Poor Puck Management, Not ‘Lucky Bounces’ Costing Jets for Second Straight Year

Poor Puck Management, Not ‘Lucky Bounces’ Costing Jets for Second Straight Year

The St. Louis Blues shocked the Winnipeg Jets, scoring the game-winning goal with less than 30 seconds to play in Game 5, and I’ve got to say, I was shocked hearing the comments that came from the Jets room after the game.

“It was a good 3rd period for us, really. They caught a break and made a play on the goal.” – Blake Wheeler.

“Lucky pinball. That puck just bounced and ended right on their tape. It’s tough to eat that one but I thought we were the better team.” – Connor Hellebuyck.

The goal might have been “lucky”, though I’m sure Jaden Schwartz would disagree, however, the events that led to it have nothing to do with luck, were an issue for the Jets throughout the 3rd period and have been throughout the series.

Winnipeg gave up three goals in the 3rd period, a period filled with lost puck battles and failed clearing attempts. With a 2-0 lead, Ben Chiarot failed to clear the zone while shorthanded and moments later, Ryan O’Reilly made the Jets pay with a powerplay goal.

Fast forward to the final minute of the game, with the scored tied at 2. Again, Chiarot was unable to get the puck out, this time with support on the wall, and that lead to an offensive zone face-off for the Blues.

Schwartz recovered the puck on the ensuing face-off and the Blues spent about 20 seconds cycling behind the net before Jacob Trouba pinned the puck on the boards. Schwartz then poked the puck loose, Mark Scheifele was unable to clear the puck past Tyler Bozak on the wall and we all know what happened next.

Maybe it was luck, maybe it was skill in terms of Schwartz batting the puck out of mid-air to score the game-winning goal but the puck management issues that led to it are what ultimately allowed the Blues an opportunity to score a “lucky” goal.

The Jets puck management issues in their own end in this series have nothing to do with luck and everything to do with execution and they weren’t good enough in this area in Game 5.

All told, Winnipeg turned the puck over in the 3rd period on 25 percent of its defensive zone possessions. What that means is one out of every four times the Jets had the puck on their stick in their own end, they lost possession to the Blues. That’s the highest single-period defensive zone turnover rate by any team in the playoffs and the puck ended up in the back of the Jets net twice as a result.

So, while the Jets talked about being unlucky after Game 5, a greater acknowledgement of how they have contributed to some of their own problems is what’s needed. If you remember, Winnipeg chalked losses up to luck and insisted they were the better team in their series against Vegas last year, too – a series they lost in five games. After losing Game 4 loss to the Golden Knights, which put the Jets in a 3-1 series hole, Hellebuyck talked about Winnipeg being the better team and Wheeler spoke about how the Jets win the game they just played nine times out of ten. The Jets couldn’t seem to comprehend why the why the Golden Knights were beating them and after losing their third game in that series, they promptly lost the next and their season was over.

I highlighted why Vegas was, in fact, the better team in that series in my scouting report on the Jets ahead of these playoffs and talked about how Winnipeg needed to manage the puck better this time around and focus on their deficiencies instead of deflecting blame.

It appears history is repeating itself.

To avoid the same fate as last season, the Jets need to address the issues that led to their Game 5 loss to the Blues instead of insisting they were the better team and victims of a “lucky” bounce. Control what you can control.

All told, 4 of the Blues 13 goals in this series have come as the result of a failed clearing attempt by the Jets, with all four goals coming in the 3rd period.

Winnipeg has played St. Louis incredibly close in this series and, sure, if a few bounces go their way, the Jets could very well be the team up 3 games to 2. Winnipeg has had the better even-strength expected goal differential in the last four games. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t deficiencies in their game that can, and need to be, addressed.

If the Jets don’t identify the puck management issues they’ve had, specifically in their own zone, this may end up being the second year in a row they fall short of their ultimate goal, wondering how the other team got so “lucky.”