With their lone exhibition game in the books, the Flames now face a five-game series against the Winnipeg Jets. It has all the makings for a compelling, tight series, and what makes this qualifying round matchup even more interesting than the rest is that the two teams did not face each other even once for an indoor game in 2019-20.
As Game 1 approaches on Saturday night, we put together a detailed report of how the Jets play at 5v5: their strengths and weaknesses, how their attack is structured, where they can be exploited, how their strategies match up against the Flames, and how this series should turn out if everything goes according to plan.
First and foremost, the Jets scored 138 5v5 goals this season which ranks 19th league wide. For a team that has as much sniper talent as Winnipeg, it be a surprisingly low number, but in actuality it’s probably more goals than they deserved this season. Their expected goals was 117 on the dot, which means they outperformed what was expected of them based on their shot generation. Shooting talent helped the Jets, but they were a pretty awful team in terms of basically everything else offense wise.
The Jets were a below average possession team at just 48.6% CF on the year, and ranked 21st in the league in that category. Unfortunately for them, that was one of their better areas; as we dig into higher danger breakdowns, it gets worse.
In terms of scoring chances, the Jets finished the season at just 46.5% SCF, good for 29th in the league, and at a measly 40.4% HDCF, dead last in the NHL. It’s crazy to think that a team with so much firepower was so ineffective at generating high quality scoring opportunities.
One of the biggest influencers of goal conversion is a team’s shooting percentage. Teams in a “slump” often find themselves there due to a dip in SH%, which does happen to most teams over the course of a season. Teams go through ups and downs, but it all seems to even out in the end for the most part. The league average SH% at 5v5 this season was 8.12%. The Jets finished just shy of that at 8.05%, but not so much below that SH% can be used as a justification for their scoring woes. While the Jets ranked 18th in SH%, they ranked ninth in SV%, a testament to how spectacular Connor Helelbuyck was this season.
As a result, the Jets’ PDO finished 10th in the NHL at 1.005. What the Jets lacked in shooting was made up for in goaltending.
That might seem like a scary thought: if the Jets can score more goals, they’ll be unstoppable combined with Hellebuyck’s goaltending! That’s not really the case though as the Jets outperformed their expected goals by a wide margin this season. If you’re a betting person, the more realistic bargain is that the Jets don’t outscore their expected goals by that much in the playoffs.
The one area the Jets can be a serious problem for opponents is off the rush. In terms of shot shares, the Jets rely on rush chances more than any other team in the NHL with 58.2% of their chances coming off the rush. This could be a problem for the Flames as they allowed the most rush chances in the entire league this season. If there’s one area the Flames need to pay special attention to, it’s defending off the rush.
Outside of the rush though, the Jets were a very poor offense generating team this season.
The Winnipeg blueline has been under scrutiny all season and for good reason. The departures of Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba, and Dustin Byfuglien represented three of the Jets’ top four defensemen from one season ago to be filled by other players. Taking on the brunt of this load were Josh Morrisey and Neal Pionk, who did a decent albeit unspectacular job.
Team wise, the Jets were, predictably, quite bad at limiting their opponents’ chances. They were particularly leaky at high danger, allowing a whopping 756 high danger chances against this season, the most in the league. That’s 28 more than the second worst team, and 68 more than the third. Only two teams allowed more than 700 HDCA this season; the Jets were giving out high danger chances like Santa Claus gives out presents.
On an individual basis, it’s basically the same picture.
Of all the Jets defenders who played at least 20 games this season, just two finished above 50% CF: Pionk and Dmitry Kulikov. Beyond that, not a single Jets blueliner was above that threshold in xGF%, SCF%, or HDCF%. They truly let a lot of shots directed at Hellebuyck go through this season.
As well, no Jets defender hit the five goal mark at 5v5, none broke 15 5v5 points, and outside of Pionk, nobody exceeded 61 blocks either.
The Jets allow a ton of chances, don’t block very many shots, don’t see a significant amount of goals from the back end, and all in all are one of the most porous defensive teams in the NHL.
On the flip side, since Geoff Ward took over behind the bench, the Flames finished seventh in the league at 52.5% HDCF and fifth with 56.5% HDGF. The way the Flames’ offense is built should match up very well against the Jets’ weak defense, and the areas the Flames like to target are the same areas the Jets love to give up.
Of course, the biggest strength, maybe the only strength, for the Jets this season was in net. Connor Hellebuyck deserved his Vezina nomination and will probably walk away with the trophy when all is said and done. The last wall of defense for the Jets will prove to be the most daunting task for the Flames.
|Statistic||Shots Against||Saves||Goals Against||SV%||xG Against||HDSV%||MDSV%||LDSV%||Avg. Goal |
These ranks are based on all goalies who played at least 20 games this season, a total of 57 league wide.
Hellebuyck faced the most shots, made the most saves, and was expected to allow the most goals. He was a busy guy, and not surprising considering how unhelpful the Winnipeg defense was. The key stat here is the difference between the expected goals against and the actual goals against. Hellebuyck was expected to allow over 11 more goals than he actually allowed this season, a clear indicator of his talent as a goaltender and how much of a gamebreaker he was this season.
His stats speak for themselves: eighth overall in 5v5 SV%, 14th in HDSV%, 11th in MDSV%, and 19th in LDSV%. Teams had no problem getting shots towards Hellebuyck, but getting those shots passed him was another story.
Hellebuyck was the single most important player on the Jets’ roster this season. He singlehandedly contributed 12.5 standings points to the team, first in the NHL and a full two points ahead of the second placed tender, Andrei Vasilevskiy.
A lot has been made of the Flames’ solid defense being a great matchup to Winnipeg’s solid offense, but the numbers don’t back that up. In fact, the Flames likely have the edge on offense and defense, just based on how the Jets played this season.
It will be hard to predict how the Jets’ scoring will play out over the course of the series simply because of how unpredictable these playoffs will be, but if they stick to the same gameplan they did this season, and there’s no reason to assume they won’t, the Flames should be able to generate a ton of chances and keep Winnipeg’s top guns at bay.
Connor Hellebuyck is the biggest wildcard. If he decides to stand on his head every single night, the series could be over quickly. However, he’s coming off a significant break, and the Flames will be able to test him early and often. How he responds to an offense specifically catered to creating high danger chances remains to be seen, but you can only stop so many 10-bell chances before they start to go in.
All in all, the Flames look to have the edge at 5v5. Hellebuyck will be the biggest challenge, and if the Flames can limit Winnipeg’s rush chances, they should be in good shape.