Hockey

Game #50 – Jets vs. Hawks Spotlight: Atlas Hellebuyck

We will also accept the name “Suspenders” Hellebuyck, as he’s the only thing keeping the Jets from getting pantsed most nights.

You wouldn’t think a team would miss Dustin Byfuglien defensively, if at all. Generally not having to commit 20 minutes a night to a player who kind of wandered around the ice like he was looking for a pair of shoes he lost long ago would be a good thing. If you could replace him by focused players on either end of the ice. The Jets have not done that, as they also punted Jacob Trouba and Ben Chiarot, which was basically strip mining their blue line.

And the results have been awful. The Jets are bottom-five in shots against per 60 minutes at evens, and they’re just a shred ahead of the Hawks in expected goals against, which is third-worst in the league. Up and down the lineup, you’ll see that most of their roster is drowning when it comes to xG%. They give up far too many chances.

But they’re still in the playoff hunt thanks to Hellebuyck. He’s got the biggest difference between his actual save-percentage at evens and his expected-one, at least among starters. He’s ahead of Robin Lehner and Tuukka Rask. He’s the only thing keeping the Jets in it most nights, because they could easily be giving up five a night.

Of course, the Jets hopes might rest on whether they can get him a rest at any point. Backup Laurent Brossoit has been terrible when he’s been healthy, which has meant that Hellebuyck leads the league in games played at 40. And considering the Jets are still outside the playoff picture, they can’t trust Brossoit with too many more starts from here on out either.

Hellebuyck might be built for it. He’s played over 60 games the past two years, and two seasons ago led the league in appearances with 67. He backed that up with a .922 in the playoffs, so fatigue wasn’t a problem then. Last year he played 63 times, and had a .924 in March followed by an acceptable .913 in the playoffs. Still, you might wonder how many times the Jets want to keep pushing this button.

If there’s been a bugaboo, it’s that he’s had his issues on the kill. He ranks 24th among goalies on the kill that have played 25 games, and the Jets have one of the worst kills in the league. He’s behind his expected save-percentage down a man, but again, the Jets give up amongst the most chances on the kill in the league. He’s not getting a lot of help.

Hellebuyck holds more than just the Jets playoff chances in his hands. If he can’t boost them into the postseason, there would have to be major changes in The Peg. This is a team built to compete, not barely scratch in or out of the playoffs. There’s not a lot of cap room, and their coach probably needed to be fired a year ago. The defense could be overhauled, as only Morrissey and Pionk are signed for next year. One wonders if Laine would be moved along with only one year on his contract and not exactly proving himself to be the world class sniper he once flashed and before he demands to be paid like one. Would Chevyldayoff survive a playoff-less season?

The Jets have put an awful lot on Hellebuyck. He’s been up to the challenge so far with no support. But how much more can they ask?

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