Numbers favour Jets if playoffs bring rematch with Predators

The Winnipeg Jets put an exclamation point on their 2018-19 NHL regular-season series with the Nashville Predators with a dominant 5-0 victory Saturday, taking three of the four games while outscoring their rivals 15-7.

The battles between the Central Division teams — who met in last season’s most intense playoff matchup — hasn’t been nearly as tightly contested this season, at least by the score line, and yet these two teams are still very likely to see each other in the spring in a best-of-seven series nearly everyone in the hockey world eagerly awaits.

It’s dangerous to look past your first-round opponent. The Predators, in particular, would be in for a tough fight against St. Louis if they have a first-round meeting with the Blues, a team they’ve struggled against this season. The Jets have also struggled against the Dallas Stars, a potential first-round opponent.

But in the case of this budding rivalry, it’s worthwhile to see how the Jets and Predators stack up against each other for a prospective second-round matchup. Looking at past contests, we can add up all the important things that drive wins, split them up by situation, and go beyond the goals scored to see how the teams might play each other in the post-season.

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The Winnipeg Jets put an exclamation point on their 2018-19 NHL regular-season series with the Nashville Predators with a dominant 5-0 victory Saturday, taking three of the four games while outscoring their rivals 15-7.

The battles between the Central Division teams — who met in last season’s most intense playoff matchup — hasn’t been nearly as tightly contested this season, at least by the score line, and yet these two teams are still very likely to see each other in the spring in a best-of-seven series nearly everyone in the hockey world eagerly awaits.

It’s dangerous to look past your first-round opponent. The Predators, in particular, would be in for a tough fight against St. Louis if they have a first-round meeting with the Blues, a team they’ve struggled against this season. The Jets have also struggled against the Dallas Stars, a potential first-round opponent.

But in the case of this budding rivalry, it’s worthwhile to see how the Jets and Predators stack up against each other for a prospective second-round matchup. Looking at past contests, we can add up all the important things that drive wins, split them up by situation, and go beyond the goals scored to see how the teams might play each other in the post-season.

Adding all the important metrics for each team, we’ll look at the percentage of each type of event the Jets controlled in the head-to-head matchup.

On the graph at the bottom of the page, the breakdown appears very similar to how the Jets played other teams last season. In the middle are the areas with lower-quality but higher-volume shots where the Jets get routinely outplayed, and on the edges are the markers of high-quality chances and pre-shot movement, where the Jets eat teams alive.

At even strength the Jets handily beat the Predators in shots from the inner slot (also called the high-danger area). But the Predators actually produced more shot attempts from that area, which is somewhat surprising. The Jets have excelled at clearing that area of the ice and blocking attempts this season, so it would appear that despite giving up the territorial advantage to the Predators, their superior defensive play at the net-front kept them ahead of the game in the season series.

In all situations, the Jets’ special teams took over and managed to further increase their lead in high-danger chances, and got back up into the positives in shot attempts from the high-danger area, as well.

At even strength, the Jets lost the battle in the high slot against the Predators, but the bleeding there was easy to control, for the most part. High-slot shots are most dangerous because that’s the area where shots are most likely to be preceded by a dangerous pass, and the Jets’ ability to block those passing lanes is phenomenal — and even better against the Predators than their season average.

Unfortunately for the Jets, there is a bit of a warning sign here when it comes to special teams. Winnipeg’s ability to close off passing lanes into the slot at even strength did not carry over into penalty killing. While the Jets kept an overall advantage in the number of completed passes into the slot, they gave up tons more high-slot chances, many of them with pre-shot movement.

This weakness didn’t factor into the season series because the Predators’ power play has been a bit of a punchline all season long, with forwards Filip Forsberg and Victor Arvidsson posting two of the least-accurate shots with the man advantage in the league. But poor shooting luck can reverse at any time, and if the Predators were to get production on the power play that they didn’t get all season long in a playoff series, that’s an area where the Jets could be seriously exploited.

Outside of shooting and passing, one of the statistics I like to keep an eye on, especially in head-to-head battles, is which team is recovering more loose pucks. Even more crucial is which team recovers loose pucks when multiple players get there at the same time and have to battle for it.

We hear about puck battles constantly in the NHL but rarely get to quantify them. There can be three results to any given puck battle — win, loss or draw. But we’ll ignore draws, since we’re dealing with head-to-head battles on a team level.

In puck battles where one team wins possession, Winnipeg has totally outclassed Nashville this season. Call it compete level or willingness to win (and it’s not like Nashville is a small team) but the Jets are among the most physical teams in the NHL, and this is an area where exerting that physical presence translates into performance.

In the season series, the team that won more puck battles won that specific game. The Predators managed to win more puck battles than the Jets just once, back in early October. If we look at just the last three games, the Jets go from about 54 and 55 per cent win rates at five-on-five and in all situations, respectively, up to 56 and 58 per cent.

Any time you’re gaining possession on upwards of 55 per cent of the puck battles, you’re going to control a large portion of the flow of that game. This is the area where I think the Jets have the biggest advantage over the Predators — they’re more aggressive in all areas of the ice.

Should the Jets and Preds collide in the playoffs, Winnipeg will need to strike a balance; maintain that aggression to win loose pucks but refrain from taking penalties and giving Nashville’s power-play unit a chance to redeem itself.

Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

Read full biography