April 21, 2019

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Opinion

Byfuglien a key power-play ingredient, but Jets find ways to cope while he's out

If one thing about the Winnipeg Jets has stayed consistent from last season it has been that their power play is one of the most dangerous in the league.

A lot of the focus is usually on the three-headed beast that is Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine. It makes sense to focus on that trio: Wheeler is one of the best playmakers in the NHL with the man advantage; Scheifele is, arguably, the most talented player to play in the bumper spot in the slot on any power play; and Laine is one of the most dangerous shooters in the NHL from the faceoff circle.

Most of the scoring chances created on the Jets’ power play, especially on the top unit, will find its way through those players.

However, one player who has an enormous impact on the power play who doesn’t get as much love is the currently injured Dustin Byfuglien.

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If one thing about the Winnipeg Jets has stayed consistent from last season it has been that their power play is one of the most dangerous in the league.

A lot of the focus is usually on the three-headed beast that is Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine. It makes sense to focus on that trio: Wheeler is one of the best playmakers in the NHL with the man advantage; Scheifele is, arguably, the most talented player to play in the bumper spot in the slot on any power play; and Laine is one of the most dangerous shooters in the NHL from the faceoff circle.

Most of the scoring chances created on the Jets’ power play, especially on the top unit, will find its way through those players.

However, one player who has an enormous impact on the power play who doesn’t get as much love is the currently injured Dustin Byfuglien.

 

 

 

Byfuglien’s presence gives the power play more fuel, producing scoring chances at a 28 per cent higher rate than when he’s off the ice, and passes to the slot increase by nearly 46 per cent.

The difference Byfuglien makes isn’t just in making passes or taking shots, but his skill in managing the blue line and drawing checkers out of position. He is a daring one-on-one attacker, third on the Jets in attempting dekes on the power play and succeeding on 75 per cent of them, which allows him to beat checks and pinch lower into the zone with the puck to either shoot or make a play after breaking the opposing defensive scheme.

While being a risk-taker with the puck, and not generally acknowledged as the most agile player, Byfuglien excels at holding the blue line against clearing attempts more than any other Jet, stopping more clearing attempts overall than anyone else, and is second only to Jacob Trouba in the percentage of clearing attempts that he’s able to stop at 85.7 per cent.

Byfuglien’s presence creates better, more high-quality chances and increases the frequency of those chances because he keeps plays alive at the line, cutting the time spent outside the offensive zone.

Now, here’s the weird part: Since Byfuglien was hurt way back on Feb. 14, the Jets’ power play has been humming along at a 27.5 per cent conversion rate, which is slightly better than the 25 per cent rate they carried into this stretch of the season. So have other players stepped up in his absence?

Since Byfuglien went down to injury, the Jets have started to shoot more on the power play, and from closer to the net, going from 4.1 high-danger scoring chances per 20 minutes of ice time as a team to 4.7, while they’ve lost a full pass to the slot per 20 minutes, going from 14.5 to 13.5.

So the power play is a little bit more aggressive with shooting, but also a little bit more static. The question that has to be asked is whether the Jets and their coaching staff have brilliantly managed the loss of a key player on the man advantage, or if this version of the power play is a bit of a glass cannon they hope holds up until No. 33 is healthy enough to return to the lineup.

The answer to that likely depends on who is taking those extra shots.

 

 

 

Overall, I like what I’m seeing here from the forwards. Kyle Connor has been more aggressive at the net front, getting more high-danger chances than before by a significant margin, with Scheifele getting more shots from the middle of the slot and roughly the same number of high-danger chances.

Laine is pinching into the inner-slot less often, but getting more scoring chances overall, so that whole top unit of shooters is doing exactly what you want it to do.

The rest of the forwards are more of a mixed bag, with Little’s shooting falling off slightly, but for the most part they’re doing what you want to see.

Because Wheeler is primarily a playmaker looking to make a pass, his shooting numbers take a back seat. However, of the chances he's been getting of late, a greater number are from closer range than earlier in the season, which has increased their danger level.

Mathieu Perreault excels at digging for pucks near the net on the second unit, and he’s getting more shots from the most dangerous area.

Nikolaj Ehlers — in a small sample — is getting more scoring chances as well, but like Laine, he’s not pinching too deep, which makes sense since he’s more of a high-slot shooter anyway.

Losing Byfuglien seems to have forced the Jets to become more efficient shooters, and while they’ve lost some of the playmaking element that made their power play special, the lessons learned in his absence might be to their benefit when he’s back in the lineup and the passing game ratchets back up.

Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

 

 

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

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