After starting the series with two one-goal losses on home ice, the odds that the Winnipeg Jets could get back into this series against a team as strong as the St. Louis Blues were pretty low.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/4/2019 (883 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After starting the series with two one-goal losses on home ice, the odds that the Winnipeg Jets could get back into this series against a team as strong as the St. Louis Blues were pretty low.

Dom Luszczyszyn over at the Athletic had the odds of Winnipeg winning the series way down at 15 per cent after losing Game 2, but compared to the way the Jets ended the season, the first two games showed a lot of positive signs, and here we are with the series heading back to Winnipeg tied at two games apiece with the Jets reclaiming home-ice advantage.

One area that I focused on after Game 1 was the Jets’ ability to win battles for loose pucks, showing that even though they lost, they weren’t being outworked. So how has that held up through four games?

 

The Jets’ ability to overwhelm the Blues in puck battles was adjusted for by the Blues in Game 2, but as the series has gone on, the Jets have reasserted their control over both contested and loose pucks, improving in both games in St. Louis.

The margins are thin here, but it’s the playoffs and the Blues are an excellent team, so that’s to be expected. Small sample sizes can be misleading, but the trend appears to favour the Jets as they incrementally take more control of the puck at five-on-five.

One of the ways the Jets have exerted extra control over the puck and the game has been engaging a forecheck that has continually kept the Blues hemmed in their own zone over the past two games. That forecheck itself hasn’t led to a ton of scoring chances at even strength, but the extended possessions have tilted things in the Jets’ favour offensively, allowing them to create more offence overall and penetrate the areas they struggled to get to in Game 1.

Looking specifically at high-danger chances and passes to the slot, the way the series has progressed at five-on-five is staggering.

In Game 1, the Jets really struggled to get their passes through and get to the low slot, while they were pretty porous in their own zone, similar to how they ended the regular season. But a huge improvement in Game 2 was overshadowed by a loss that put them in an extremely tough spot.

 

In Game 3, things looked better for St. Louis, but most of the work the Blues did in that game offensively was in the third period when the game was out of reach, so take the final numbers there with a grain of salt.

Without a huge lead to sit back on, the Jets turned in their most dominant performance of the series Tuesday in Game 4, completing 20 passes to the slot at five-on-five while allowing the Blues to complete just seven, and notching 16 high-danger scoring chances from the inner-slot area.

It was likely the best single-game performance by the Jets in months, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, with the relentless assault Winnipeg put on the Blues in their own zone finally being enough to break through an exceptional performance by Jordan Binnington in overtime.

The game-winning goal by Kyle Connor encapsulated an area where the Jets have continually exploited the Blues in this series: attacking with speed off the rush. The Jets notched 12 rush chances Tuesday, a series high for both teams, and Blake Wheeler’s charge at the net created the chaos that eventually led to Mark Scheifele’s pass to Connor at the goalmouth with Binnington out of position.

The pressure that the Jets have been able to exert on the forecheck has also prevented the Blues from getting their transition game going as efficiently as they’re used to, not just by forcing turnovers and creating longer offensive-zone possessions, but when the Blues do clear their zone, they’re having to dump it out with greater frequency.

In the regular season, the Blues exited the defensive zone with the puck on their sticks nearly 80 per cent of the time. The Jets have brought that down by 10 percentage points in the series; Game 4 was especially impressive, forcing the Blues to dump the puck out on a full third of their exits.

We can’t discount turnovers either, because while the Blues held the lowest defensive-zone turnover rate in the NHL at just 12.5 per cent in the regular season, that number is rising in the playoffs; St. Louis has committed more even-strength defensive-zone turnovers than any other team in the first round.

This Jets forecheck had been conspicuously absent for most of the regular season, but it appears to be back in full force. Combined with their newfound rushing ability, the Jets have turned this series on its head.

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.

   Read full biography