Play with fire long enough and you’re going to get burned.

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This article was published 31/1/2015 (2296 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Play with fire long enough and you’re going to get burned.

The Winnipeg Jets — the most penalized team in the NHL — are a three-alarm blaze at the moment.

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice motivates his players during the first period against the Dallas Stars in Winnipeg on Saturday. The team lost to the Dallas Stars.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice motivates his players during the first period against the Dallas Stars in Winnipeg on Saturday. The team lost to the Dallas Stars.

An aggressive Jets team that has managed to win — and win consistently this season — despite being far and away the league leader in penalties, has managed to do so largely on the strength of a pretty good penalty-killing unit.

It’s an unconventional style of winning hockey with a tiny margin of error, played at its best on a razor’s edge. But it has mostly worked for the Jets this season.

Until now, that is. The biggest single problem in a three-game losing streak over the past week is the Jets’ penalty-killing unit has abandoned them even as they continue to take way too many penalties.

And never was the problem so evident as Saturday night at the MTS Centre, where the Jets penalty-killing unit surrendered four goals on eight power-play opportunities in a 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars.

It was one of the uglier efforts Jets fans have seen out of their team this season and snapped what had been a three-game winning streak for the Jets at home.

Even worse, the loss to Dallas represented the third loss in a row for a Jets team still looking for its first win since the all-star break concluded last weekend.

Add the three goals in five power-plays the Jets surrendered earlier last week in losses in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and the Jets have given up seven goals on 13 power-play opportunities in their last three games.

And the big picture isn’t any prettier. A penalty-killing unit that’s been top 10 in the league for most of this season — and top five barely a month ago — was just 16th after Saturday night’s debacle and seemingly headed in only one direction.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Saturday night his team’s biggest problem right now isn’t hard to diagnose.

"That’s the big challenge right now — our penalty-killing unit has struggled," said Maurice.

"Confidence is everything and we’re not moving anywhere near the rate of speed or assuredness in the routes we’re running and things that we’re doing. We’re slow on the kill right now. And that’s a confidence thing."

Jets captain Andrew Ladd pointed out it’s hard to kill penalties when all you’re doing is killing penalties, which wasn’t far from the truth against Dallas.

"We obviously took too many penalties and they have some guys up front who can make you pay," said Ladd. "And that was the difference.

"Second period, I thought we did a pretty good job five-on-five of getting back in the game and competing. And then penalty trouble interrupted the flow of getting everyone involved in the game. And we weren’t killing those off."

Ladd said the challenge for his team moving forward is recapturing the right side of that razor’s edge of aggressive and defensive hockey.

"It’s something we need to get better at," he said. "At times, you try to wind yourself up as much as possible emotionally, trying to finish every check and get involved in the game.

"And sometimes we’ve been taking it too far. We’ve got to get better at walking that line and being more disciplined."

Maurice noted if you subtracted all the penalty trouble Saturday, Winnipeg actually put up some impressive numbers, generating 94 shot attempts.

"That’s got to be close to the season high for us for getting pucks to the net," said Maurice. "Territorially... it was a lot better for us tonight. Except if you’re in the box, you’re going to get beat 5-2. That’s the bottom line."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

 

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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