Hockey NHL Playoffs

Q.R. Preview – (9) Jets vs (8) Flames

It may not be the Battle of Alberta but this all Canadian matchup should not disappoint. Both the Flames and Jets came into this season with high hopes and Stanley Cup aspirations but things spiraled a bit for both teams in very different ways. It is a new season for both these teams and they could both use a fresh start heading into the playoffs.

FORWARDS

The Jets offense is very simply built, the majority of their scoring comes from their top two lines and their bottom six forwards all serve a specific purpose towards team success. Connor, Scheifele and Wheeler are the engine that drives this team and along with Ehlers and Laine will be heavily relied upon for scoring. The loss of Bryan Little really hurt this team, his chemistry with the latter two and overall 200 foot game will need to be replaced by newly acquired (I user this term loosely) Cody Eakin. The bottom half of this forward group is built with guys who all put up between 30-40 points whose primary objective is to shut down the opposition’s top players while providing energy and momentum for the team.

The Flames down year was most noticeable on their first line of Gaudreau, Monahan and Linholm. Last season all three guys average over a point per game (Gaudreau was one point shy of 100), however this season all three failed to even hit 60. Matthew Tkachuck led the team in points this season (61) and he will need to continue this scoring if the Flames are to make a playoff push. Much like the Jets, the Flames bottom six have a ton of grit and skill with familiar names like Lucic and two former first round picks Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski.

I’m trying not to let the loss to the Oilers influence my decision but I like the Jets top six better, advantage Winnipeg

DEFENSE

As eluded to in the intro, the Jets took a massive hit on the back end but that is not to say that they do not possess some talent. Morrissey took a major step forward after being thrust into the number one defenseman role. Neal Pionk, the main piece in the Trouba trade exceeded all expectations alleviating some of the pressure from all of the losses on the blue line. DeMelo and Kulikov are both good stay at home defenseman to compliment the top two guys, and Beaulieu and Sbisa provide quality shut down minutes.

The Flames are led in large part by former Norris winner Mark Giordano. The captain didn’t have his best season but he and TJ Brodie will need to be at the top of their game to shut down this high flying Jets offense. The Flames have some very good depth at defense with Hanifin, Gustafsson and Forbort, but the play of rising young talent Rasmus Andersson will be vital to the Flames success.

The Flames deserve the edge here especially if Giordano can get back to form coming off the break.

GOALTENDERS

This is a no contest, a Mortal Kombat flawless victory win for Connor Hellebuyck. He is far and away my pick for the Vezina this year as he was the best goalie at giving his team a chance to win every single night. Playoff hockey starts in nets and the Jets will only go as far as Hellebuyck will take them, more on this in a bit.

My brothers live in Calgary, one has been there for a few years now and I told him that the Flames needed to trade for Lundqvist last summer. I know that the clubhouse is in sight on his career but you don’t just lose that skill and he would have been a better option than the Flames have in nets right now. Big Save Dave is very hot and cold and has yet to prove that he has the mental perseverance for playoff hockey and Cam Talbot has failed to lock up the starting role everywhere he has been so far. Both have the skill to win a game or even a series, but they lack the consistency to make a deep playoff run.

SPECIAL TEAMS

For the most part this is a very even series, both teams are neck and neck in most statistical categories but they really separate themselves when it comes to Special Teams. On the Power Play both teams scored just over 40 goals (Flames 41 / Jets 42) with an efficiency above 20% (21.2% and 20.5% respectively) and their top units both finished top five in the league in goals.

It is on the Penalty Kill where the Flames take a clear lead over the Jets. The Flames had the eighth best Penalty Kill in the league (82.1%) giving up only 35 goals while scoring six short handed goals of their own. Winnipeg is not far behind in them in terms of goals given up, however they only managed to kill off 77.6% of their opportunities, ranking ahead of only 4 other teams in the Return to Play. This advantage on the Penalty Kill for the Flames is crucial if they want to help off set the Hellebuyck factor.

X-FACTORS

Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck

There’s no way around it, this team lives and dies with their goalie and for good reason. The Flames may not have had the season they were hoping for, but they can easily be considered a dark horse if they can get back to last season’s form. Due to the likeness of these two rosters (minus the goalies) the best players on each roster will need to be the deciding factors. Hellebuyck will need to keep the Flames top line off the scoreboard and most importantly he will need to be the team’s best penalty killer. If he can be the best player in this series then the Jets will win.

Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau

This is more of a continuation of what I said for Hellebuyck, but Johnny Gaudreau needs to get back to his 100 point form. The former Hobey Baker winner has been the pulse of the offense since joining the team. Him and Monahan have been playing together for years and the addition of Linholm made this line one of the best in the league last year, but this season proved just how much of that success is dependent on Johnny Hockey.

THE DECISION

Forward – Winnipeg
Defense – Calgary
Goaltender – Winnipeg
Special Teams – Calgary
X-Factor – Winnipeg

Winner: (8) Flames in 5

These teams only faced each other once with the Jets winning in OT, but it was an outdoor game way back in October. As much as Winnipeg has the edge in nets we all know that Calgary has another gear that they can reach and what better time to do so then in the playoffs after a four month break. At least that is what I am banking on.

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