The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils versus the Winnipeg Jets. Jets SBN Blog: Arctic Ice Hockey
The Time: 7:00 PM ET
The Broadcast: MSGSN, TSN3M
How Are the Jets Going Generally?
The Devils are coming up against a Jets team tonight that is in that dark-horse playoff-team category. Standings-wise, they sit second in Central division, fifth in the Western conference, and 11th in NHL. If we look at what the Jets are predicted to do this year, MoneyPuck’s projections currently have them with a 93.9% chance of making the playoffs, and a 12.4% probability of being the best team out of the West, making the Stanley cup final. The most recent The Athletic projections have these numbers at 90% and 10%, respectively. They are clearly not the fiercest opponent, but nor should they be taken lightly.
Over their last ten games, the Jets have fallen off the pace, being 5-5-0. Their last game was a poor 3-1 defeat in Columbus on Thursday night, where they were out-expected-goaled by one of the worst teams in the league.
Across the entire season, in the 5-on-5 run of play, per NaturalStattrick, the Jets are a slightly below-average team, being 12th in goals-for percentage, 19th in corsi-for percentage, 19th in xG-for percentage, and 16th in high-danger chances-for percentage. Over their last ten games, the Jets are 20th in goals-for percentage, 6th in corsi-for percentage, 11th in xG-for percentage, and 9th in high-danger chances-for percentage. Interestingly, across the season, they are scoring more 5-on-5 goals than their underlying rates suggest, whilst the opposite is true for the last ten games. A large explanation for this is the PDO reversal: across the season, they are 9th; in their last ten, they are 21st. Hopefully this trend of poor 5-on-5 sequencing luck continues for the Jets against the Devils tonight.
The Jets have a pretty-much fully-healthy roster, with no significant injuries. The following graphic is the depth chart for the Jets, from the Athletic. I will refer back to this in the following sections when discussing the Jets roster.
The Jets Offense
At 5-on-5, the Jets are a below-average offensive team. Per NaturalStattrick, in terms of per-60 rates, the Jets are 22nd in goals for, 21st in corsi for, 13th in xG for, and 16th in high-danger chances for. Looking at the depth chart above, I can’t quite understand how this is the case. That top-six is, for my money, one of the deepest offensive cores in the league. The depth is pretty brutal, but you’d imagine that a group containing elite goal-scorer Kyle Connor, great one-two center punch of Mark Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois, elite wingers in Nikolaj Ehlers and a rejuvinated ex-captain Blake Wheeler, and a Calder-trophy contender in Cole Perfetti would be able to produce more offense. One explanation could be new coach Rick Bowness’ emphasis on defensive responsibility. Considering the metric for defensive impacts used on the Atheltic’s hockey cards, where positive is better, Connor has gone from -14.9 to -4.2, Scheifele from -20.8 to 0.1, Ehlers from -5.9 to -11.7, Wheeler from -14.3 to -6.0 and Dubois from -2.4 to 0.8. Other than Ehlers, then, the remainder of the top-six has improved their defensive game substantially, which naturally makes their offense suffer.
Irrespective of why, despite an overload of talent, the Jets have not been great offensively at 5-on-5 this year. However, I’m still not going to feel safe when the top two lines are out for Winnipeg.
On the man-advantage, the Jets have been slightly above-average. They are 15th in conversion, and, from NautralStattrick, in per-60 rates, they are 14th in goals for, 12th in corsi for, 10th in xG for, and 13th in high-danger chances for. Interestingly, over the last ten-game span, where the Jets have struggled to gather points, they have gone 6 for 45 on the powerplay, and were 1 for 7 against Columbus on Thursday! Indeed, over the last ten games, the Jets are 26th in goals for per 60 on the powerplay, despite having similar rates in terms of chance creation. We’ll see which version of the Jets powerplay shows up tonight. Again, though, I wouldn’t tempt fate with the talent the Jets can throw out there.
The Jets Defense
The Jets are a good defensive team. At 5-on-5, they concede the 7th fewest goals per 60, have the 12th best corsi against per 60, are 19th in xG against per 60, and give up the 10th fewest high-danger chances against per 60. Overe the last ten games, these ranks are 4th, 9th, 23rd, and 13th. Recently, they are playing worse defense, overall, at 5-on-5, but are conceding fewer goals.
On the penalty kill, the Jets are ranked 4th in the NHL, with, per 60, the 4th fewest goals against, the 12th fewest shot attempts against, the 7th fewest expected goals against, and the 15th fewest high-danger chances against. Over the last ten games, their corsi against per 60 is 25th, their actual goals against per 60 is 19th, their expected goals against per 60 is 8th, and their high-danger chances against per 60 is 14th, so still roughly above average, but not as stellar as the total-season numbers, with both the underlying numbers and the results taking a turn for the worse.
A common trend I see in these numbers is that they are giving up more offense recently than they have been across the season. This should be a great time for the Devils to be playing the Jets, from this perspective. Especially considering the offense has fallen off recently as well.
Considering defensive personnel, the depth chart above shows that the Jets defense is extremely top-heavy, with Morrissey being elite, and there really being nothing else below him, at least in terms of offensive pop. As such, Morrissey has been relied on massively this year, which has paid dividends for Winnipeg. He is in the running for the Norris, has the 22nd highest TOI per game in the entire league, and has very strong offensive impacts, as can be seen from the following visual from HockeyViz:
The bright red spot in from of the opposition’s net in the top-right panel shows that the Jets, thanks to Morrissey’s individual play, are getting a well-above league-average number of high-danger looks from the crease area. He is also a top-percentile setter, with his offensive-zone passing being 12% better than league average. However, his defensive game leaves opportunities the other way, with two nice, encouraging bright red spots in the low and high Winnipeg slot for the Devils to exploit. With Morrisey out there, expect high-event hockey, with high-danger chances going both ways.
The following shows the Winnipeg defense without Morrissey on the ice:
This reflects what we saw above, with Winnipeg being solid defensively. The high slot looks open enough, so that could be an area for New Jersey to exploit.
The Jets Goaltending
Having played last on Thursday, we can expect the Jets to run their starter tonight: Connor Hellebuyck. Another Jets individual-award contender, being second favourite with the bookmakers to win the Vezina — albeit quite far behind runaway-candidate Linus Ullmark — Hellebuyck is having a superb season. Per HockeyReference, he has an insance quality-start percentage of 73.2%, well above league average of 53%, and leads the Jets in point shares — an individual player’s contribution to their team’s season points total in the standing. In fact, with 9.7, he is behind only Connor McDavid, David Pastrnak and Erik Karlsson in the overall point shares standings.
Per MoneyPuck, amongst goalies to have played at least 15 games, Hellebuyck is third in goals saved above expected and fifth in goals against average better than expected, conceding 0.59 goals fewer per game than expected. From HockeyViz, he is dialled on shots from all dangerous areas, with no visible weakness. All of this says that, as his reputation would suggest, Hellebuyck is a high-quality goaltender. I guess we’ll just have to hope that he has an off night.
Keep it Rolling
I thought the Devils played very well against Pittsburgh yesterday evening. Of course, this is hardly an original take. Statistically, the Pens were battered, with the Devils controlling the game completely, other than the first ten minutes or so when they gave up three penalties.
This is highly encouraging. I have for a while now been lamenting how the Devils have been getting lucky, winning games they do not deserve to win. As Alex pointed out here, this is a hallmark of good teams, and I accept that. However, in my opinion, the Devils haven’t played well, really, since the end of November. That’s a while ago. Since December 1, per NaturalStattrick, at 5-on-5, New Jersey have been 13th in goals-for percentage, 14th in corsi-for percentage, 17th in xG-for percentage, 12th in high-danger chances-for percentage. Average to above average, but not the league-number-one world-destroying rates we saw early on. If the Devils could more regularly start putting up performances like last night, I — and equally pessimistic Devils fans — would be much-assuaged.
The new top-9 looked great. With Jack Hughes back last night, Ruff mixed up the lines, giving us:
The third line was marginally out-chanced at 5-on-5, but I thought they looked good and got some dangerous looks, especially considering it was their first time playing together. I hope Lindy sticks with these combinations tonight. If he matches the first and third lines against the Jets’ top six, the Hughes line will have a lot of fun against the weak Winnipeg depth.
With Hughes (and, to less fanfare, Brendan Smith) coming back into the lineup last night after injury, Ruff scratched Nathan Bastian and Jonas Siegenthaler. I have a couple thoughts on this, especially the former move. Asked after the game, Ruff had the following to say on Siegenthaler:
I asked #NJDevils Lindy Ruff for some insight into scratching Jonas Siegenthaler: pic.twitter.com/wQ9brD7AwA— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) February 19, 2023
I respect that. In other sports there is nothing strange about leaving guys out of the lineup to get some rest, especially when the fixtures are congested, coming thick and fast. I personally haven’t noticed Siegenthaler be especially bad recently, but if he can come back and play as well as he can, that would be greatly beneficial.
Regarding Bastian, he is great, and should NOT be scratched! Look at his impacts from HockeyViz below
He is league average offensively, but is absolutely fantastic defensively. Look at all of that blue stuff in front of the Devils’ net thanks to his invidual efforts. He definietely deserves to be playing more than Miles Wood (to be fair, with Wood being benched against Pittsburgh, they did end up playing similar minutes, despite Bastian not even being in the lineup). I hope to see Bastain back in tonight, although, having benched Wood yesterday, and the Devils having won so convincingly — nothing to do with the bottom line — I suspect he will keep Wood in and give him a chance to prove himself.
What do you think about tonight’s game? Personally, I am excited. We haven’t played the Jets yet this season, and have already defeated everything else Canada has to offer. Are you as high on the Jets top six as I am? As high on Hellebuyck? Will this be an even strength or special teams game, do you think? What are you looking for from the Devils? Let me know in the comments, and thank you so much for reading.