May 23, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
It's more than safe to say that this can't go on.
Should the Winnipeg Jets continue to kill penalties at the rate they have in the last seven days, this 48-game season will seem like another 15 years of no-NHL purgatory.
Safe also to say that Winnipeggers will be less patient during this one.
The road trip that ended Friday with an 8-3 thrashing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning yielded a Jets' vulnerability almost beyond belief.
They faced 16 power plays during the three games and gave up eight goals. That's a laughably inept 50 per cent efficiency rate.
The terrible performance puts the Jets at the bottom of the 30-team league in that category. With a percentage of 59.3, it's about 20 per cent below the NHL average. Going into Saturday's action, no team had given up as many power-play goals.
And so it's easy to understand why there were so many grim faces around the Jets locker-room after Friday's beatdown.
In the first period of the game, when Tampa Bay was on the power play for an incredible 8 minutes 33 seconds, it scored three times -- twice while enjoying a five-on-three advantage.
Stunned? Rattled? Shocked?
All of those things likely applied to the Jets, who had spoken after Thursday's three-for-six penalty killing performance and again Friday morning, about being better.
"Hard to tell," said defenceman Ron Hainsey, asked about being rattled. "If you're killing five-on-threes against this team, you're not focused on being rattled, you're focused on killing them off and they made us pay."
Jets captain Andrew Ladd was a little more certain about rattled.
"I guess. Yes," he confessed. "A little bit after Kaner (Evander Kane) got that (bench) penalty, but there were a bunch of guys yapping on the bench. At that point, myself included, (we were) a little too emotional and it caught up with the penalties.
"But those are things that are going to happen over the course of the game. It's only 3-0 after the first and you've got to find ways to get back in the game, whatever it takes."
Ladd was referring to the "splling-over" moment late in the first period.
Already down 3-0, a missed interference call on Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman sent the Jets bench into an uproar. While the play continued, Kane was tagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, as referees Tim Peel and Mike Leggo had heard too much about their perceived mistake.
That didn't change the game, however, but just led to another insult -- Cory Conacher's 4-0 goal came one second after Kane had stepped out of the penalty box in the carry-over to the second period, a de facto fourth power-play goal against.
The fragility of the Jets going forward, will not likely stop on a dime. The penalties, whether good ones or bad ones, are going to make people nervous.
"There are some, like Thorbs (Chris Thorburn's hitting from behind major on Friday), we feel like he's finishing his check hard, and those ones you feel like you can deal with," Ladd said, adding that Hainsey's penalty for firing the puck over the glass is something that will occasionally happen to just about everybody. "Ronny, he obviously doesn't mean to shoot the puck over the glass.
"But obviously, the other ones we've got to be a little more careful and stay out of the box. Explain them? That's tough to explain, but obviously unacceptable.
"Really, five-on-five hasn't been our problem the last three games. It's been our penalty kill and giving them that many opportunities. You give a good team, with the firepower they have, two five-on-threes and the whole second half of the first period is power plays, they're going to make you pay. Obviously it's something that has to change."
So what will change?
The matter, no matter how much it's talked about, will be the elephant in the room until the Jets have a clean game or four.
But all you can do, they say, is work on the first one, and that's Tuesday at the MTS Centre against Florida.
"Yeah, we played better in the third and obviously it's hard to get excited about how you play when you're down 6-0," Hainsey said. "We had a better third and we need to go back and build off that coming up next week."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 3, 2013 B3