Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Success in circle work in progress

Strength in faceoffs lags, numbers show

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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- They've been expecting some kind of education curve early in their stay in the Western Conference.

Some study hall or extra homework is definitely required when it comes to faceoffs.

In this department, the Jets are getting a failing grade. On Thursday, the Minnesota Wild, the No. 3 team in this department in the NHL, dominated the circle to the tune of 74 per cent.

The Jets, after winning 16 of 61 draws according to statisticians, are now the NHL's worst faceoff team at 37.6 per cent.

That is not a typo.

The handicap was a factor in Thursday's 2-1 loss.

"We got frustrated but we were still in the game," said Jets centre Jim Slater.

"They started with the puck quite a bit tonight. All four of their guys are real solid in the faceoffs. It's a matter of us keeping working at it. The only thing we can do is get better."

Asked if the Jets should practise this element more, Slater said: "We practise it quite a bit. There's only so much you can do on a faceoff. It's a matter of going in there, seeing what the other guy's doing and right now we're not reading the other guys very well."

Jets coach Claude Noel said the team wants to improve in this area but it's not just a matter of wishing.

"We find when we talk to our centres that they're just getting used to figuring out who the opponents are," Noel said. "And we have a young centre in Mark (Scheifele) that's just new to the league, so there's a lot of combination of things there. The other thing is we feel we're not getting enough help from our wingers and we feel we have to do a better job there."

The matter of linemates helping centres has been addressed in practices this week and Noel feels it goes towards overall battle levels.

"It's been a challenge," he said. "This conference looks like it's stronger on faceoffs in the battle areas. That's one of the big differences. It's not just the focus on the centres."

Scheifele had his first above-50-per-cent game on Thursday, six for 10. Scorekeepers had Bryan Little at one win in 20 attempts.

-- -- --

Former Jets forward Kyle Wellwood, 30, has finished his short-term contract with Zug of the Swiss league and a report surfaced Thursday from a Swiss paper that he was going to retire.

But there are conflicting stories circulating, with one suggesting Wellwood was returning to North America to explore NHL options once again.

With Zug, Wellwood scored one goal and three points in nine games.

Wellwood spent two seasons -- signing as a free agent -- with the Jets, scoring 24 goals and 62 points in 16 games. His NHL career, so far, is 489 games since 2003-04.

 

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 11, 2013 C3

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