Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets
Saturday, August 01, 2020 – 10:30 PM EDT
While every team has a literal chance for a deep playoff run, this is the first series where you could look at both teams and plausibly say it. Like all the squads in the qualifying round they have obvious flaws as well, however in comparing them to the NHL odds field seeing one of these teams get past those top four waiting in the wings would be far less of a surprise than say a Blackhawks or Coyotes team.
A year ago as we prepared for the 2019/2020 season the Jets were looking as though they might be one of the teams to suffer the worst in the off-season. Trouba had left for the Rangers, Myers for the Canucks, and Chiarot for the Canadiens. Additionally one of their literal biggest and best D, Byfuglien had announced he wasn't going to play. This was all four of their top four defensemen that were out of the team and training camp had only just begun. On top of this, stars Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor still had not signed with the team, which thankfully did happen a little later on that month. My conditions for the Jets' success were that 'if the defense is as underwhelming as it looks now, Hellebuyck would need to replicate his 2017/2018 performance' as well as 'the offensive pieces needed to put up 25 goals'. Amazingly, both of these happened.
Last year's Lightning upset to the Jackets in the first round attracted a lot of the attention from the fans and critics, however the Calgary Flames also bowed out in their opener after an historic season. Coming into the 19/20 season they had retained most of the pieces that brought them success the year prior and therefore still had a lot paths to success. My notes in the preview article were the following; balanced workload for the D, improved special teams being in the top 10 in both categories, Tkachuck evolving as a player, and Talbot stepping up if Rittich had issues.' Some of these occurred and we'll discuss below.
The Jets had the overall better output this season in contrast to Calgary, but marginally. Their goal scoring was dominated by five players; Connor, Scheifele, Laine, Ehlers, and Wheeler who all broke 20+ goals. Four of them hit that mark at 5v5 though as well, which is impressive. Their powerplay was a bit average considering the skill up front however they were able to get good contribution from Morrissey and Pionk who were pretty steady with their increased ice-time.
On the Flames side only three players broke into 20 goals this year and none of them was named Gaudreau. Johnny Hockey would have got to this threshold before the season ended, however his points contribution suffered this year. This is a player coming into the season who had been about a point per game on his career scoring twenty goals or more four of his five seasons prior.
Given the potency of the top two lines of the Jets, which could be top two lines on really any team in the league, there is just no way to give the offensive edge to the Flames. We have seen them sometimes put up brilliant numbers in alternating seasons, however not with the same ease that Winnipeg's snipers have.
On the backend for both teams are contrasting contributions from the defensemen to the goalies. Rittich was...fine however did not do as well as the prior season. He does not necessarily need to outperform his opponent at the other end of the rink, Hellebuyck, if the respectable core of defensemen in front of him outperforms the Jets D which is certainly doable.
The name recognition of this Winnipeg backend has not led to them being underrated. They are legitimately one of the worse 2, 4, and 6 man selections of the playoff teams. However they are here because of responsible play from the four lines of the forwards and Connor Hellebuyck being probably the best goalie in the league. In fact Rittich did not even outperform Talbot this year. And since the stick flipping incident lost the majority of his starts down the stretch and a 3% lower save percentage. It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, Connor will need to continue to outperform whichever Flames goalie opposes him.
Wrap It Up
The Jets offensive threat is not top-heavy in the same way that a Vancouver or Edmonton team sometimes looks. However that isn't really why I am on them either. I don't see the Flames forward core as having the same talent nor skill-ceiling of what we saw from those top three lines for the Jets. Additionally unless Lucic has put in some considerable off-season exercise he will be even more useless in the post-season than during the year. In terms of experience, these teams both have it. There is a good spread of budding talent with a few years under the belt and veterans whom have been part of quality playoff runs. The Flames were the team I had to win the Pacific this year, and while it was still mathematically possible for them to do so, was unlikely. I look at some of the players on the team and wonder if they have the right attitude to win a playoff series. They might be competitors but Rittich doing a stick flip before being clowned for six goals two days later? Tkachuck spending more time thinking about Doughty than chewing his mouth guard? Giordano is a capable captain and defencemen, but he sure did not look like the Norris winner of only a season prior. I see this as a weak but capable underrated defence core of Winnipeg against the more talented and experience defensive core on Calgary. However if this is their greatest area of the ice it isn't worth it.
While the defense core for the Jets is a concern generally, they have shown all year that they are capable. Finally, the disparity between the quality of netminding we 'might' see gives the ultimate value to the Jets. Without this forward talent playing against a St. Louis Blues squad they came oh so close to beating last year (on the front end) they could truly light up the Flames. The Winnipeg Jets take the series at +105 with BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review)