Vancouver Canucks 4 at Winnipeg Jets 7 – 2023-01-08 recap

The beginning of a bleak trip from hell was a high-event game that ultimately ended in one of the better teams in the league pulling away.

I don’t really know what to make of the Winnipeg Jets, to be honest. They’re a below average corsi team that does a little bit better when you look at scoring chances, and they also do a little bit better when you look at goals for. I’ve done a little bit of digging and found that corsi has become almost meaningless–the shot quality gaps that exist between teams are now very apparent–and they aren’t the things that public expected goals models can account for. The data released by the NHL is pitiful.

In the few games I’ve tracked this season, the Jets are one of the least likely teams in the league to leave a mid-range shot unpressured: something teams like Carolina are quite good at. This gives shooters less time to set up and pick a corner. It helps that the Jets have some tall and rangy guys like Brendan Dillon and Dylan DeMelo. I don’t think the Jets defensive corps is “big” in a traditional sense, but everybody is over 6-foot, and everybody can play. If you follow basketball, think of them like the Raptors, where rangy defenders can easily close out shots and make them tougher to hit.

Even when David Rittich starts, the Jets aren’t an elite goalie away from winning. Rittich let in a couple of softies this game, and overall on the season, Rittich’s 5v5 GA/60 is 2.4, which is pretty close to Connor Hellebuyck’s 2.1. Hellebuyck is a fantastic goalie, but I think his job is a lot easier than the models make it look thanks to some solid in-zone play by the Jets that doesn’t often get recognized.

The other thing Winnipeg has is several elite forwards. I got to know Pierre-Luc Dubois quite well when preparing for the bubble playoffs when I was with Toronto, and grew to appreciate just how complete his game was (even if I absolutely despise him as a player who gets away with more cheap shots than anybody else). The covid season kind of illuminated just how good of a scorer Kyle Connor was and how automatic he is from close range. Those two play together a lot and were fantastic in this game in particular. They recently got Nik Ehlers back from injury, still have Mark Scheifele, and whatever is left in Blake Wheeler’s tank. What a good squad of forwards. At that point, it doesn’t really matter who you put out in the bottom six because you’ll win the top six minutes an awful lot.

They’re top-heavy, and score a lot less than the Canucks, who are also top-heavy. But they also play solid defensively and their usual starter is quite good, so they’re a top-10 team in terms of goals against while the Canucks are… not that. Even so, the Canucks generated quite a few scoring chances in this game, but the Jets had a stick or body in the area on 19 of the Canucks 23 attempted chances. So while this game was close, and within reach, it also wasn’t. Winnipeg is a better team, and they will win this game more often. This wraps up the season series between the two teams, with three games over a span of 22 games, and the Jets winning all three by out-scoring the Canucks 18-9.

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