(Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
The Winnipeg Jets weren’t predicted to compete for the playoffs this season, but they’re on their way to making a serious push at playing into the spring. Much of it is thanks to coach Paul Maurice, whose dedication to defense has the Jets in the playoff picture.
Early season predictions for the Winnipeg Jets were as such: bad goaltending, not enough talent, and the team was bound to play for a high draft pick. Now, almost midway through the 2014-15, the Jets aren’t just in the wildcard picture, they’re making a push for a divisional spot.
There were some who thought, and correctly, that the ride the Jets went on after coach Paul Maurice took over was nothing more than an aberration. It was, and the Jets fell well short of the playoffs. But this season the team, from top to bottom, looks different under Maurice.
Last season, the Jets were a middling team when it came to their underlying numbers. At 5-on-5, the team’s hopes relied on little more than their ability to break even when it came to puck possession metrics, and with goaltending that was, simply put, substandard, it was a recipe for failure.
However, this season the goaltending has been much better, and while some would point to that as the reason for the Jets success, it’s hard not to look at the advanced statistics and think maybe the real reason is Winnipeg’s newfound ability to control the play.
Since the beginning of 2014-15, the Jets have a Corsi For at 5-on-5 of 52.4 percent, a significant jump from the 51 percent last season, especially when it comes to attempts on their goal, giving up nearly two fewer per game. Maurice’s dedication to getting the team to commit on defense has been especially noticeable, as they now collapse more than previous seasons and take away options. That number is clear in the team’s Fenwick Against per 60 minutes, which floated around a steady 41 attempts per game under former coach Claude Noel but has dipped to just over 37.5 with Maurice behind the bench.
Fenwick is a measure that includes all attempts towards a team’s net, excluding the blocked shots. So even though they’re giving up two fewer attempts towards their goal than last season, it also shows Winnipeg defenders are getting in the way of two more pucks per night as well. Maurice’s impact on the Jets in this regard has turned the team into a night-in and night-out threat to take home two points.
Consider, too, that the Jets have done this without several of their top pairing defensemen, who are on the shelf due to injury. The injured list includes Zach Bogosian, Toby Enstrom, and young standout blueliner Jacob Trouba.
A big reason why the Jets continue to be a threat, and a result of all of Maurice’s defensive instruction, is a tandem of goaltenders in Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec that is posting a .928 save percentage at 5-on-5, the ninth best mark in the league. That’s a far cry from the team’s .916 mark last season and the .913 total in 2012-13.
And as for the most predictive measure of where the Jets should be headed, PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage), the Jets 99.4 total lends to some belief that Winnipeg should actually be on its way to winning more games. The reason for the sub-100 PDO – 100 is the average number in which all teams generally regress back to – is a teamwide 5-on-5 shooting percentage that is the lowest it has been since the Jets have arrived back in Winnipeg.
As of Saturday, the Jets are the 10th lowest scoring team in the NHL. Yet, of all the teams in the bottom third of the league, they’re the only one with a positive goal differential.
Winnipeg will start scoring more. It’s bound to happen. And if the goaltending holds fast, not only will the new-look Winnipeg Jets be on their way to the playoffs, coach Maurice and his group have a serious chance at playing spoiler in round one.