Whenever a team is struggling, especially when the expectations are relatively high, the first finger pointed is almost always at the coaching staff.

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This article was published 1/11/2019 (488 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


Whenever a team is struggling, especially when the expectations are relatively high, the first finger pointed is almost always at the coaching staff.

Every coach has strengths and weaknesses and usually, when a team is struggling, those weaknesses are exploited more than normally.

Paul Maurice is no different, and after a career of building strong defensive teams that were undercut by below-average goaltending, in came Connor Hellebuyck to accentuate that strong defensive play Maurice has typically extracted from his rosters.

That worked for one season — after which the Jets’ defensive play started to collapse. While it hasn’t continued the steep downward trend from the second half of last season, it hasn’t improved this year, either. So has Maurice all of a sudden lost his ability to get the most out of his teams?

It’s notoriously difficult to separate player performance from coaching impact, but one way we can attempt to do so is to examine areas of the game where coaches exert the most influence.

One of the areas that coaches never stop talking about is faceoffs. Coaches love faceoffs and it’s easy to see why. Faceoffs are an easily recognizable, quantifiable situation where, aside from home-ice advantage, teams are on an even footing.

Coaches get to set the table on faceoffs — who goes where, what matchups matter and what to do immediately after the faceoff, win or lose. In a game of speed and random bounces, faceoffs offer coaches a slow, stable situation to control as much as possible.

How much faceoffs impact games is debatable — they’re just the area that coaches can isolate the most and create schemes to deal with from a static situation. There are many other areas to evaluate coaches, but let’s stick with this topic. So for the sake of argument, let’s say that if a coach is losing influence or doing the job poorly, the results of a team’s won and lost faceoffs will be worse.

Doing this, we can look at the Jets’ faceoffs over the last three years in the offensive and defensive zones to see if there’s a drop in effectiveness.

What we’re looking at here isn’t a simple win or loss rate, but what the Jets and their opponents are able to accomplish upon winning offensive-zone draws.

This season, the Jets have been better at converting an offensive-zone faceoff win into a shot on net or a scoring chance than either of the last two seasons, and it has been the first of the three seasons where they’ve been above league average in turning those offensive-zone faceoff wins into scoring chances.

One area where the Jets really excel compared to other teams in the league is after losing a faceoff in the offensive zone. On average, teams are getting better every year at turning a defensive-zone faceoff win into a zone exit; 47.1 per cent of defensive-zone faceoff wins become a zone exit right away, but the Jets’ forecheck seems to get better every year at stopping that from happening.

This season, the Jets are nearly 10 percentage points better than league average at preventing opponents who win a draw in their own zone from clearing the zone, creating more offensive-zone time and more mistakes to capitalize on.

Overall, if you look at the league-wide trends compared to the Jets’ play after offensive-zone faceoffs, this season’s performance gets a high grade. But what about the Jets’ own zone?

On the defensive end, the Jets have been getting consistently worse at reacting to a defensive zone faceoff loss, giving up a shot after the faceoff five percentage points more often than two seasons ago, and going from giving up a scoring chance 13 per cent of the time two years ago to 17.7 per cent of the time this season.

Those numbers go from better than league average to significantly worse, over the course of three seasons, so this is not a good sign.

After a defensive-zone faceoff win, the Jets were better than average at clearing the defensive zone last year, but were below average in 2017-18, and are even less effective this season. As good as the grade would be for the offensive-zone faceoff schemes, the defensive-zone ones essentially negate that progress.

That has been the unfortunate story for the Jets this season; their strengths are continually negated by their weaknesses to keep them on the bubble. The Jets have managed to keep scoring chances for and against relatively even at 5-vs.-5 this season, but the quality of chances they’re giving up have been far higher than what they’re getting. Hellebuyck has done his best to keep them afloat while that happens, but the best players on the team need to bail him out a bit more often if they want to make the playoffs.

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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