Troublesome issues threaten Jets’ season

Bench boss Maurice’s guiding hand needed to right ship


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It’s time to explore the issues facing Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/01/2016 (2685 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s time to explore the issues facing Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice.

There are three areas the bench boss needs to attack with vigour — and his ability to get these issues resolved will make or break the Jets’ 2015-16 season.

First, let’s look at Maurice’s domain, the dressing room.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice at practice at the MTS Centre Wednesday.

When he took over from former coach Claude Noel on Jan. 12, 2014, Maurice was asked about rumours the room contained a “clubhouse” atmosphere. He shut that down, saying he was in control of the room and would give it back when the players were ready.

Fast-forward to last season’s club (43-26-13, eliminated in the first round of the playoffs), that he lauded as being the best he had coached when coming out in the first period and being ready every night for a fast start. He said he didn’t know how the players did it, but it happened without any intervention on his part.

This season (21-22-3 prior to Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators), we’ve watched a different Jets team, depending on the night. So what gives?

Looking at the power play (15.5 per cent success rate, 28th in NHL before Thursday’s games), it seems there is a disconnect between what the Jets coaches want and what is happening on the ice.

Why would the coaches keep trotting out almost the same power play night after night since 2011? Granted, Maurice’s time here is just part of that period. Tobias Enstrom is gone from the first unit, replaced by the superb Mathieu Perreault. But Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Dustin Byfuglien are still there — and the results are not good.

While they try a few different setups, the Jets seem to gravitate to Byfuglien at the point, often ending with an ill-timed shot from the blue-line without traffic in the goalie’s sightline. This has not worked, so I have to think the coaches are hoping and waiting for better execution and they believe this is on the players to get it right.

Maybe that explains why there has been no action from general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, such as firing the coach in charge of the power play, as a number of fans have been pleading for.

But what if Maurice is the man in charge of the power play, and not the beleaguered Pascal Vincent?

Maurice had all the cards when he signed his current contract. The fans were clamouring for him, and management wanted him badly. I can’t see how he would have agreed to put his job in jeopardy by agreeing to let someone else run an integral part of the club without him having the final say on everything coach-related — particularly since he didn’t hire the assistant coaches that have been here since 2011.

Either way, it’s difficult to work on the power play during the regular season. Lack of practice time is the biggest factor.

It could be the coaches are reluctant to run out different units because of the unknown results. This could turn out badly when every goal in every game means so much, but something has to give.

If they won’t change the players, maybe they can find a way to use Byfuglien’s big body and good hands and get him in front of the net more often. Otherwise, we sit, and wait, for the execution to improve dramatically.

Penalty killing (77 per cent success rate, 27th in NHL before Thursday’s games) should be easier to improve. Hustle, sacrifice, cohesion and well-placed quick sticks and bodies are things that should be more easily passed on to the players during the busy season. I’m a big fan of the Jets’ high-pressure penalty-killing style when it’s working, but that seems to be used as a part-time scheme.

Pressure in all three zones requires quick-thinking players and using scouting reports. Details are a big thing when you have video available to dissect an opponent. Maybe the Jets don’t have the players to sustain this style, but the old way of giving up a ton of shots hasn’t worked.

The club has taken too many penalties in the recent past. Last season, it was part of its identity as a big, fast, tough team — most of it coach-approved.

But this team hasn’t played the same hard, physical style that was commonplace last campaign. It has played decent five-on-five hockey once again, but with more skill, rather than hard-hitting style.

The lazy penalties that suck the life out of a hockey club are not coach-approved, but what can Maurice really do to get it under control? He has a couple of tools at his disposal to try to correct this behaviour, but less than “back in the day” when punishment would include the coach skating a player until he threw up and then laughing about it.

Maurice can appeal to his players and the Jets leadership group in particular. But as the captains will acknowledge, they can’t stand up and demand something from their teammates if they aren’t doing things right on the ice themselves.

Maurice can also manipulate a player’s ice time in the form of a line demotion, benching or sitting him out for a game or two. There have been a few occasions of this: most notably Ladd’s short demotion for a couple of bad penalties and Adam Lowry’s coincidental move to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL right after taking a bad penalty that cost his NHL team a game.

But it seems Maurice has chosen to not weaken his lineup on most occasions, instead putting it on the players to make it right. There have been signs lately it might be finally sinking in, but there’s a long way to go yet.

Considering the issues he currently faces, if Maurice can lead this team to the playoffs he’ll receive even higher accolades than the ones that deservedly came his way for last season’s performance.

Chosen ninth overall by the NHL’s St. Louis Blues and first overall by the WHA’s Houston Aeros in 1977, Scott Campbell has now been drafted by the Winnipeg Free Press to play a new style of game.

Twitter: @NHL_Campbell

Scott Campbell

Scott Campbell

Scott was a member of Winnipeg Jets 1.0 for a couple of seasons and also played for the WHA Jets team that won the last Avco Cup in 1978-79.

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