The Winnipeg Jets have a bit of a 5 on 5 problem, one that they have had all year, despite leading the Central through January. Timely goals, exceptional special teams play and good goaltending have buoyed otherwise below average play in the middle of the ice at both ends. Simply put, at least for the first half the season, Jets were able to outscore their problems (see this article from Murat Ates’ from earlier in the year).
The problems have been diagnosed by smarter hockey minds than I. A couple of common ones identified have been over usage of the top line, Laine’s slump both due to his own play and lack of play driver on his line, and lack of defensive depth. Most of the solutions I’ve seen proposed involve lineup tweaks (and groaning at Coach Maurice’s resistance to do such) or roster changes.
In this post, I’d like to see if we can help with the first issue without either of those things.
As goes the top line, so goes the team. Dog-paddling to a point against the Sharks and the most recent shellackings by the quick forechecks of the Canadiens and Senators have not been kind to the Jets first unit.
Disclaimer: the sky is NOT falling. The Jets have a very strong roster, one that could get better by month’s end. We simply want to nudge the ship back in the right direction.
The problem: Overusage of the 26-55-X line. In the Montreal game, this line was employed against the top line and the results were BAD, burn-the-tape bad. I’m not drawing conclusions from this one game (hence “burn-the-tape”) but it is indicative of a trend that has been trouble before (think before the fourth line found their groove) and could be trouble down the stretch, especially if the second line doesn’t start pulling their weight soon.
Assumptions: Paul won’t ever break the magical bond that is 26-55-X despite the fact that the second line is begging for play-drivers, and 26/55 are seemingly getting gassed in games leading to turnovers, long shifts hemmed in their end and uneventful shifts in the offensive zone.
Solution: One we already employ. Let’s lean on the shutdown line a little more. Paul is not shy to do this, but tends to match top lines against teams with a little more speed. But if we want 26/55 to save gas, make less mistakes, while also generating more offense, I think there’s more juice to squeeze out of 17 and his linemates. First, a story:
When Adam Lowry was declared the first star of the home game against the Stars earlier this year, the seats in the dimly lit Bell MTS Place were much emptier than they were ten minutes prior. An arena tends to look like that after two late goals secure a 5-1 victory, with traffic looming and post-game beers inviting. However, I was there jumping up and down and cheering as if he’d just scored the overtime game winner. I mean, he did score an effort goal off his own rebound out of the box and rendered the maligned Benn-Seguin line useless all game. I scoped out my two buddies who were in another section and we exaggerated to match each others’ goofiness. They know how much I love Adam Lowry.
One of the not-so-secret ingredients to the Jets surge last year was the “shutdown” line centred by Adam Lowry. This line can grind out minutes of puck control against top lines which limits the impact of their ice-time and creates ideal situations for our lines with more firepower.
The Adam Lowry line, with Brandon Tanev and the recent match-made-in-heaven Mathieu Perreault (previously Andrew Copp), is expected to emulate what the entire team intends to do every time they step on the ice. Maintain possession in the offensive zone, disrupt possession in the defensive zone. This doesn’t always result in goals, but it doesn’t need to.
Adam Lowry is a player who can please old-school hockey guys who could care less about what’s on the spreadsheet. His 6-foot-5, 210 lb frame leaves him well-equipped to succeed in the dirty spots of the ice, lay bone-rattling hits and be the first (well, 2nd if Buff is on the ice) to police any opposing player who gets too cute in the crease. The guy has grit by the truck-load. In today’s league, however, grit alone will not let you crack a lineup for a meaningful chunk of minutes.
That’s why it’s a great thing to have a guy like Lowry, who jumps off the screen in your grandpa’s living room AND jumps off the spreadsheet. He is an elite center for the role he plays and the prototype for other teams who need to maximize their value at the position.
Let’s see some numbers.
The reason why Adam Lowry is attributed with his line success is not just because he centres it. It is because his presence anchors the rest of the players who go over the boards with him, whoever they may be. The below graphic from HockeyViz (see info at the bottom) shows the impact that Lowry has on other players this season and last.
The with or without you charts are just one of the ways to measure individual impact of a player. My Tanev hating days are long over, love the guy, but check out 13 with/without 17. Pick whichever player you want, but 17 has helped nearly every player reach better shot generation and cessation in large enough sample sizes.
I included 2017-18 because it’s just so beautiful. A relic of time months ago where team defense wasn’t just a theory, it was a way of life, championed by 17 and the Jets blue-liners.
As stated before, middle of the ice defense has been an issue especially compared to last year. Early in the year people were concerned with Bucky’s performance and a lot of it was warranted. However, a big part of his success last year was due to the well-documented ability of the Jets to ensure the shots that reach the net were from the perimeter, giving him a chance to make the play.
Let’s go back to HockeyViz to see how Lowry helps this issue with his isolated impact relative to league average heat-maps.
2018-19 so far
Again, compared to the dominance of 2017 (I mean, come on) this year has been a step back. Hot spots in the middle of the ice are haunting a lot of Jets skaters this year. However, 17 is still personifying a path forward for the Jets defensively and should be relied on to control the shots in our zone.
Based on history, leaning on Adam Lowry a little more in tougher matchups in order to give Mark and Blake a breather is a strategy Paul shouldn’t shy away from.But really, in conclusion, I cherry-picked a current potential issue and proposed a non-innovative solution in order to talk about my favourite Jet.
Follow my Adam Lowry fan account on Twitter: @kKostyy
All visualizations are from HockeyViz (@HockeyViz) created by Micah Blake McCurdy (@Ineffective Math). Follow him, become a Patron, and destroy your friends and Twitter trolls with indisputable evidence in the form of pretty pictures! Link: https://hockeyviz.com/