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Five things to watch for when the Calgary Flames take on the Winnipeg Jets:
1. A 5v5 edge.
The Jets have won just two of their last eight games, and dropped seven straight in regulation. There’s a reason for that. Without Nik Ehlers, arguably their best player, they’re getting crushed at 5v5 on a nightly basis. The Jets’ share of the high-danger chances is just 42% over the last 10, good for 28th in the NHL. They have been half-decent at suppressing Grade A looks. They just can’t generate any. Winnipeg ranks 30th in HD chances over the last 10 games. While Calgary is just playing things out here, they’re probably the last team the Jets want to see. They rank 1st(!) with a 62% share of the HD chances over the last 10 games. As you’d expect, defense is the driving force behind that. No team has given up fewer Grade A looks. If motivation is not an issue, the Flames should be able to control the danger zones in this one.
2. Matching intensity.
Calgary’s playoff chances are all but gone. Realistically speaking, they are gone. Winnipeg, meanwhile, is freefalling down the standings and at risk of finishing 4th in the division. They’re no doubt motivated to get things back on track and find their footing before the playoffs begin. The Flames, meanwhile, are at the point where it’d be easy to pack it in. They have to be ready to play and start with real urgency in this one. If they don’t, I think the Jets will put on the full court press early; and likely get out to a lead.
3. Low-event hockey.
If the goaltending is there, and I expect it will be, this could be a very low scoring affair. The Jets, as mentioned, have really struggled to create quality chances (and shots) of late. They’ve been pretty good at suppressing them, though. They rank 12th in attempts against/60 during that time. Calgary, meanwhile, plays slow and methodical on offense while sucking the life out of opponents when they don’t have the puck. I don’t expect a ton of rush play and trading chances; especially without Ehlers. This strikes me as a 2-1 or 3-1 type game where there are fewer than 60 shots combined.
4. Hitting stride
. Remember when Johnny Gaudreau was getting caved in at 5v5 and couldn’t generate a thing offensively? Good times, good times. He sure seems to have found his footing under Darryl Sutter. He’s picked up eight points (seven primary) at 5v5 over the last 10 games while posting a near 60 xGF%. Any time a highly skilled player is also dictating things when it comes to chances...that’s really good. Obviously, he has the talent to help make the most of them. The Jets can be had in transition and their in-zone defense isn’t all that great, either. I think this is a good matchup for Johnny Hockey.
5. A struggling sniper.
Things aren’t going well for Kyle Connor right now. He has a putrid 34 xGF% over the last 10 games and a minus-8 goal differential at 5v5 to go with it. The Jets are getting caved with him on the ice and he’s not generating nearly enough (1.1 chances per game) to make up for it; even if he’s opportunistic. Connor is a guy who feeds off rush play and, again, the Flames are a tight team that tends to take that away from their opponents. Outside of potentially doing some damage on the PP, I’m not sure this is anything close to a get right spot for Connor.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com