The Jets are collapsing without Connor Hellebuyck bailing them out

Thomas WilliamsHockey writer
Yahoo Sports Canada
The Winnipeg Jets are in a free fall. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Winnipeg Jets are in a free fall. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Winnipeg Jets are frauds and the results are starting to catch up with them.

In an all too familiar way, the Jets are suffering the same fate that so many teams have before them.

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Despite every single number and form of logic describing how this team should be losing games, they kept on winning because of one single reason: their starting goaltender playing absolutely out of his mind and dragging them to their small victories.

Connor Hellebuyck has certainly established himself securely in the conversation about who lifts the Vezina Trophy at the end of the season, but reality is so cruel and his performance has come crashing down.

via Evolving-Hockey
via Evolving-Hockey

With a nosedive similar to a stunt pilot, the Jets’ team-adjusted save percentage at 5-on-5 has come back to below league-average and the results are clear.

After a significant portion of the season passed, Winnipeg suddenly had a 19-10-2 record on Dec. 10. It appeared that the northern franchise would be making the postseason for the third consecutive time, but it has suffered the cold defeat to regression.

Since Dec. 10, the Jets have been able to secure only six more wins, bringing their record to a mediocre 25-21-4 before Wednesday’s matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Holding a .368 point percentage since Dec. 10, through a crucial time of the season does not instill the greatest amount of confidence in a franchise. Fortunately, there is a sound reason as to why Winnipeg suffered during this stretch and it’s simply Hellebuyck becoming human again.

There was no way that the Jets could continue their above-average results — and their starter keeping the puck out of his net — the way that they have been playing all season long.

When it comes to their shot attempts at 5-on-5, the Jets are safely one of the worst teams in the league at controlling both attempts for them and against them. Taking into account the quality of those chances, they’re even worse.

They are at the very bottom of the league in terms of expected goals for and only the rebuilding New York Rangers are worse at limiting shot quality than the Jets.

Winnipeg’s 41.79 expected goal share at 5-on-5 is the fourth-worst among all NHL teams since the stat started being tracked back in the 2007-08 season. It is honestly impressive.

The fact that it was able to start the season the way that it did, despite these numbers that have followed them throughout its campaign, gives even more reason why Hellebuyck bailed his team out completely.

It’s not hard to imagine that the Jets would be considered the worst team in the league, was it not for their goaltending.

Hellebuyck’s season through his 42 appearances has been worth about 2.9 wins above replacement, translating to 5.6 points in the standings above a replacement-level goaltender. The 26-year-old leads all goaltenders in the league in both of these metrics, even with the recent downfall.

Through that ungodly run from the beginning of the season until Dec. 10, Hellebuyck’s .942 save percentage at 5-on-5 was tied for second-best among netminders with at least five games played.

Considering that Hellebuyck faced almost 46 expected goals total through that beginning stretch, and allowed only 36 at 5-on-5 play, he was more than pulling his own weight to start the season. Like us all, he became mortal.

In the 18 appearances since, the Jets have still given Hellebuyck a hell of a time and allowed the most expected goals while he was in between the pipes, among all other goaltenders. The only difference is Hellebuyck allowed a total of 40 5-on-5 tallies, to go along with the 34.37 expected goals thrown his way.

His save percentage came crashing down — evident in the graph above — as he carried a .903 save percentage at 5-on-5 through these last games.

It’s been a tale of two different goaltenders, but he has still built up enough of his season to no doubt be one of the best starters in the NHL. Unfortunately for the Jets, he was unable to carry the increasing load that they handed to him.

Without a change in defensive play, the Jets were doomed to come crashing down once they weren’t receiving some of the best goaltending in the world.

Even if they are still just three points out of a wild card spot and possess some offensive power with the likes of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and Patrik Laine, they will always allow the opposition to walk all over them like they have all season.

Unless something changes quickly, Winnipeg will be glad they still have its first-round pick.

All stats used are from Evolving-Hockey or NaturalStatTrick.

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