Jets Scrape Out Five Victories in First Ten Games

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The Jets take on the Minnesota Wild in October Dustin Krahn

The first ten games of the Jets season were a roller-coaster, from an opening night blowout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, to a 7–1 victory over the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Penguins. That last victory improved their record to 5–3–2, good for second in the Central Division prior to the Jets’ one-game road trip to Minnesota.

Halloween may be over, but is it too late to ask if this record is a trick or a treat? Well, it’s a bit of both, and here’s why: (1) since the team lost its first two games of the season, they went 5–1–2 in their next eight games, with terrible analytical stats, and (2) Connor Hellybuyck is 5–0–1.

First, let’s take a look at the eight games following the team’s first two losses. This wasn’t an easy stretch, as six of the eight games were against teams that were in the playoffs last season. In these games, the team went 3–1–2, with the lone regulation loss coming on home ice against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

From a stats perspective, what intrigues me most is the team’s shot-attempt (SAT) percentage. It’s a useful stat that indicates which team controlled the majority of the play at even strength. Sometimes numbers are just numbers and don’t tell the full story. For the Jets, however, the numbers are extremely concerning.

In their first five victories, the Jets led in SAT percentage only once, and in three of the five the Jets trailed their opponents by five percent. If you dive deeper into the numbers, things get even more concerning. When leading games, the Jets have a SAT percentage of 40.9 percent. This tells us that when the Jets are ahead in a game, they spend nearly 60 percent of their time in their own zone. This is a terrible metric, especially in close games.

In three of the Jets’ victories, they were only ahead by one goal heading into the final minute of play. This tells us that the Jets were lucky to scrape out two points in each of these games. While Jets fans will certainly take the treat of winning, they may be tricked into thinking the team is better than it really is.

Special teams are another area where the Jets could really look to improve heading into November. Through the first ten games of the season, the Jets rank twenty-first in power play percentage, converting on nearly 15 percent of their opportunities. On the penalty kill, the Jets ranked twenty-fifth, with a kill percentage of just under 78 percent.

You might be asking, “If these numbers are so bad, how are the Jets winning games?” Well, put simply, the Jets may have finally solved one of their biggest problems: they finally have an answer in net. And it’s not Steve Mason.

Connor Hellebuyck is off to one helle-of-a start. In his first six games, the 24-year-old has gone 5–0–1, while posting an absurd save percentage of 93.7 percent. Often the lightning rod of criticism in 2016–17, the young goaltender spent his offseason training with the goal of coming back better than ever. And better he has been.

What are the biggest differences in his game? Last season, Hellebuyck looked small, and whenever he let in a goal it really affected his play. This year, he looks like a whole new goalie. He’s calm, poised, and is using his 6’4 frame to his advantage.

In his sole overtime loss, Hellebuyck was quick to place all the blame on himself.

“I knew he [Phil Kessel] was going to go five-hole, I just didn’t get down in time,” he said in a post-game interview.

The loss shouldn’t be attributed to him at all, however, as he was the sole reason the Jets even made it into overtime. He stopped 34 of the 35 shots he had faced up to that point.

Now, will Hellybuyck be able to maintain his solid numbers? He will surely lose in regulation at some point, and it’s practically impossible to sustain a 93.7 percent save percentage. But from what he’s shown so far, there’s no reason he can’t carry this play forward, and bring the Jets with him.

And if Steve Mason can pick up his play, the Jets will have a great one-two punch on their hands.

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