Many NHL teams tend to excel in one aspect of their game and struggle when it comes to the others. For the two teams participating in the most closely-seeded match-up in the Western Conference, the nine-seed Winnipeg Jets and the eight-seed Calgary Flames, that statement accurately describes how they performed during the 2019-20 regular season. Let’s see how they match up headed into their series.
Winnipeg Jets vs Calgary Flames: By the Numbers
Statistics listed below are for the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season before the COVID-19 hiatus. The numbers in parentheses are where that team ranks among playoff teams in terms of that particular statistic.
The Winnipeg Jets:
The Winnipeg Jets, coached by Paul Maurice, have a tendency to excel on the offensive side of the game. Headlined by a first-line that includes their top-three scorers in Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler, the Jets have one of the deepest forward cores in the league. The second line, featuring former second-overall pick Patrik Laine, alongside Cody Eakin and Nikolaj Ehlers, is just as productive. The third line plays more of a two-way game as the always-reliable trio of Andrew Copp, Jack Roslovic, and Adam Lowry make up one of the better third-lines in hockey. The fourth line of Mason Appleton, Nick Shore, and Mathieu Perreault is nothing to mess around with, either. Overall, they have plenty of forward depth despite the injury to Bryan Little that sidelined him for the season, and they are always a threat to score.
The defense, on the other hand, is where the Jets seem to have some question marks. The first pair is one of the more interesting, but inconsistent, top pairs in the league as 25-year old Josh Morrissey, who has had a down year, is playing with trade deadline acquisition Dylan DeMelo. The second pair of Dmitry Kulikov and breakout defenseman Neal Pionk not only serve as a pair that eats minutes but serves as a threat both offensively and defensively on the ice. Nathan Beaulieu and Tucker Poolman make up a third pair that plays much more than a third-pair would normally, but are not as much as an offensive threat.
Winnipeg’s goaltending is as strong as any team’s. Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck is one of, if not, the league’s best at what he does and definitely deserves the nomination. He is one of the main reasons the Jets are in the Qualifying Round and should be part of the reason why they make the playoffs in the future. Their backup situation is somewhat of a question mark, as Laurent Brossoit did not have as strong of a season as he did in 2018-19, his first as a Jet. Hopefully, they don’t need to rely on their backup goaltending during the most important time of the season.
The Calgary Flames:
Calgary’s forward core, and their team in general, had a tough time scoring this season. Head Coach Geoff Ward has reunited the first line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm, a line that saw great success playing together last season. On the second line, leading-scorer Matthew Tkachuk’s likely linemates are Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane, who had a strong first full season in the NHL. The third line consists of three players with different levels of experience as NHL veteran Milan Lucic is playing alongside Sam Bennett and 22-year-old Dillon Dube. Finally, the fourth line of Derek Ryan, Mark Jankowski, and Tobias Reider has had some inconsistencies this year, but if they can bounce back in the playoffs, they could be a very important piece to their forward core for the playoffs.
Despite Travis Hamonic opting out of the NHL’s Return-to-Play, the Flames defensive core is very strong. Both members of the first pair of Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie have been mainstays for the Flames and will be key players for them against the Jets. Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson had strong seasons offensively but had a tough time in the defensive zone. Their third pair of two Trade Deadline acquisitions of Derek Forbort and Erik Gustafsson will get the chance to show the Flames why they acquired them in the first place, as neither defenseman had much time to prove themselves after the deadline.
David Rittich had a respectable season as the starting goaltender for the Calgary Flames as he played 48 of the Flames 70 games. The difference between the Jets and the Flames, however, is that if need be, the Flames have a backup goaltender that has Stanley Cup Playoff experience. As the starting goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers in 2016-17, Cam Talbot led them to the second round, and they lost in seven. He had a very productive season as Calgary’s backup and is more than capable of starting if Rittich struggles during the playoffs.
The Heritage Classic:
The Winnipeg Jets and the Calgary Flames only met once this season, for the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan. Hellebuyck and Rittich started in goal, and the first period was scoreless. In the second, however, Elias Lindholm scored on the power-play to put the Flames up 1-0. Josh Morrissey would tie it up at 1-1 in the third on the power play, and the game ended up going to overtime. In overtime, Bryan Little scored to give the Jets the victory. For the only game the Jets and Flames played this year, the game surely was one to watch.
Each Team’s X-Factors:
- Will Connor Hellebuyck keep up his Vezina-level play?
- Can the Jets’ defense turn their season around during the league’s most important months?
- Does Winnipeg’s depth give them the upper hand?
- Can David Rittich keep the starting spot, or will he struggle enough to the point where Cam Talbot takes over?
- Will the Flames defense be the same without Travis Hamonic?
- Can Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane keep up their play from the regular season?
Both the Winnipeg Jets and the Calgary Flames have the ability to win this series as they can definitely take advantage of the other team’s weaknesses. In the end, I think the Calgary Flames are going to come out victorious in five games. Hellebuyck may be the best at what it does, but I think the defensive struggles will become too much for the Jets to overcome.
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