In an all Candian matchup, both the Flames and Jets are going to be desperate to make the playoffs. These two teams have had exciting talent come through promising some bright futures, but since the Jets entered the league at the start of the decade, each team has only made it out of the first round once. Awfully disappointing results for both fanbases. It seems as though their peak was short and already coming to an end, but missing the playoffs this year would really hurt (unless a nice compensation comes in the form of Lafrenière).
Coaching and Style
Geoff Ward, who has spent years in the league as an assistant recently took over the Flames for his first head coaching gig. From what I’ve seen, he encourages offence through a dump and chase and a forechecking game. He creates good offence in this way but often finds his team overcommitting forward and leaving gaps in behind and on defence. He doesn’t use his players in specific situations, instead, he puts a lot more trust in his key player which could explain the results he’s getting.
Paul Maurice has spent decades in the NHL. Despite all that time, he’s still looking for his first championship having only made the final once 17 years ago. I’m not too fond of the system he has the Jets playing, which has seen their talented group make it out of the first round only once despite all the hype. It’s very dependent on sharp-shooters, without looking to create high-quality chances or prevent them. It could be the build of the roster too, but he doesn’t have any guys to rely on when he needs defensive leverage which only adds to the problem.
The styles of these two teams fit against each other perfectly. The Flames will pressure the Jets weak defence and create dangerous chances while the Jets will transition and benefit from the Flames overcommitting forward. A lot of risk and reward will have to be balanced to expose the opposition system, with getting exposed themselves.
The Jets have the advantage in net, it’s as simple as that. Connor Hellebuyck will undoubtedly win the Vezina and I won’t be surprised if he features quite high in the Hart voting. The Jets didn’t give him an ideal situation to succeed in with their poor defence, but he got results anyways. The Jets wouldn’t be here without him and will rely on him to give them the base if they are going to move on.
The Flames have a very different situation in net. Rittich played the majority of the games but Talbot posted better results in his situation. Neither one is the most inspiring goalie, especially facing off against Hellebuyck but they are also not detriments. I would give the nod to Talbot, but whoever starts will have to be ready to face off against sharpshooters, who will likely be on odd-man rushes.
The Flames defence is pretty good. They have many well-rounded players including the excellent holder of the Norris Trophy in Mark Giordano. The main problem is that the weakness of this group is defending the rush – the exact way that Winnipeg attack. Gustafsson is the best at this but unfortunately, the rest of his defence is shambolic.
The rest of the Flames defenders play as typically deep defensive defensemen and have a hard time against the rush. Giordano and Brodie will be a good pairing that will build play up well which could be a scary sight for the Jets and they will likely get big minutes. Hanifin and Andersson are good but hardly anything special which defines the rest of their defensive core. Derek Forbort should be in the lineup as his defensive coverage is right at the top of the league’s charts – scoring a perfect 100 on my report card. Pairing him with Gustafsson could be the key to a pairing that can defend the Jets as they complement their one-dimensional skillsets nicely.
The Jets have a poor defence. Morrissey takes the big minutes but he’s hardly above average. His defensive coverage is poor and when he gets paired with Poolman who scores 8/100 in defensive coverage, you end up with a lost pairing. The Flames forecheck will have little excuse not to test Hellebuyk to the limit.
The rest of the defensive core isn’t much better for the Jets. As they’ve been unable to replace Byfuglien, Trouba and Myers – they’ve been left with Neal Pionk as their most effective defender. He’s decent but mostly a high volume shooter. The lack of quality on the Jets’ blueline is astounding.
Offence will be key to this series. The Flames are in the perfect situation to succeed. Last year, against the Avs, they couldn’t score and lost to the transition the other way. This year, the transition against will still be a problem but they have less excuse to not score. Gaudreau will have to show up. He’s a phenomenal skater and passer and will need to expose the space left by the Jets defenders. As seen if my tweet about Monahan, he isn’t the best number one center but he should be good enough to get chances with Gaudreau feeding him against the Jets. Intimidating the Jets and getting the highest quality shots on Hellebuyck will be paramount. The Flames have some excellent players in this area in Tkachuk, Mangiapane, Dube, Frolik and to some extent, Sam Bennett are all effective forecheckers. Lucic loses some of the offensive creation but he’s also a great forechecker. A hard forecheck and net-front creation is going to be their bread and butter so expect Tkachuk and Mangiapane to make a difference around the net.
The Jets are a lot more passive. They will try to capitalize on the Flames overcommitting on their forecheck and take on the defenders 1v1 the other way. Nikolaj Ehlers is the best skater in the league and will be a constant problem for the Flames to deal with. The rest of the Jets’ top six is quite potent with offensive talent. They won’t help against the Flames forecheck in any way, but Scheifele, Connor, Laine and Wheeler are a tough match for Talbot or Rittich. The bottom six of the Jets offence features many more checking players with offensive upside but they won’t be relied upon to be difference makers.
Key Factors and Final Thoughts
The key factors are clear. The Flames will exploit the Jets’ poor in-zone play and get high-quality shots on Hellebuyck. The Jets will hope Hellebuyck bails them out and counter the open space the other way. It’s no surprise that the betting odds are 50/50 for this series. Both teams are built to exploit the other so the risk/reward balance is what it’s all about. Gaudreau/Monahan on Hellebuyck will be a key matchup that could determine the Flames fate. On the other side, if streaky shooter like Laine gets hot, it’ll all be over for Calgary. It’s hard to give an edge but watching it unfold will be fascinating.