Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Make hay with the power play

Jets scrambling to take advantage of the extra man

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The Winnipeg Jets have had meetings about it. Video sessions, too. And head coach Claude Noel has no doubt worn out countless markers and white boards while scribbling lines and arrows in an attempt to educate the troops.

But somewhere, somehow, the Winnipeg Jets have forgotten the basic meaning of the terms 'power play' and 'man advantage.' It was never more evident than in Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders, after which captain Andrew Ladd called the unit's inability to score on three chances -- two of them in the third period with the team trailing by a goal -- 'embarrassing.'

Yeah, that just about perfectly fits. And Jets' fans who watched the team's top talent handle the puck as if it was radioactive would suggest a few other adjectives here as well -- none of them suitable for a family newspaper.

And so it was that on Wednesday morning during practice, Noel -- perhaps in an attempt to hammer home a message -- tossed out the Jets' checking line of Tanner Glass-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn for a stint on the power play. Said Thorburn: "We weren't too smooth, but we had our chance. Whether or not we get used -- I would say probably not -- we're ready."

Just for the record, between the three of them the 'GST' line has four CAREER power-play goals in 1,078 NHL games.

Noel's point here was hardly subtle.

"I don't know if we're good enough on the power play to exclude anybody right now," said the Jets boss. "I just think that people have to be aware that it's a privilege to play on the power play and if it's not going then let's see what else can get going, so whether it's a certain line or certain individuals we just wanted to see certain players and how they respond to pressure and their reads."

Most of those responses/reads have been awful of late as the Jets have scored just two power-play goals in their last 10 games. That inability is even more critical for a team so offensively challenged and with so little room for error every night. In fact, it could be said the Jets' slow fade out of the Southeast Division playoff picture -- they do remain four points back of eighth-place Toronto in the Eastern Conference -- can be directly attributed to the puny numbers on the power play.

"Once you go a certain amount of games or power plays without getting a goal it starts to creep up on you," explained centre Bryan Little. "It starts to get in your head a bit and you try and do things that you normally wouldn't. I think that's what we're doing. We're not shooting the puck and we're not dumping it in and battling to get it back. It was pretty obvious (Tuesday) night that it needed some work."

Added Ladd: "I don't think there's any secrets. It's execution, it's winning battles, it's the little things. It's up to the guys that are up to the special teams to make sure it happens. There's no excuse for it and it needs to happen."

What has Ladd, Little, Noel & Co. so vexed now is this: Earlier in the season when the power-play unit struggled it was still able to gain the zone, win puck battles and generate chances. But lately, opposition penalty-kill units have aggressively attacked the Jets' power-play unit rather than simply drop back into a box in front of the net. And it's worked.

The Jets hope to counter now with a common approach, one that Noel has stressed over and over and over again lately.

"My experience tells me when you deal with the power play, less is more. Simple is better," he said. "And if we think it's because we need this or we need that or we have to move pucks here and move there and tic-tac-toe... I think that's the wrong attitude. That's what we're dealing with now.

"To me, you have to create more by doing less. In other words, when there are shots, that's what we need to look for. When there's an open lane to the net, that's where it's going. We need to know collectively that that's where it's going and the play comes after the shot. It's that simple. Simplify it. All the power plays that have ever struggled, with most coaches they all go back to the same thing: simple is better. Battle it, put it at the net... 'Boom!' "

The Jets' power-play formula, then, is just this simple: More boom equals less doom and gloom.

Theory is one thing, however. Execution is quite another.

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

SPECIAL TEAMS GONE BAD

 

The totals: The Jets are ranked 20th overall in power-play percentage at 16.8 percentage.

By comparison: Vancouver has the NHL's top-rated PP (heading into Wednesday's action) at 22.2 percentage.

Worth noting: the Canucks have had 29 more power-play opportunities than the Jets. Only four NHL teams -- Dallas, Islanders, Colorado and Phoenix -- have had fewer power plays than the Jets.

The nosedive: Over the last 17 games, the Jets have converted on just five of 45 PP chances, a clip of 11.1 percentage.

More on the nosedive: The Jets have just two power-play goals in their last 10 games and both came in the win over Washington last week and under extraordinary circumstances. The first came courtesy Evander Kane, with the Caps having two men in the box and with the Jets' net empty to give Winnipeg a 6-on-3 advantage. The second came on Dustin Byfuflien's crazy shot from centre ice.

The PP nosedive, game-by-game:

 

Feb. 14 vs. New York Islanders -- 0 for 3

Feb. 11 @ Pittsburgh -- 0 for 1

Feb. 9 @ Washington -- 2 for 3; scorers: Kane, Byfuglien

Feb. 7 vs. Toronto -- 0 for 2

Feb. 5 @ Montreal -- 0 for 5

Feb. 3 @ Florida -- 0 for 1

Feb. 2 @ Tampa Bay -- 0 for 2

Jan. 31 @ Philadelphia -- 0 for 3

Jan. 24 @ New York Rangers -- 0 for 2

Jan. 23 @ Carolina -- 0 for 2

Jan. 21 vs. Florida -- 1 for 5; scorer: Antropov

Jan. 19 vs. Buffalo -- 2 for 4; scorers: Enstrom; Stapleton

Jan. 17 @ New Jersey -- 0 for 1

Jan. 16 @ Ottawa -- 0 for 3

Jan. 14 vs. New Jersey -- 0 for 2

Jan. 12 vs. San Jose -- 0 for 2

Jan. 10 @ Boston -- 0 for 4

--Tait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2012 C3

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