Penalty killers are killing the Jets

Inefficient crew needs a 'bit more from everyone'

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The Winnipeg Jets have done plenty of things right so far this season. Penalty killing is not one of them.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/11/2021 (442 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Jets have done plenty of things right so far this season. Penalty killing is not one of them.

It truly has become an Achilles’ heel for the 9-4-4 club, which would likely be in even better position if they could just find a way to survive two minutes (or, typically less) with one fewer player on the ice. The latest example came Friday night in Vancouver, when a pair of Canucks power play goals led the home team to a 3-2 victory over the Jets.

Not surprisingly, it was the subject of plenty of on and off-ice focus Sunday as Winnipeg prepared for Monday’s game at Canada Life Centre against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pierre-Luc Dubois might make a good penalty killer. (The Associated Press files)

“Obviously, we’re not happy with it, it’s cost us some games,” Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo said bluntly following practice “I would just say overall consistency with it. If we have a good game, just continue with that. I think guys are trying and working hard. Maybe just some details or getting that clear or getting that stick on the puck, things like that that could help. I think everybody, we need a little bit more from everybody on our kill right now.”

In 17 games, Winnipeg has now given up 17 power play goals on 47 chances, good for just a 63.8 per cent success that is second-last in the NHL.

“It’s definitely something we need to clean up,” admitted forward Andrew Copp. He and Adam Lowry are typically the first pairing over the boards. Fourth-liners Riley Nash and Dominic Toninato have been used as the second pair, and they were on the ice for both Canucks tallies on Friday.

“It’s definitely a work in progress. There has been really good parts and then, they get one kind of half chance and score and there are nights where we maybe give up more chances and then they don’t score,”– Andrew Copp

“It’s definitely a work in progress. There has been really good parts and then, they get one kind of half chance and score and there are nights where we maybe give up more chances and then they don’t score,” said Copp.

“Yeah, there’s definitely some things that we need to improve upon. We’ve gotten better at faceoffs and we’ve done a pretty good job of getting some good clears off that. We’ve gotten better at standing up at the line. Once they do get set up, we’ve got to figure out our pressure points a little bit better and then go from there. Be a hair quicker, a hair more anticipative and then go from there.”

Jets coach Paul Maurice says he’s considering some personnel changes. Paul Stastny had been used in the role until he went down with a foot injury that has cost him the past six games and counting. Captain Blake Wheeler has also been used at times, but his play has noticeably struggled as of late. Maurice is also mindful of the veteran’s minutes, as shown by the fact he didn’t see the ice much in the third period Friday of what was a back-to-back. It was also telling that, with goalie Eric Comrie pulled for an extra attacker late in the game, Wheeler wasn’t one of the six skaters on the ice.

“When you look at the overall stat you’re going ‘you have to fix it all,’” said Maurice. “We gave up 10 in our first five games, which is an incredible number.

We’re probably never digging out of that number to have a good one this year. We gave up three 5-on-4 in our next 11 games, which is a darn good PK. Then we gave up two the other night on ones we don’t like. It’s certainly an area we want to get a little better at.”

Perhaps players such as Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois or even Nikolaj Ehlers are worth a look at this point?

“At the end of the day some of this has to be roles. You can use different people, but then you’re going to put more ice time on guys. I like the numbers we have on our top three lines right now. I don’t want those guys playing less even strength because we might have a penalty coming up,” said Maurice.

“Then you’re not running players as much as they should play. They deserve to play. I like all three of those lines over 16, 17 minutes. I have more faith in it than the numbers say I should. I’ll look at the bigger block of 11 games where it was very effective and helped us win games as a more true statement of where we’re at. We started slow last year, 10 goals in five games then I think we gave up five in our next 10 and one was 4-on-3 and one was 5-on-3. I’m not as panicked about it as the numbers would suggest I should be.”

Another option would be to look beyond the current roster for help. The Manitoba Moose have one of the top penalty killing units in the American Hockey League, led by 21-year-old David Gustafsson. The big Swedish centre was pencilled in by many to make Winnipeg’s lineup this year, but he was essentially beaten out for that job by the veteran Nash. Could a call-up be just around the corner? Gustafsson also happens to be the top scorer on the Moose, with five goals and eight assists in 16 games so far this season.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the Jets are one of the least-penalized teams in the NHL.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the Jets are one of the least-penalized teams in the NHL.

“I think guys are playing real smart and playing disciplined like that. The best penalty kill is not taking any penalties, so that’s good that we can do that,” said DeMelo.

 

Perhaps they can get pointed in the right direction against Pittsburgh, which comes to town with a NHL-worst power play at just 11.5 per cent. But captain Sidney Crosby has only appeared in five of his team’s 17 games due to both a wrist injury and a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. He’s now back, and the Penguins are running hot, having won the first two games of this three-game Canadian road trip by scores of 6-0 (over Montreal) and 2-0 (over Toronto).

“We have to be confident in our reads and our pressure and kind of believing in what we’ve got to do, all four guys need to pull the same way,” said DeMelo. “Just continue to work on it, not get frustrated and just keep staying with it. As much as it sucks being where we are, we’re not panicking in our room and guys are real positive and confident that we can turn it around.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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