Friday, 12 April 2019

Reasons For Concern

While it wasn't written about sports and the relationship fans have with their teams, Alice In Chains' 1993 song "Down in a Hole" seems particularly relevant right now for the fanbases in Winnipeg. The lyrics of the chorus read, "Down in a hole, feelin' so small/Down in a hole, losin' my soul/I'd like to fly, but my wings have been so denied," and this team has legitimately been denied by St. Louis from taking flight. While we knew it was going to a tight-checking series, with Winnipeg heading to St. Louis in a 2-0 hole there are a number of reasons to be concerned about the Jets' chances of coming back to Winnipeg with the series tied.

We'll hear Paul Maurice talk about breaking the game into five-minute segments. We'll hear players talk about winning periods and winning shifts before they mention anything about winning the games. How much truth is there to this for the Jets as they visit the Enterprise Center in St. Louis basically playing must-win hockey?

Here's a quick table of how the teams played this season in periods thanks to Hockey Reference.
If we look at the data presented, the first thing that jumps out at me is the goal differential that the Blues have at home in the first period. They're +16 at home in terms of goals scored and +25 in first periods overall. We always hear of how important that first goal is, and there's no doubt that St. Louis has used their first period scoring to their advantage, particularly over this impressive 32-10-5 run in their last 47 games.

Comparatively, the Jets were an impressive +19 at home in first-period goal differential, but a -5 on the road. While the Jets are a +1 in these playoffs at home, a slow start against St. Louis while being down a couple of games in the series is literally flirting with disaster based on the numbers above. The Jets have to find a way to set the pace early in these next two games if they hope to have a prayer in this series, and getting an early goal or two will go a long way in helping their cause of returning to Winnipeg in a best-of-three series as St. Louis actually has a -6 goal differential for the season over the final 40 minutes of play.

The second thing that Paul Maurice should be doing is stressing discipline to his players. We saw Mark Scheifele take a couple of rather unnecessary penalties early in Game Two, but it was the Jets' power-play who scored on two of three chances. St. Louis is 0-for-7 with the man-advantage compared to Winnipeg who is 2-for-4. The Jets need to play to their strengths by drawing penalties as power-play goals have accounted for two of the four goals they've scored in the series thus far.

The third thing that the Jets need is Connor Hellebuyck to rebound in a big way. There's no denying that Jordan Binnington has outplayed the Jets' netminder thus far, but at least two of the goals that were scored tonight were pucks that Hellebuyck should have had. He misplayed the dump-in prior to the Patrick Maroon goal where he should have easily trapped that puck against his chest, and Oskar Sundqvist's goal that went right between the wickets is one he has to have. His current .897 save percentage simply isn't good enough to win a series by any means, so Hellebuyck needs to have himself a couple of big games with key stops if he wants to help Winnipeg come back home with this series squared.

In his post-game press conference tonight, Maurice said there would be roster changes for Game Three. In scanning player usage tonight, one has to wonder if Dmitry Kulikov is one of those changes as he played just 13:44 tonight on the blue line. Jack Roslovic played just a mere 6:43 and I assume that Roslovic will be shown the door to the press box once again.

Maurice isn't going to avoid the sword here, though, as Kevin Hayes played just 8:32 and has yet to look like he's even engaged in this series. He was a woeful 20% at the face-off dot tonight. Whatever is plaguing the big man needs to be solved quickly because he was an integral part of the Jets' lineup down the stretch. The Jets need him to show up and play like the game-changer he has shown if they want to go further than Missouri in these playoffs.

Maurice also needs to figure out how to deploy Nikolaj Ehlers more effectively as Ehlers didn't see a second of time on special teams and played just 9:08. Ehlers is a possession zone entry player whose speed through the neutral zone could cause fits for the Blues, but it seems that Maurice is more content to sit him on the bench than having him on the ice. If he's playing less than the likes of Par Lindholm (10:13 of even-strength time), something is wrong with the team's player management. That's directly on the coach.

At the end of the day, the Jets lost two games by one goal each. The coughed up a lead in Game One, and they were unable to score in Game Two. To me, there are small adjustments that need to be made by the Jets if they hope to climb back into this series. Doing it on Enterprise Center ice won't be easy, but a few small changes with some attention to details in the game could change this team's fortunes in a hurry.

The Jets may be "down in a hole" and "feelin' so small," but no team has ever won a seven-game series in two games. It's not going to be easy to dig out of this hole they've made for themselves, but the Jets have start winning shifts and periods before they ever start talking about winning series at this point.

See you Sunday, St. Louis.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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