Opening Night Roster Opinions: Defence and Goaltending

Here’s part two – picking apart the D corps and Goalie tandem. Not as bright and sunny as the Forwards, but also not a complete and total disaster.

Defence

Top pair

Morrissey-Trouba

  • Pros: This pair has an extremely reliable track record for the Jets, and we have every reason to expect as much and more from these two. They’re still young, still building chemistry, and they are already a viable NHL shut-down pair. Bright futures ahead for this combo.
  • Cons: Low offensive production – I would like to see some more points from this pair. Both Dmen have a track record of putting up points at lower tiers, and I know if you asked the coach he’d tell you that the team believes there is untapped offence there. If JoMo and Troubs can find a way to chip in more directly on goals while maintaining their defensive play, then watch out – that’s when words like “elite” start getting tossed around.

Second pair

Chiarot/Morrow-Byfuglien

  • Pros: Byfuglien has been able to carry weaker partners to success in the past. This is because Byfuglien is a super-human force of nature.
  • Cons: Byfuglien *will* have to carry a weaker partner to success, and he isn’t getting any younger. The thing to watch for is how this pair looks compared to how it looked with Toby Enstrom last year (at least up until the playoffs when he was playing injured). Toby excelled at keeping play away from the front of the net and at moving the puck out of his own end *with possession,*  that is, at making a first pass that lead to a zone exit. With Buff playing with either Chiarot or Morrow we can probably expect more exits that involve lobbing the puck off the glass and out, and subsequently, more icings, and more losses of possession. And probably more goals against from in-tight. As well as more trouble recovering the puck in the first place. Oh dear.
  • Double Extra Bonus Pro: Chiarot or Morrow… at least it isn’t Myers on his off-side!

Third pair

Chiarot/Morrow/Kulikov?-Myers

  • Pros (Myers): Well… let’s see. I don’t have as much of a hate on for Myers as some of my colleagues here at JetsCentre. At least the guy can play offence, and if you’ve got to have a PP specialist in the D-corps, best to keep him restricted to the 3rd pairing. You can read a deep dive on Myers from Andrew Berkshire here, but in summary, Myers has his strengths. He is good in the neutral zone – he breaks up passes and rush attempts better than other Jets defenders, which translates to having a good rate of Zone Entries Against With Possession compared to his fellow Jets D. That’ll be his long reach and good stick at work. In a similar vein Myers is better than other Jets D at breaking up passes in his own end. I was surprised to find that Myers actually out-performs the Jets average when it comes to making outlet passes, and has a bit less of a reliance on D-to-D passes than his fellows. That could be a good thing, because unless those are executed perfectly, they tend to backfire against any kind of forecheck.
  • Pros (Kulikov): If Kulikov is fully healed up and has regained some of his foot speed (which was conspicuously absent during the pre-season), then I think he and Myers can still make a pretty OK 3rd pair. Maybe.
  • Cons: Still drawing from Berkshire’s article, Myers isn’t all that good at playing defence. Or rather, it seems it’s more accurate to say that he isn’t much good in his own end. With Myers on the ice, the Jets give up more High-Danger Scoring Chances and more Passes to the Slot (which lead to High-Danger Scoring Chances) than the league average. That’s bad. He also isn’t as effective at blocking shots as other Jets, though I don’t personally rate that as terribly significant. I think it’s better to let the goalie see the shot than to risk screening him, but that’s just an opinion. Anyway. Even if you don’t agree with this assessment of Myers, I don’t think there are many people out there who would argue that he’s such a great defender that he can carry a weak partner. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what he is going to be asked to do. Kulikov doesn’t appear to be back up to 100%, which leaves one of Chiarot or Morrow to take that spot. Neither is stellar in their own end, and I doubt that either can read the play quickly enough to cover for Myers’ occasional gaffes. I’m predicting that the 3rd pair will frequently get hemmed into their zone, and the longer they stay there the more likely it becomes that one or the other will get their wires crossed and blow their assignment. I expect sheltered line-matching. I expect lots of goals against. I expect gradually diminishing ice-time. Keep an eye on them.

Extra

Kulikov?

  • The rumour mill has been churning, and if it can be believed, then Kulikov is the most likely “healthy” scratch. As mentioned above, even if he has been cleared to play, I didn’t see anything resembling game-readiness from him during the pre-season games. That said, I don’t expect him to be the team’s 7th forward for the whole season. I think that all else being equal he is higher than Chiarot on the depth chart, and the sooner he gets up to speed, the better.
  • Overall, I was not happy when the Jets sent down Niku and then Poolman. I feel that, at least in a vacuum, those two are already better Dmen than Chiarot, Morrow, and Kulikov. I understand that they were probably sent down for contract reasons as much as anything, but I think there is one argument that the Coaching staff could made to justify keeping their vets instead of more talented youth. Not that I personally agree with this, but that argument is system play. Rather than overall talent, the decision may have rested on the skaters’ comfort and familiarity with the Jets defensive system, especially the PK system. The Jets play a somewhat unorthodox style in their own end, and it may well take some getting used to. In essence, by keeping the vets, they are gambling on having guys who know where they’re supposed to be, even if they aren’t always able to get there in time. It seems that in their estimation, this should result in fewer serious errors than playing younger guys who are more skilled, but who might be more prone to positional mistakes. Again, I don’t agree, but hey – I think I can at least see where they’re coming from. I would prefer to play the more skilled athletes and give them a chance to develop their system play. This approach would, at least theoretically, result in a better overall product in the ice over time. You can teach systems, you can’t teach capability.

 

Goaltending

Hellebuyck/Brossoit

  • Pros: Hellebuyck was very good last season. Brossoit looked pretty decent in training camp. I wish them both nothing but the best.
  • Cons: I am mildly concerned about what proportion of Hellebuyck’s success was due to the D corps’ dedication to their defensive system. I believe he is a good goalie, but personally I feel that Hellebuyck’s return to earth during the Vegas series corresponded with increasing struggles on the part of the defensemen in front of him. Add to this the fact that I have much less faith in this year’s iteration of the D corps than I had in last year’s, and there could be trouble. My pessimism about the goaltending situation is only reinforced by the fact that Brossoit is relatively inexperienced as an NHL backup. Furthermore, it’s also true that what experience he did get with Edmonton didn’t exactly inspire confidence. It would be great if he could be relied upon for 20-25 games this season, ideally with at least a .500 win-percentage, but it remains to be seen if he can hack it. I’m not saying he won’t be able to, just that there is a lot of uncertainty at this position. If I had to pick one position that Chevy would want to shore up at the trade deadline, it’s in net.

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