Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

There's too much killing

Jets have played equivalent of one full game short-handed

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BOSTON -- As the second half of their team's season begins tonight at TD Garden against the Boston Bruins, Winnipeg Jets fans ought to be awfully twitchy about one department.

Penalties.

Through 41 games, Winnipeg has been short-handed 172 times, second-highest total in the NHL, behind only Ottawa.

Worse, when the exact time of that short-handedness is examined, no team has a bigger deficit between power-play time and penalty-killing time than the Jets.

They've been short-handed 61 minutes 42 seconds more than they've had the man advantage so far -- more than an entire game's worth.

The news isn't all bad. After an erratic flaring of tempers and emotions and uncertainty, the Jets have calmed down considerably and are trending in a good way.

After the first 20 games, Winnipeg led the league with 100 times shorthanded, and with an 80 per cent penalty kill, they were deservedly under .500.

But in the next 21 games, the team showed dramatic improvement. They were short-handed only 72 times. That's only 3.42 per game, and down from five, that's a drop of more than 30 per cent.

And bolstering the better discipline is the actual penalty killing itself.

Last season in Atlanta, the team was bottom-four, at 77.5 per cent.

In this season's first 20 games, it was similar at 80 per cent and near the bottom of the NHL.

But in the second quarter, the Jets have cut their power-play goals against in half, from 20 to 10, and bumped their percentage to 86.1 to reach mid-pack in the rankings at No. 14, with 82.6 per cent overall.

"I think it's getting used to one another," centre Jim Slater said of the positive trend. "Glasser (Tanner Glass) and I read well off each other. We've been doing it the whole season now together. We're figuring each other out, knowing who's going to take what.

"That's a big thing. Last year in Atlanta, this wasn't (a good stat) for us. So this is a big improvement for us.

"We've killed off some big penalties this year."

Slater said there's plenty of credit to go around the room.

"To (assistant coach) Charlie Huddy; he puts us through good video sessions," Slater said. "In a lot of cases, we didn't know what to expect from other teams. And we block a lot of shots, too."

The Jets, in fact, are No. 8 in the NHL in shots blocked (317) and defenceman Mark Stuart, individually, is No. 2 with 107 blocked shots.

The man-advantage time deficit, it's worth noting, isn't the be-all stat. The Columbus Blue Jackets are more than 72 minutes on the positive side and they're dead last in the NHL.

It's the risk that's worrisome in this comparison.

"It's something that we're going to need to (fix), definitely," said defenceman Zach Bogosian, a key member of the penalty-killing unit. "It wears on you, game after game. You've just got to make sure you're not taking stupid penalties. There's a time and place for some things but I'd say the hookings and holdings where maybe you're getting a little lazy, we've got to cut those back because they hurt you."

Jets coach Claude Noel said Monday he believes his coaching staff's message six weeks ago about taking penalties is getting through.

"You can't keep going down that road," he said. "We were so poor early that those numbers are keeping us up there (in short-handed situations). Everyone's starting to shrink up and we're doing the same, but we need to keep it up."

He also believes penalty killing has started to become a Jets asset.

"It's way more stable," Noel said. "We know what we're doing there. There's a lot less grey area.

"We expect to be better in the second half although it's tougher on your power play because teams are better."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Practised killers

The Jets have turned their fortunes around on penalty-killing since the season's first quarter:

First 20 games: 80 for 100

Record: 8-9-3

Next 21 games: 62 for 72

Record: 12-7-2

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2012 D3

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