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This article was published 20/11/2019 (703 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
DALLAS — Credit the Winnipeg Jets’ vastly improved penalty-killing unit for the vital role it’s playing as the NHL club stockpiles victories this month.
Winnipeg is 7-1-1 in November and the PK has allowed just three goals in 21 short-handed situations — an 85.7 per cent efficiency rating. That’s akin to the overall number many of the league’s top penalty killers are registering.
Not to be forgotten are the ghastly stats from October, when the team went 6-7-0. The Jets’ befuddled special-teams group was stung for nine goals on 26 opposition power-play chances — 65.4 per cent — which was right near the bottom in the league.
The Jets’ PK proficiency rating is now at 74.5 per cent, 26th in the league, due to the woeful start. They need that number to rise beyond the 80 per cent threshold by mid-season to look somewhat respectable.
But the positive signs are flashing in bright neon.
"We’re a little better on faceoffs, we’re a little stronger on our stand, far more aggressive in a lot of areas, our goaltending save-percentage numbers have come up and then we’ve got some stability in pairs up front and on the back," Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Wednesday.
The Jets (13-8-1) take on the Stars (12-8-2) tonight in a Central Division battle. It’s the fourth and final stop of a road trip that has produced three straight victories.
"Our (PK) number is what it is today because the first 10 or 11 games were really tough. And then the last nine to 10 we’ve been very good. I don’t think we’ll ever get to a real good number because that first block of games is gonna be an anchor on that number all year. But if we can run what we’ve run for the last nine games, then we’re going to actually be a good penalty-killing team," Maurice said.
What’s been the key to the reversal of fortune? Personnel and procedure — and the two go hand in hand, according to Maurice and some of the men responsible for the work.
Things began trending upward around the time Winnipeg picked up Luca Sbisa off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks, along with the return of Nathan Beaulieu, who missed the first 15 games of the season with an undisclosed injury.
That gave Maurice additional options on the blue line, taking some of the workload off Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk and Dmitry Kulikov.
Adam Lowry, who is routinely paired with Andrew Copp up front to kill penalties, said the veteran blue-liners have added some stability to the unit, which, in turn, has bred confidence to be combative on the kill.
"We have some new guys, and you’re seeing now that they’re more comfortable and being a little more aggressive out there. I think now everyone’s on the same page, the forwards are communicating with the (defence) and the (defence) are communicating with the forwards. I think that’s really where we’ve done a good job," Lowry said.
"Sbisa’s had some tremendous blocks of some really big shots, and Beau’s done a great job. He makes the simple reads and he wins so many battles. And if you can win those 50-50 pucks, you force power plays to go back again and break out of their zone and they’re gonna get frustrated. Our goalies (Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit) have been terrific and they’re such a big part of the success of the PK."
Six of the Jets’ victories this month have been by one goal, and the slim margin only magnifies the importance of an effective penalty kill.
"You can change a lot of momentum when you prevent a team from scoring a goal. Going out there in those key situations is something that’s special for any player," Sbisa said. "When you get out there, it’s like, ‘C’mon, boys, let’s shut this thing down’ and you take a lot of pride in that."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).