Based on the underlying numbers coming into the series, this result for the Winnipeg Jets was likely inevitable. It was only Connor Hellebuyck, some talented scorers, and elbow grease throughout the lineup that kept the Jets punching above expectations all season long despite coming into the season with Josh Morrissey and a bunch of question marks on defence.

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Opinion

Based on the underlying numbers coming into the series, this result for the Winnipeg Jets was likely inevitable. It was only Connor Hellebuyck, some talented scorers, and elbow grease throughout the lineup that kept the Jets punching above expectations all season long despite coming into the season with Josh Morrissey and a bunch of question marks on defence.

Viewed from a wide angle in retrospect, bowing out in four games to the Calgary Flames isn’t a bad result. But for a team that is only shortly removed from being a Stanley Cup contender, the loss still clearly stings.

Even worse is imagining what might have been different had Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine not been injured in Game 1.

Aside from the injuries, what went wrong for the Jets against the Flames?

One of the issues the team had was that goals were going in at a higher rate than they had needed to deal with this season. Hellebuyck has always hovered around league average from the inner slot, but made up for it by being exceptional from the high slot and perimeter — meaning that if teams were going to beat him, they’d need to earn it and likely get in his kitchen.

In the playoffs, his strengths remained, he was absurdly great from the high slot and even managed to save all but one shot from the perimeter. But the Flames relentlessly hounded him at the net front and the Jets had no answer for that. Hellebuyck did his best to mitigate the damage by cutting down his rebound rate by about eight per cent, but the Flames owned too much territory in front of him in the series.

One example of the impact of the Flames’ net-front presence is in how often Hellebuyck faced shots through a screen. In the regular season, the Jets allowed 5.65 screened shots-against per 60 minutes, but against the Flames that number grew to 8.62.

That may not seem like much, but it made Hellebuyck’s job more difficult in stopping initial pucks and in controlling where rebounds went — not to mention tracking the puck on the rebound to get into strong position for a second save. Despite Hellebuyck holding strong outside of the net front, it wasn’t enough.

Without Hellebuyck holding the fort, the Jets’ poor control of play that has plagued them all season long was exposed further, and without Scheifele and Laine, they couldn’t score their way out of trouble.

The Jets tried to overcome the territorial domination of the Flames by creating more one-timers to get Flames’ goaltender Cam Talbot moving side to side and expose more net, but without their two top snipers in the lineup, that proved difficult.

Unfortunately, not a single skater on the Jets was able to pull the team over even in inner slot shots while they were on the ice. The only regular managing to get to 50 per cent was Andrew Copp, who had a great series that just wasn’t enough.

There are however, a few positives to take from the series, as disheartening as it may be. The line of Blake Wheeler between Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers in Game 4 was able to exert positive control over shot attempts, shots on net and slot passes. The trio controlled about 60 per cent of the slot passes while they were on the ice, a rarity for Connor, who is usually all offence and no defence.

The play of Ehlers was certainly a big reason why that line was so strong, but the resurgence of Blake Wheeler after trending downward the previous few seasons continued in the playoffs. For a player signed to big money and turning 34 at the end of the month, his bounce-back defensive season is big plus for the future of the Jets. It gives them the ability to try to create another competitive window, now that they know where they stand going into the off-season.

Another strong showing came from Jack Roslovic, who didn’t manage to score in the series, but showed that he may be ready to carry a line if given the chance. He was one of only a handful of players who maintained a positive differential in slot passes and shot attempts while they were on the ice.

Josh Morrissey also bounced back a fair amount from a season of struggles without Jacob Trouba, so again, there’s a starting block to build on.

The way forward for the Jets is a little murky without too many prospects pushing their way through and into the lineup right away, but this year’s draft could change that quickly. Clearly, upgrades are needed on defence, and there may need to be some strategic rethinking of how the team wants to play in order to take some of the stress off goaltending, but there are pieces that fit well here, if they can fill in the gaps in the puzzle.

Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

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