Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets return home from road trip with a few knocks in the engine; perhaps a little maintenance is all that's needed

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Funny thing about pit stops, like the one the Winnipeg Jets have pulled in for following their quick tour of their new Central Division neighbourhood:

Sometimes when the ol' jalopy checks in and gets a quick once over from the pit crew all it takes is a little tinkering here and there to get the car purring for the next few laps. And on other occasions when the hood is popped open, some serious uh-ohs are discovered.

So which is it for the Jets, now 5-7-2 after a 1-2-1 road trip?

Good question.

Here's one man's take on what we just saw and what lies ahead when the Jets get their car back into the race on Saturday afternoon at home against the Chicago Blackhawks...

3 areas of concern

1. THE POWER-PLAY

Nobody in the Jets' dressing room Tuesday night in St. Louis was doing cartwheels because Blake Wheeler ended an 0-for-26 slump by batting home a rebound past Jaroslav Halak during a two-man advantage. Here's why: yes, the drought ended, but the Jets also had three more opportunities after that and whiffed on each of them in a one-goal game.

The Jets experimented with Devin Setoguchi back on the point for some stretches of the PP -- a first for him since junior -- and undoubtedly will tinker with some other looks until this thing starts clicking more efficiently. Heading into Wednesday night's action the Jets had a power-play percentage of 11.1, tied with Buffalo for 26th overall. That just ain't good enough.

And, just FYI, an alarming number that provides some evidence as to what is wrong with the man advantage: Winnipeg won just two of seven face-offs (29 per cent) on the power-play against the Blues. One of the key components of a good PP is possession and you don't need to be Scotty Bowman to understand that losing 70 per cent of the draws is a nightmarish way to start the man advantage.

 

2. THE FACE-OFF CIRCLE

This is an aching-tooth-type problem that is causing some serious headaches. It's not just losing draws on the power-play, it's losing them in all situations all over the ice. The Jets' best face-off man, Jim Slater, has missed six games and the club misses his efficiency on the dot. Winnipeg ranks 29th overall in this department, having won only 44.1 per cent of their draws.

 

3. OFFENSIVE HELP

The Jets have 34 goals through 14 games but a good chunk of that offence -- 21 goals or 61.7 per cent -- has come from just four players: Bryan Little leads with seven, Evander Kane has six, Blake Wheeler five and Andrew Ladd three. As Setoguchi said after the crushing loss to the Blues, the Jets can't keep relying on the same three-four guys to score every night.

The four new forward additions this offseason -- Setoguchi, Michael Frolik, Mark Scheifele and Matt Halischuk -- have combined for five goals, all of them coming in the first two games. Setoguchi is goal-less in 11 games, Scheifele and Frolik in 13 while Halischuk is still searching for his first. Same goes for Dustin Byfuglien and foot soldiers Eric Tangradi and James Wright.

 

2 areas trending up

1. THE PENALTY KILL

OK, so these guys were on the ice in the final minute when Alex Steen potted the winner after an ill-advised penalty by Toby Enstrom in the neutral zone. But they did limit the Blues, with the top-ranked power-play, to just the one goal on six chances.

Winnipeg has the 10th-ranked penalty kill unit in the league with an 83 per cent kill rate. If the power-play could even become mildly efficient -- say, middle of the pack -- the Jets' special teams could be difference makers.

2. TWO SCORERS EL FUEGO

Jets' fans have seen this movie before with Blake Wheeler -- he went the first nine games with just one goal and his trademark bursts wide past defencemen and to the net were rare. But the speedy right winger now has four goals in his last five games and got his game going again.

And for all those who find flaws in Bryan Little's game, it could be said he has been their most consistent player this season. The 25-year-old centre notched his seventh goal against the Blues -- matching last year's total -- has scored on the power-play and now has two shorthanded markers, tied for the NHL lead.

 

5 questions without answers

1. Is Zach Bogosian playing injured?

He's a tough-as-nails, minutes-eating rearguard with offensive upside but those skills haven't popped off the page through the first 14 games.

 

2. If Adam Lowry hadn't been banged up in the Jets' training camp, would he be with the big club now?

Sure, management is all about not rushing their prospects. But it's a big man's game in the Central Division and this squad must be tempted by his size and skill.

 

3. Should Al Montoya get more than just spot starts?

His numbers -- a 1-1 record, 1.52 goals-against average and .950 save percentage -- certainly say so. Ondrej Pavelec can serve up some highlight-of-the-night stops, but Montoya, based on the small sample size, is worthy of a longer look.

 

4. Does Mark Scheifele need a stint in the AHL?

Before you scream out 'Yes!' consider this: who replaces him at the No. 2/3 centre hole? And, for a kid who still seems to be finding his way in the NHL and battling confidence issues, does a stint on the farm help or hinder that? Discuss among yourselves. There will be a test.

 

5. Did Jacob Trouba not get his get-well soon card?

Interesting, isn't it, how much the Jets seem to miss the work of a 19-year-old rookie defenceman. He had been a 20-minutes plus, all-situations D-man when he slammed into the end boards against St. Louis earlier in the month and the Jets miss his shot on the second power-play unit, his poise on the penalty kill and the nasty element of his game that was just starting to emerge when he was injured.

 

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...

  • A number that should bother the heck out of the Jets and have management wondering if some element is missing from their roster: they are just 3-4-2 in one-goal games.
  • Further to this, an observation from a respected hockey man I was talking to in St. Louis the other night: too often the Jets look like they are playing the third period to grab a point, not the win. Teams like St. Louis and Chicago expect to win, not hope to win.
  • Wonder why so many across the NHL love playing in Winnipeg? The recent stops in Nashville, Dallas, Denver and St. Louis -- all decent hockey towns -- were played in front of a ton of empty seats. Granted, the Broncos were in action on Sunday when the Jets played the Avs and St. Louis is gripped by World Series fever this week. But the hockey crowds don't have the same zeal to lift up a team, whether it's the Jets or the visitors, the way an MTS Centre throng does.
  • First impression of Patrick Roy this season -- that image of a crazed coach banging on the glass in the opener against Anaheim -- left a negative reaction to many. But if you listen to the man speak about his plans for the Avs, and see the buy-in from his young squad, it's hard not to be impressed.
  • And, finally, in the spirit of Halloween, consider this absolutely frightening stretch of games for the Jets in their next six: two each against Chicago and Detroit, one with San Jose and another with Nashville. Those clubs were a combined 30-12-7 heading into Wednesday's action. Scary.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 31, 2013 D3

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