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Jets will pay for penalties

Sinful ways could cost them a playoff spot

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The law of unintended consequences has the Winnipeg Jets firmly in its grasp.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/12/2014 (2971 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The law of unintended consequences has the Winnipeg Jets firmly in its grasp.

The NHL team set out this season to be a better defensive unit, employing a more aggressive approach that seeks to take away the opposition’s time and space wherever possible.

The tactics have paid off through 31 games, as the Jets have shown dramatic improvement in the goals-against category, rising to be one of the league’s top five defensive clubs today. Since the fourth week of the season when the style began to take hold, that has placed them in or one result from a playoff position in the difficult Western Conference.

John Woods / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES The Anaheim Ducks celebrate a second-period power-play goal off the stick of Jakob Silfverberg (33) Saturday at the MTS Centre. The Ducks also had two five-on-three advantages they failed to convert.

The Jets’ record, 15-10-6 — including a pair of eight-game streaks collecting at least a point each game — plus a number of other preordained hot-button issues such as goaltending, power play, Dustin Byfuglien and/or Evander Kane, have masked one matter that is now more than a one- or two-week anomaly.

The Jets take too many penalties and are playing with a fire that, more probably than not, will sabotage the gains they have made.

How many penalties?

To date, Winnipeg leads the NHL in two unsavoury categories. Its 121 times short-handed this season are the most in the league, as are its 216 minutes six seconds short-handed, that by a wide margin over the next-worst team.

So far, head coach Paul Maurice, the catalyst for the team’s improved defence, has put the penalty issue down as a byproduct of the new, more aggressive style, and contends improvements will come with a refinement and a comfort level with this new identity.

He and his players have, more than once, turned the short-handed time stat into a badge of honour.

Their argument, that it signifies the killing of most penalties, isn’t completely without merit, but it’s now building into a tide that is eventually going to leave a mess.

The ebbs and flows of a season will include stretches of penalties and shaky discipline. For instance, times and time short-handed were issues in Year 1 after relocation but the team, then under coach Claude Noel, got a handle on its behaviour.

But this season, it’s been a steady run of poor numbers.

After 16 games, the Jets were short-handed 61 times. Colorado, Buffalo, Montreal and New Jersey were all higher, but have reduced their infractions.

Winnipeg, on the other hand, has kept right on that pace, now short-handed a league-most 121 times (3.9 per game) and that has the Jets on pace for 320 short-handed situations this season, which would be their worst since the 2011 relocation.

(Not to mention the team has had to endure two suspensions in the last two weeks, to Adam Lowry and Evander Kane.)

Let it be noted that most times, being short-handed is not a complete kiss of death — the Philadelphia Flyers, perennially close to the worst in this category, did make the playoffs in 2011-12 with the league-leading number of 319 times short-handed.

But even the Flyers, who have some history of crossing the line and getting away with it, couldn’t overcome a repeat in 2012-13 (184 times), failing to qualify for the post-season, and the same with last year’s “winner” the Ottawa Senators (320, with the Flyers also out of it and close behind at 316).

Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at the MTS Centre is illustrative of the Jets’ issues here.

That they put themselves short-handed five times in the game wasn’t the sole cause their defeat, but the price of those penalties was high.

Maurice noted giving the Ducks a pair of a five-on-three power plays was no recipe for beating one of the league’s best teams, not to mention that Anaheim did connect for a power-play goal to tie the game early in the second period.

The Jets also had a power-play goal in the game, by Bryan Little, and the team’s power play has been running much better lately.

After a very poor start, it’s 10 for 52 in the last 15 games, a very good 19.2 per cent by NHL standards. It’s unknown if the team can run on that pace over a longer term.

Which makes its recent penalty-killing sag a concern in this bigger picture of penalties.

After an excellent start to the season, at or near the top of NHL penalty-killing rankings and near 90 per cent, Winnipeg’s PK has been successful just 80 per cent of the time (48 of 60) in the last 15 games, dropping it down to eighth in the league.

The early success of penalty-killers muted some of the concern about penalties but that won’t be possible long-term if penalty-killing success continues to wane.

Dramatic improvements may not be necessary when it comes to taking penalties since the difference between the best in this area and the worst (Nashville at 2.6 per game and the Jets at 3.9) is less than one-and-a-half per game.

But it’s worth noting that the Preds have had 14 games this season, nearly half of their games, with two shorthanded situations or fewer, while Winnipeg has reached this level of discipline in just five of its 31 games.

Given the Jets’ overall difficulty with offence in 2014-15, the team’s current penalty pace appears unsustainable.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, December 15, 2014 6:53 AM CST: Replaces photo

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