upwards after a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Ottawa Senators.

The pieces on this team that were supposed to perform are not. The Jets' leading scorer is currently on the injured reserve list as Tobias Enstrom's 13 points are good for 48th-best in the NHL. Andrew Ladd, the captain of the Jets, is actually performing well as he has seven goals and five assists, but where are the rest of the performers who are supposed to be carrying the bulk of the offensive load?

Without further adieu, here are the quarter-season progress reports of the team that occupies MTS Centre in Winnipeg. Some will not be kind.

  • Nikolai Antropov: I'm not sure if he's the second-coming of Sergei Bautin, but he moves like he's never been on skates before and has zero awareness of what's happening around him. So in short, he could be Sergei Bautin. I'm not even sure Antropov ever played hockey based upon his play over the last two seasons. Someone needs to find out if there's a KHL team that will take him. Otherwise, get him an orange jersey. He's a pylon.
  • Alexander Burmistrov: He looks like he's going to be a solid forward if the Jets can ever find him two wingers that skate better than Wellwood and Antropov. Honestly, every time those three come over the boards, I wonder how much Claude Noel dislikes Burmistrov. It's the only explanation as to why he keeps putting a speedy playmaker like Burmistrov with a pair of pylons.
  • Olli Jokinen: If anyone needed proof as to why Jokinen has only made the playoffs once in his fifteen-year career, this season should sum it up nicely. He was supposed to bring leadership and a veteran presence while providing scoring and play-making, but I'm pretty sure the Jets could have pulled Thomas Steen out of retirement to match Jokinen's production thus far. Jokinen is trade bait at the deadline for anyone who wants to toss a bag of pucks back at the Jets.
  • Evander Kane: Stop worrying about race relations via Twitter, and start going hard to the net. You want to be a one-timing weapon like Stamkos or Ovechkin, but players are camping out on you. Power forwards score lots of goals by going to the net and they open up space for themselves because defencemen can't play you one-dimensionally. You scored against Boston by standing in front of the net. Here's an idea: GO TO THE NET!
  • Andrew Ladd: I appreciate Ladd calling out the team in terms of their poor play, but let's be honest here. Ladd is a third-line forward at best on any other team other than Winnipeg. Sure, he can be the captain as a third-liner, but he won two Stanley Cups as a role player and nothing more. Expecting him to score 60 points and carrying the offence is a pipe dream.
  • Bryan Little: He looked like a superstar when paired with Ilya Kovalchuk, and hasn't really done much since then. I get that Little is more of a playmaker, but he's not even doing that with any regularity. Little, like Kane, needs to head to the net more often, almost in a Daniel Briere-like fashion. There are goals to be had if Little is willing to get his nose bloodied a little more often.
  • Antti Miettinen: He's still on the roster? What kind of injury does he have where he hasn't suited up once this season? And, honestly, would it matter if he did based on his play last season?
  • Anthony Peluso: Sorry about picking you up off the waiver wire, Anthony. I know the Jets promised playing time and an opportunity and what-not, but they were so thin on the forward ranks that a team could have waived a mannequin and the Jets would have jumped at him. Unless, of course, you're Zach Boychuk. Who needs a guy like Boychuk? Anyway, keep plugging away and we'll try and get you in more than one game this season. Thanks, bud.
  • Jim Slater: I appreciate the work that Slater has put in this season as he's been reliable on both the penalty kill and as an energy guy. Slater never seems to take a shift off, and he'll go into the corners to do the dirty work. The Jets could use a little additional offence from him, but considering his linemates, any offence is better than none at all.
  • Eric Tangradi: The Jets could have had Zach Boychuk for nothing. Boychuk, of course, replaced Tangradi in the Penguins' lineup. So the Jets traded a seventh-round pick for a guy who lost his job to a waiver wire pickup. Seems wrong, no? In any case, Tangradi has only been here for a couple of games, but has been as consistent as he was in Pittsburgh in remaining scoreless on the season.
  • Chris Thorburn: Thorburn is a solid fourth-line player who throws his body around when he's sent out. The problem is that he's not a fighter, and he doesn't score. Thorburn needs to decided whether he's going to be a nuisance and cause other players to take penalties or be a fighter and drop the mitts when needed. Right now, he's doing neither.
  • Kyle Wellwood: I'm pretty sure that Kyle Wellwood's best days as a skater are past him. If Antropov was slow, Wellwood is beyond slow by a factor of ten. I'm not sure he'll crack double-digits in points this season because the play is already heading back down the ice towards the Jets' zone by the time he hits the blue line - the Jets' blue line. Molasses have been officially renamed in Latin as "Kylus Wellwoodius". He's THAT slow. I'd say trade him, but who would want him?
  • Blake Wheeler: Wheeler, like Kane, is stuck in this public belief that he's a power forward when he plays so soft. Wheeler is the biggest body that can skate that the Jets have up front, but he too refuses to go to the high-traffic areas. Wheeler has great hands and is tough to knock off the puck, so why isn't he going to the net more often, and why isn't he standing in front of the net? For all that is good in this world, GO TO THE NET!
  • James Wright: Wright has played 12 games with the Jets, picked up no points as a fourth-liner, but he does have 24 PIMs. Wright has shown some good hustle and he goes into the corners, but his seven shots leave me wondering why he was brought in at all. I mean, Zach Boychuk was available, and the Jets passed on him. I guess that's why I'm not the GM.
  • Zach Bogosian: He hasn't played enough this season to warrant a poor grade, but Bogosian is one of the more reliable blueliners on this team. Here's hoping he can come back, score a few goals, and keep the puck from finding its way behind the goalies.
  • Dustin Byfuglien: I get the sense that with all of the defencemen the Jets currently have, Byfuglien would be a better fit on one of the top two lines as a forward. After all, one normally sees Byfuglien deep in the offensive zone instead of playing his point. While his offence from the blue line is definitely a plus, he needs to be more Chris Pronger rather than Sean Pronger in his own zone.
  • Grant Clitsome: He's been neither good nor bad when playing, so I guess that's a good sign for a defenceman. He needs to find some confidence in himself and his teammates so that he can skate with the puck because Clitsome could be a solid offensive defenceman if given the chance. However, the current Clitsome is adequate in his role.
  • Tobias Enstrom: I appreciate what he brings to the table as the guy who makes the first pass out of the zone and quarterbacks the powerplay. Defensively, he's solid and doesn't get caught out of position often. But even Nicklas Lidstrom shot the puck once in a while Enstrom has to shoot the puck more often to open up his teammates on the powerplay. Opposing playing don't respect his shot because they know he's going to dish it to Byfuglien. SHOOT THE PUCK!
  • Ron Hainsey: I've been very impressed with the minutes that Hainsey has been eating since Enstrom went down with his injury. Hainsey isn't flashy and won't net you a lot of points, but he's been playing solid, fundamental hockey with his increased minutes. If he can continue this type of play, he could this team's unsung player of the year.
  • Paul Postma: He's got the big shot, and he should be using it when he can. However, for all that Postma brings to the offensive end, he has made some glaring errors in his own zone that have resulted in goals against. Postma is a work in progress after being stuck in the AHL for a long time, but he could be a good defenceman if he can reduce the number of errors that result in red lights flashing.
  • Zach Redmond: He plays well, but has a penchant for taking dumb penalties. Redmond should be another player who can make the jump, but he needs to keep his stick down, his hands off opposing players, and continue to move his feet. If he can reduce the unnecessary penalties, Redmond could find a roster spot for a long time.
  • Mark Stuart: He blocks shots, he logs a ton of minutes, and he drop the mittens when needed. Stuart is a warrior, and is the kind of guy coaches love to have available when they need a shutdown guy. If he could pick up a couple of points here and there, Stuart would be exactly the kind of guy the Jets would want to clone.
  • Al Montoya: He's been a solid player when called upon, but he simply hasn't played enough to be a serviceable goalie. His 2.74 GAA is decent, but his sub-.900 save percentage won't wow anyone. Needless to say, playing in just four games has allowed rust to develop, and that isn't anything a backup goaltender needs.
  • Ondrej Pavelec: He's far too often been the reason the Jets have won games in the past, and it's clear this season that Pavelec has to be outstanding or the Jets will not win. The problem is that he's been not outstanding for a number of games, and his 3-8-1 record, 3.14 GAA, and .889 save percentage are evidence of that. Pavelec has to be much, much better if the Jets want to see an improvement, but he's just not providing that option right now. As a result, the Jets are suffering.
My favorite line that Noel keeps sending out is the Wellwood-Jokinen-Tangradi line, aka the "High Hopes" line. Those three have generated nothing but groans and moans from Jets fans, yet Noel has used them regularly through the last two games. Does no one else see how brutal those three players are when playing together?

This team needs a rebuild in the worst way. I'm not sure if the Jets are hoping to win one of the top-three draft spots to land one of Seth Jones, Jonathan Drouin, or Nathan MacKinnon, but they are certainly making a run at one of those spots with their recent play. Perhaps they are secretly planning to scrap this season and they are holding their cards tight to their chest in order to keep fan interest high. But for all the Jets are doing on the ice, things are looking like status quo in terms of missing the playoffs yet again.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Peter Santellan said...

I know you didn't mention Mark Schiefele at all (since he was returned to Barrie a few weeks ago), but I found it interesting while listening to the radio broadcast of the game against the Senators on opening day that the Sens' announce team noted that Schiefele was on the fourth line. Schiefele, as you may remember, was a first round pick in 2011 and was doing quite well in Barrie during the lockout. One of the things the announce team had criticized Coach Noel about was putting Schiefele on the fourth line, even though the Jets needed offense at forward and lacked any real threat outside of Kane and Wheeler.