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Know Thy Enemy: Jets Defense Preview

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The battle between the Big, the Brutal, and the Bruising

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Pairings

(estimation based on war-on-ice shift chart and TOI from 3/31 vs. NYR, the last meaningful game before Dustin Byfuglien's suspension)

Tyler Myers - Tobias Enstrom

Dustin Byfuglien (double shifted) - Adam Pardy

Jacob Trouba - Mark Stuart

Keaton Ellerby - Jay Harrison (paired 4/11 vs Calgary).

Injuries of Defensemen

Grant Clitsome - Listed as out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery. Out for the remainder to the season.

Paul Postma - Listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury. Out since March 14th game against Tampa Bay.

How did their season go?

While the Winnipeg Jets clinched the last wild card position in the Western Conference, nothing about the match up seems to say it will be an easy first-rounder for the Ducks. While the Ducks swept the 3-games against Winnipeg, two of them were overtime wins, one being a shootout. Both teams play the same type of fast, grinding, heavy, and large sized style of game. Their record does not necessarily indicate it but the Jets have better numbers than the Ducks. They stand as the 10th in league when it comes to allowing fewest goals per game (2.49), while the Ducks stand at an unimpressive 20th in league (2.70). The goaltending situation has been resolved in Winnipeg as Ondrej Pavelec has risen as the undisputed Number One. But it really is the defense that has finally brought the Winnipeg Jets to their first Stanley Cup appearance since their relocation from Atlanta.

The Winnipeg Jets fans went through quite a roller coaster of emotions through this 2014-2015 season. Like the Anaheim Ducks, they have been riddled with injuries on the blue line. Not to mention, they also endured the changes that resulted form the major mid-season trade that sent Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and goalie prospect Jason Kasdorf to Buffalo in exchange for defenseman Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, first-round 2015 draft pick, and two prospects.

Most recently, the defenseman Tyler Myers has created quite a name for himself in Winnipeg. He may not have the best numbers, but the young Jet is making a difference on the blue line. He is by no means a possession maven, but he is taking up nearly 24 minutes a game. He also starts in the defensive zone the most out of all Jets defensemen, matching up against the toughest lines. It seems like his time in Winnipeg has done him well as he has notched himself 15 points in 24 games (as opposed to 13 points in 47 games in Buffalo).

Stats vs. Ducks

Player Games vs. Ducks Goals Assists Points FF% (5v5 Close)
Dustin Byfuglien 3 1 2 3 51.09
Jacob Trouba 2 1 1 2 53.09
Tobias Enstrom 1 0 1 1 51.74
Keaton Ellerby 0 0 0 0 0
Jay Harrison 1 0 1 1 48.85
Tyler Myers 2 (Buffalo) 0 0 0 38.7
Mark Stuart 3 0 1 1 52.72
Ben Chiarot 3 0 0 0 54.03
Adam Pardy 2 0 0 0 49.94
Paul Postma 2 0 0 0 53.14


Top Three Threats to Anaheim

1)  Dustin Byfuglien.  Some may argue for Dustin Byfuglien as a possible Norris Trophy candidate seeing as he has smoothly transitioned from the forward position back to his natural defense position mid-season after long-term injuries to the Jets' blueliners. And looking at the bare minimum of the defensive chart above, it's easy to see that Dustin Byfuglien was an effective threat against Anaheim.

At the same time, he can be a liability for the Jets. Think about the position he put the Jets in when he committed the stupid crosscheck on NY Ranger JT Miller. That could have easily cost the Jets their wildcard spot with his four game suspension. So while he can be be a offensive and defensive force for the Jets, he can also put his team in troublesome spots with his penalties.

2)  Speaking of penalties....I will say that the lack of discipline on the Ducks' side could jeopardize their chances. The Ducks have a tendency to play down or play to the level of their opponents. They cannot allow themselves to get sucked into the undisciplined play that Winnipeg can draw their opponents into.

The Ducks committed six penalties against Winnipeg in the first game of the series (won 4-3 OT). The Ducks committed four penalties in the second game (won 4-1). And lastly, the Ducks committed a total of eight penalties (including Getzlaf's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty) on Teemu Tribute Night (won 5-4 SO). Soooooo--with a 81% penalty kill (15th in the league), the Ducks are probably best off NOT having to spend a fraction of the game shorthanded.

3)  Physical play by the Jets. I'm going to come around to this point again in the next section of ways to beat the Jets' defense....But Winnipeg's style is no secret to the league. They play big, they play in a bruising style, and just attempt to grind their opponents to pulp.

The good news is that the Ducks are also built in the same fashion. The Ducks are big, they can bruise, and they can grind. The only thing is that we've seen less of that big and bruising style that we got accustomed to seeing last year. It is my opinion that the Ducks held back a bit on this type of play this year. While too much of this style can slow down the Ducks, not enough of them can cause them to be bullied around on the ice. Not to mention, it can also lead to lost tempers on the veterans' parts. The Ducks will have to fight fire with fire without losing too much of their cool and committing penalties.

Top Three Ways to Beat the Jets' Defense

1) AGITATE THEM. The Winnipeg Jets are many things. Disciplined is not one of them. Not that the Ducks' power play is anything to boast about, but the Ducks can gain a slight advantage by forcing the Jets to take unnecessary penalties. Dustin Byfuglien is one of the Jets' top players, but we all know how temperamental the guy can be. Exhibit A: nasty crosscheck to the head/neck of Rangers JT Miller.

The Jets are going to come into Round 1 with great motivation. Not only is this the first playoff appearance since relocating to Winnipeg, but think about their three games against the Ducks. One was a 4-1 blowout, but the other two were comeback overtime wins by the Ducks. I'm sure that gets them riled up. Knowing this, they are coming in with something to prove. It's up to the Ducks to either take advantage of this, or be taken advantage of. The first key is to agitate the Winnipeg players, while keeping their own cool.

2)  Health.  Both the Ducks and the Jets have had their share of injuries to the blue line. For the Jets, the injuries have been brutal as their defensive depth has its limits. In particular, defenseman Toby Enstrom in particular has had a tough season battling injuries. If the Jets come into the playoffs with some lingering bumps and bruises, they may not be able to play with as effective grit, size, and grind with which they played with to get them to this point.

On the other side, the Ducks finally have eight healthy defensemen right now. If the Ducks can maintain their health especially on the blue line, they will be capable of outgrinding, outplaying and outcompeting with the hard-hitting Jets players.

3)  Penetrate the middle of the ice and create traffic in front of the net. Sure, this is a part of hockey cliche and something every team should be doing every game. But the Ducks saw the 4-1 win against Winnipeg when they did this, and struggled immensely for long stretches in the two other games when they kept mostly to the periphery.

The Ducks do need to play in the same grinding style as the Winnipeg Jets, because that is how the Anaheim hockey club is built. But at the same time, they need to OUTgrind and OUTsmart the Jets to set up and find the right positioning. It's not just about giving bumps and bruises, but beating them out behind the net and along the boards to throw the puck in front of the net. It helps that we have physical players like Simon Depres, Patrick MaroonMatt Beleskey, and even Ryan Kesler to challenge the Jets at their own physical style of play. It's about beating the Jets at their own game and penetrating the middle of the ice, getting in front of the net, looking for dirty goals.