Jets’ revamped PK shows massive improvement

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When the curtain finally closes on the 2015-16 season for the Winnipeg Jets, there will be a long list of things in need of improvement.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/03/2016 (2436 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When the curtain finally closes on the 2015-16 season for the Winnipeg Jets, there will be a long list of things in need of improvement.

Certainly, an improvement on the penalty kill will be one of the items under the microscope.

That particular road to recovery may be well on its way, as the Jets, now mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, have started to see a vast improvement in this department over the last stretch of games.

Under a new system, the Jets are 34-for-39, allowing five power-play goals against in their last 15 games heading into Monday’s tilt with the Philadelphia Flyers — a success rate of 87 per cent, more than 10 per cent better than their season average of 78.5.

In the sixth episode of The Whiteboard with J.P. Vigier, I dissect the Jets’ penalty kill and discuss three particular areas around their recent success.

D-zone pressure

The first thing I’ve noticed is the Jets have been more selective when attacking in the defensive zone.

Earlier in the season, the Jets played more passively in their own zone. Now, they’re quicker on the puck, particularly when they see an opponent facing away from the play. Once they see a player’s back, they’re quick to pounce.

The Jets are also doing a better job collapsing in the defensive zone. This means when one player pressures the opponent, everyone then collapses on the puck, making the area of attack smaller and leaving less space for the opposition to set up or make a play. Often, it’s three guys pressuring on the puck, with a defender holding back as the last line of defence.

Between the blue-lines

The Jets’ 10 short-handed goals are tied for second in the NHL with the Dallas Stars. It’s no coincidence none of those have come in the last 15 games.

That’s because the Jets have been less aggressive inside their opponent’s blue-line and more protective of their own.

The key for the penalty kill: don’t give one up and don’t give up momentum.

By choosing to be more aggressive at their own blue-line, the Jets are able to force the opposition to dump the puck in, negating nice, clean entries into their zone. Once the puck is dumped in, the Jets have been in a good position to retrieve the puck first, creating a chance to clear it down the ice, not allowing the opponent to set up.

John Woods / The Canadian Press files Chris Thorburn’s game-winner against Arizona in November was one of the Jets’ 10 short-handed goals this season. Recently, the club has taken a more defensive approach to the PK.

Personnel

Finally, the Jets are using different players to kill penalties. Often it was Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler, all top-line players, first out of the gate on the penalty kill.

When top-line guys, players who are also logging the most ice time on the power play, as well as on five-on-five, are used on the PK, it can be difficult for them to stay fresh in a game.

Now, we’re seeing a different group: Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, Chris Thorburn and Alex Burmistrov being used to kill penalties, guys who don’t play as many minutes as the top lines.

This allows for two things 1) the players feel like part of the team because they’re killing penalties, which is an important part of the dynamic of the team and 2) they get more ice time, taking away some of the more taxing minutes from the top-end talent expected to produce offensively.

Over the last 15 games this group has really grown into the new system under coach Paul Maurice. Hopefully, that’s a great springboard into next year because if you can improve your penalty kill by one or two goals every now and then, that could be a difference of eight to 10 points at the end of the year — and maybe even the difference between making the playoffs or not.

 

J.P. Vigier, who grew up in Notre Dame de Lourdes, is a former NHL winger (Atlanta Thrashers, 2000-07) who finished his career in the Swiss league. He does Jets analysis for both TSN 1290 and Radio Canada and teaches power skating and skill development for kids of all ages (jeanvigier11@gmail.com).

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