Winnipeg Jets: Mark Scheifele Racking Up Points In Company of Games' Elite
|Photo Credit: John Woods/CP|
It's hard to share the limelight when you go up against someone like Connor McDavid. It's even easier to get lost in the shuffle when he is at the top of his game, and he has the night he did Wednesday night.
McDavid reached the 500 point plateau in the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday and did so in just 369 games - a mark last met by Sidney Crosby and one that is the eighth fastest in NHL history.
Understandably lost in all of that was the goal scored by Mark Scheifele of the Jets, his eighth of the season. It wasn't a milestone for him, although he is 12 goals shy of 200 and another 22 assists from 300, but carries the storyline of his success behind the shadows.
In 16 games this season, Scheifele has registered 22 points (8 G, 14 A), good for fifth in the league in points. He's currently sixth in the league in assists, and 13th in goals.
This has certainly been a difficult season for hockey, and sports in general. The pandemic has changed our way of life in ways that goes far behind sporting events. It's certainly a different experience, even watching from home, without a stadium full of fans screaming and cheering as the game carries on.
Watching the Scotia North has been a treat for those you have tuned in. Almost on a nightly basis the division has produced must watch games, and looking whose in the division, it's no surprise really.
We get a full season of not just Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid in the same division, but also the likes of John Tavares, Leon Draisaitl, Carey Price, Johnny Gaudreau, and Elias Pettersson.
It's easy to miss the fact that Scheifele has failed to register a point in a game just twice this season, and is riding a streak of eight contests after scoring against the Oilers.
When Paul Maurice was asked about Scheifele at the postgame press conference on how he has embraced the spotlight that comes with going against some of the best talent on the nightly basis he responded with,
"I think, one of the things that Mark tries to do is battle quite a bit harder defensively, and I think when he does that everything else kind of comes together for him, right. the pace, the hands, the plays that he can make."
There's no denying that it's a tough position to be in, going up against that kind of talent on a nightly basis it's going to be a tough thing to balance. You know you are going to have to take some chances offensively to keep up, but still stay strong enough defensively.
The defensive metrics at 5v5 hasn't been fair to Scheifele this season, there has been over three goals scored on the Jets per 60 minutes that he has played, and his expected goal rate is a poor 41.29% (both stats according to Natural Stat Trick).
Winnipeg is going to need both of those numbers to improve, but in a division that's liken to the Wild Wild West, scoring is to be expected, so there will always be some give and take.
While Matthews and McDavid continue to control the headlines, don't expect Scheifele to stop putting up the points.
He plays with perhaps the second best American pure-goal scorer on his wing, all the way having one of the best releases in the league himself. Scheifele and the Jets are one of the best watches in the league and a season where he goes head-to-head against the best is exactly what he needs to permanently put him at the table where he belongs.
Speaking of the Defense
Scheifele's defense hasn't been great, but he hasn't been the only one to struggle. After a historic season that saw him get some MVP talk, Connor Hellebuyck has taken a step back this season.
His .920 SV% at 5v5 isn't bad, but good for only 26th in the league. His goals-saved-above-average (GSAA) is 25th best in the league. Hellebuyck ranks 40th among goalies with at least 100 minutes at 5v5 in stopping high-danger shots.
It extends to the defense as well, as the Jets have allowed the fourth highest expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60) with 2.55. They have also allowed the third most high-danger chances per 60 minutes (HDCA/60), surrounding 12.56 per hour.
So what else is expected to happen when you continually surrender opportunities into an area that their goaltender is struggling in?
Neal Pionk with another goal
It was the only other marker on the night for the Jets, a blast from the point by Neal Pionk, who continues his rise as one of the better offensive minded defensemen in the league. The marker was his second of the season, continuing his strong play at 5v5.
Pionk ranks in the top-40 in 5v5 TOI this season, and has the 13th most points-per-60 minutes with 1.48. It doesn't just stop at offense for Pionk, as his pairing with Derek Forbort is the only duo with at least 50 minutes together at 5v5 that have a positive expected goal rate.
While Josh Morrissey has emerged as the team's top defender, having a reliable second pairing helps as they shuffle players around.