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This article was published 12/4/2019 (593 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The recent trend of the Winnipeg Jets’ collapsing late in games and blowing leads or ties reared its head again in Game 1 of their Central Division playoff series Wednesday.
The Blues stole home-ice advantage away from Winnipeg on the back of a stellar performance by goaltender Jordan Binnington and a late tally by Tyler Bozak.
The Jets carried a 1-0 lead into the third period, but started slow in allowing David Perron to score off of a set play on a defensive zone draw, and then were stunned late by Patrick Maroon winning a battle against two Jets and forcing a third out of position in the corner, before skating behind the net and sneakily sending a pass to Bozak in the slot that he fired home.
The result was disappointing, but considering the way the Jets finished off the season defensively and how strong the Blues have been, especially in the latter half of the season, there’s more positive news to take out of this one than negative. To illustrate this, let’s look at how both teams generated their offence.
The worrying thing for the Jets after Game 1 is that the Blues absolutely dominated the offensive-zone passing game. They more than doubled up the Jets in completed passes to the slot, nearly doubled up on completed passes off the rush.
And the Blues were ahead in limiting east-west passes between defencemen along the blue line.
The good news for the Jets is that two areas of legitimate concern against the Blues were seemingly OK; the Jets allowed only two scoring chances off of the Blues’ excellent forecheck while generating seven of their own, and they tied them in cycle chances. Both are areas where the Jets’ defensive structure had broken down towards the end of the season.
Rush chances were an area where I saw a weakness in the Blues defensively, and the Jets appear to be focusing on creating them, with nine in the first game, significantly more than the 6.3 the Blues allowed per game on average in the regular season.
The Jets were also strong on rebounds, keeping the puck away from lurking Blues forwards in the D-zone, while beating the Blues to the puck for second scoring chances twice.
The main issue with the Jets’ scoring chances — and one reason, aside from Binnington’s performance, that they scored only one goal — was that their shots were more focused on the high slot; the Blues got right in Hellebuyck’s kitchen all game long.
Only one of the Blues’ goals came from the high-danger area, the other was a screened perimeter shot, but getting the higher-quality chances, combined with the superior pre-shot movement, is more likely to result in more goals going forward, so the Jets will need to tighten up their coverage of the slot significantly.
While the areas of concern are obvious, there are some bright spots as well. For example, the Jets won 60 of the 101 contested puck battles where one team came away with the puck, however they’ll need to be more aggressive on loose pucks in the next one, because of the 487 other loose pucks recovered during the game the Blues won 261, meaning they were faster on the puck than the Jets were; winning 53.6 per cent of loose pucks before a battle could commence.
Another good sign for the Jets was how successful they were at pinning the Blues down and stopping their breakouts. The Jets blocked 43 of the Blues’ attempted passes in their own zone, compared to the Blues blocking 26 in the Jets’ zone.
The Jets' aggressive attitude on the forecheck resulted in 46 failed controlled exits, 19 failed dump-outs and 40 defensive zone turnovers by St. Louis. That’s an area to capitalize on if the Blues can’t handle the big bodies of the Jets’ forward group.
Then, of course, there’s Patrik Laine. Not only did Laine look dangerous and score the opening goal of the series, he competed hard in all areas of the ice and wasn’t a defensive liability.
During the regular season Laine posted one of the league’s worst turnover rates in the defensive zone with 19.2 per cent of his plays with the puck leading to the opposition gaining possession, but he cut it down to 12.5 per cent in Game 1.
The big thing for him Friday will be taking his shots closer to the net; only two of his six shot attempts were from the slot. Giving Binnington less time to react will be key going forward.
The Jets may be down a game, but they played better than they have in a long while, so this isn’t even close to over.
Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.