Monday, January 13, 2014

Weekend wrap: Jets grounded, Ducks flying, Stars falling

Each Monday, we’ll wrap up three of the biggest stories from the weekend and how they’ll play into the coming week.

Jets Get New Pilot

We didn’t have to wait long for the first firing of 2014, as the Jets announced Sunday that coach Claude Noel had been relieved of his duties and replaced by Paul Maurice.

It wasn’t especially hard to see this move coming; when even I’m getting predictions right, you know the writing was on the wall in great big letters. The Jets had yet to win in January, losing five straight while giving up 24 goals over that span, including Saturday’s 6-3 loss to the Blue Jackets. They missed the playoffs in each of Noel’s first two seasons, and have already been all but mathematically eliminated from this year’s race.

That’s made for a frustrating season in Winnipeg, and there have been signs that all the losing has been starting to wear on them. This is still a team that features some solid talent, including 22-year-old power forward Evander Kane, top pairing defenseman (sometimes) Dustin Byfuglien, leading scorer Bryan Little, gritty captain Andrew Ladd, and surprise U.S. Olympian Blake Wheeler. While none of those guys are exactly Hart Trophy threats, it’s a solid core made up of players that any team in the league would be happy to have.

So are the Jets really as bad as their record suggests? There’s some evidence that they may not be. The Jets were a terrible possession team in October, but have improved steadily since then and were actually playing reasonably well until the recent losing streak. They’re a top-10 team at generating shots, and the penalty kill has been good. And they’re one of the worst even-strength PDO teams in the league, which, at first glance, would seem to point to an eventual turnaround.

But that last stat may hold a bigger key, and it’s not good news for Jets fans. While a low PDO can be the result of a run of bad luck that should even out, it can also point to a different problem: lousy goaltending. And sure enough, the Jets' team save percentage is barely north of 90 percent, which puts them in the same ballpark as goaltending wastelands like the Oilers and Islanders.

Most of that sits on the shoulders of starter Ondrej Pavelec, whose .898 save percentage ranks 42nd out of 47 qualifiers. And while that number is below his career average, it’s not exactly an outlier: He’s had only one season in his career that was better than .910. Since Pavelec became a regular starter in 2009, 29 goalies have played at least 150 games — and he ranks 28th.

So while Noel didn’t want to blame his goalie for the team’s woes, I don’t mind doing it for him. Pavelec certainly isn’t the entire problem, but he’s a big piece of it, and the franchise is stuck with him. Despite his uninspiring numbers, the Jets saw fit to give him a five-year extension before last season that runs through 2017.

The good news: Maurice is a veteran coach with a Cup ring. And he certainly knows a thing or two about bad goaltending, having been the guy who coached the Maple Leafs during the Raycroft-Toskala era. He’ll make his debut behind the Winnipeg bench tonight, as the Jets host the Coyotes.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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