Monday, 28 October 2013

Frustration Builds

If one wanted to hear the sound of a frustrated coach who seems to be annoyed with the personnel he has on his bench, Claude Noel's rant after the Jets' game against the Avalanche might be the most honest the coach has been in his tenure yet. Perhaps it's time to blow this thing up. Perhaps it's time that the Jets sat down and took a good look at the "core" of this team that continually makes the same mistakes over and over again as they allow points to evaporate in the wake of poor play. I know that Claude Noel can't say it, but I will: the Jets are terrible because of themselves.

Here are a few of Noel's comments in his post-game press conference, and it sounds as if he's at his wit's end.
"The power play's getting old, but these are pretty much the same players we had here last year. What we're proving on the power play is there's a reason why we were last last year and it looks like, unless we change — we've changed the dynamics of the power play, we've done some different things — but we keep doing some of the same things we saw last year.

"We will continue to attack it, practise it, find different ways. But at the end of the day we don't make the greatest decisions. We don't execute. And this is the same stuff we lamented about before. That cost us the game. We were 0-for-5. It's a momentum killer. It's like shooting yourself in the foot over and over again. It does a lot of things to you and none of it is positive. It demoralizes you, it takes momentum away. It adds frustration and all the negative stuff that surrounds it is all right there."
It's not hard to see what Noel is talking about when you watch the Jets on the powerplay, but it's only one facet of the Jets' game that is failing them. Watching their defensive zone coverage on Sunday night was akin to watching six year-olds play the game.

Case in point? The goal scored by Matt Duchene to open the scoring for the Avalanche is all on Dustin Byfuglien. As a defenceman, you learn that if you're the defender on a 2-on-1, you either commit early to the puck-carrier or you take away the passing option by closing out on the second offensive player. I believe they teach this in kid's hockey, but maybe they do things differently in Minnesota (not likely). Watch how Byfuglien gets caught by watching the puck instead of closing out on Duchene.
If you watch closely, Byfuglien sees Duchene cross the blue line. His head turns away from Downie and he looks right at Duchene, so it's not like he can claim he didn't know Duchene was there.

Now based upon the training I've learned over the years, the rule was always to give the goaltender the shooter and take away the pass if you can't engage the puck-carrier early. Secondly, if given the option, who is the player more likely to score: Downie or Duchene? If you answered Duchene, why would you even give him a chance to get the puck? Close out on him, and let Montoya go one-on-one with Downie. It's an easy play to make as a defenceman. Yet Byfuglien neither prevents Downie from shooting nor does he close out on Duchene.

What the heck was he thinking?

Let's move ahead to the second Avalanche goal. This is a case of one mistake leading to many more.
There are two key mistakes made by the Jets here, but both should never have happened if they would simply play fundamental hockey - stick with your check and double your effort on defence. Let's break down this breakdown, shall we?

Ok, the play by Byfuglien on the stick-check to start the clip? That's a thing of beauty. No penalty, and he breaks up the play - that's how you play defence. Byfuglien returns to his comfort zone in front of Montoya, and chips a centering pass right up the middle of the ice. Look, I'll credit Byfuglien for breaking up the play, but there are two glaring errors that were made on this Jan Hejda goal.

First, where on earth was Hejda's check? Oh, that would be Devin Setoguchi and he's behind the net. That's right: THE GUY WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO BE COVERING THE POINT WAS BEHIND HIS OWN NET! And why was he behind the net? Because Andrew Ladd's check - Paul Stastny - was allowed to stand at the face-off dot with no one around him. The Jets sent two players in Ladd and Grant Clitsome to take the puck off Gabriel Landeskog off the side boards, and neither came up with the puck. Ladd needs to be stronger on that puck. That's just a textbook case of not wanting the puck. Strike one.

In recognizing that Stastny had no one between him and Montoya, Setoguchi collapsed to aid his goaltender. However, that left Jan Hejda open at the point as Setoguchi takes the longest route possible back to his check by going behind the net and completely eliminating himself from the play. He's now not only not checking Stastny, but he's also checking no one while hiding behind Montoya. Get this guy a map. Strike two.

The puck intended for Alex Tanguay gets intercepted and chipped out down the middle of the defensive zone by Dustin Byfuglien. I'll say that Byfuglien did the right thing in breaking up the play. But that loose puck came right to Hejda with about sixty feet of open ice in front of him. Setoguchi, Hejda's check, is hiding out behind the net, making Byfuglien the closest Jet to Hejda. I'll admit that Byfuglien has little chance to close out on Hejda completely, but makes probably the most feeble attempt to get to Hejda. And he gets pushed out of the way by Tanguay so that Hejda's shot has a clear path to the net. Strike three, goal scored, minuses all around.

Alex Tanguay is 6'1" tall and 194lbs. Dustin Byfuglien is 6'5" tall and 265lbs.

Read that sentence again. And then ask yourself how a guy who is 70lbs heavier can be pushed out of the way of a shot that he should be blocking. If anything, Byfuglien should have leaned on Tanguay and forced him into the shooting lane. He's 70lbs heavier! But Tanguay throws a perfect pick on Byfuglien to maintain the shooting lane, and Byfuglien gives up on the puck completely as Hejda rips home a goal.

Ladd, Setoguchi, and Byfuglien all deserve minuses on this play.

The third goal? Classic Jets defence. Take a look.
Wow. Five white jerseys against three dark jerseys, and the three Avalanche players skate to the corner to celebrate a goal. It's hard to fathom how a team can send three guys in against five and come away with a goal, but let's break this down because I feel like repeating myself.

The battle along the boards that both Mark Scheifele and Grant Clitsome engage in is won easily by Alex Tanguay. One of those two guys - Mark Scheifele - has to stop that pass. Clitsome does a good job in pinning Tanguay to the end boards, but it's far too late. Scheifele closes out on Tanguay in probably the most timid way I've ever seen, and it allows Tanguay to get the puck off the boards and out to Landeskog. Strike one.

While the play develops along the end boards, watch Landeskog creep into the face-off circle. Notice how no one sees him until he actually has the puck? That would be your man, Zach Bogosian. He covers no one, and then he simply allows Landeskog to make a pass that would be an easy tap-in for Stastny. Yet another feeble close-out on a player who is allowed to make a play without paying a price. Cue up the broken record. Strike two.

And Michael Frolik? I get that you're supposed to be covering a defenceman. I get that. But you know that there are four white jerseys in your field of vision and Paul Stastny is lurking somewhere. You know that he's probably going to be near the net because that's where good goal scorers usually go. Instead, though, you get caught watching the puck instead of keeping an eye on the guy standing right behind you. And lo and behold, the puck is in the net off his stick. Strike three.

I'll even toss this out for those of you still reading. Tyson Barrie was the defenceman that Frolik was supposed to be covering on the play. Tyson Barrie had no one near him on the ice. Had Montoya made the save on Stastny and the puck somehow found its way out to the slot? It could have been another goal similar to Jan Hejda's goal because Barrie had no one within fifty-feet of him. Exactly what defensive zone coverage are we playing again?

I'm not here to rain completely on the parade, but the Jets capitalized on two errors by goaltender Semyon Varlamov to take a 2-1 lead into the third period. The Jets did what teams have to do against good teams in that they made them pay for mistakes. But to give up two third-period goals in the manner in which the Jets did makes it all for naught. It's no longer heartbreaking to lose like this; it's downright frustrating because it keeps happening over and over and over again.

I'm not saying that every player needs to go, and I certainly don't think a wholesale firesale like the Buffalo Sabres seem to be implementing is the way to go for the Jets either. I do think that the liabilities of some players need to be addressed regardless of what other positives they bring because at the end of the day it's still about wins and losses. The Jets are piling up the losses because of these liabilities.

As for Mr. Noel, here's his take on his team. Note the tone of his voice and the candor in which he addresses the media. He seems none too pleased with his team.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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