June 20, 2019

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Jets running out of gas on power play

Blake Wheeler has yet to score on the power play but has 19 assists. (Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press)</p>

Blake Wheeler has yet to score on the power play but has 19 assists. (Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press)

If you want to understand just how prolific the Winnipeg Jets' power play has been at times this season, look no further than the unit's current slump.

Winnipeg has scored just twice in their last 18 man-advantage situations, including Bryan Little's man-advantage goal in the final seconds of Sunday’s 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars. Despite the recent drought, the Jets remain the second-best team in the National Hockey League on the power play, boasting a success rate of 28 per cent that is behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning (30.1 per cent).

The power play wouldn’t be such a glaring issue if the Jets were making up for it at even strength. But that, too, has declined over the last few weeks, even it was a promising sign that the Jets put up five goals against the Stars. In their last eight games, the Jets have scored one goal or fewer in five of them. By no coincidence, Winnipeg is 4-4 over that stretch.

“The power play is a cure-all when your five-on-five game isn’t going. It’s funny, we were scoring in bunches on the power play to start the season and our five-on-five game we weren’t scoring as much,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said after Monday’s practice. “It’s one of those things that the minute you start doing things outside what we’re good at, that’s when you get into problems. We’re committed to it, sticking with it, doing all the same things.”

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If you want to understand just how prolific the Winnipeg Jets' power play has been at times this season, look no further than the unit's current slump.

Winnipeg has scored just twice in their last 18 man-advantage situations, including Bryan Little's man-advantage goal in the final seconds of Sunday’s 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars. Despite the recent drought, the Jets remain the second-best team in the National Hockey League on the power play, boasting a success rate of 28 per cent that is behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning (30.1 per cent).

The power play wouldn’t be such a glaring issue if the Jets were making up for it at even strength. But that, too, has declined over the last few weeks, even it was a promising sign that the Jets put up five goals against the Stars. In their last eight games, the Jets have scored one goal or fewer in five of them. By no coincidence, Winnipeg is 4-4 over that stretch.

"The power play is a cure-all when your five-on-five game isn’t going. It’s funny, we were scoring in bunches on the power play to start the season and our five-on-five game we weren’t scoring as much," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said after Monday’s practice. "It’s one of those things that the minute you start doing things outside what we’re good at, that’s when you get into problems. We’re committed to it, sticking with it, doing all the same things."

Head coach Paul Maurice said there are a number of reasons for the dip in power-play production. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that sometimes teams just find themselves in a slump, something even the most prolific units are subject to.

To see just how quickly the switch can flip, consider this: over a six-game stretch in December, the Jets were 9-for-19 on the power play — an eye-popping 47 per cent. Maurice said there are two frames of mind on the power play: one when you’re doing well and one when you’re not.

"We're modelled very closely to Washington, and they've had long stretches of dominance. They've had a real good power play and they've had stretches where the puck didn't go in the net," said Maurice.

"You get focused on what works for a while. Yeah, it's got a lot of options, but you have the tendency then to really focus on one option and you kind of run it while it's hot. Then it closes off, and as soon as that gets closed off something else will open. When you're good, you find that option in that game. You make that adjustment just naturally, and then when you're a little slow on it you probably stick, trying to force an option a little more."

Patrik Laine has scored 11 power play goals this year and is the triggerman for the one-timer. (Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press files)</p>

Patrik Laine has scored 11 power play goals this year and is the triggerman for the one-timer. (Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press files)

But there are also some other factors at play.

Winnipeg has two strong power-play units, but they tend to ride their No. 1 group more often for no better reason than because of how strong it’s been over the past two seasons.

The first group, which consists of Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and Josh Morrissey, accounts for 26 of the Jets’ 35 power-play goals this season, nearly 75 per cent. The unit mostly runs through Wheeler on the right half-wall, who then dishes to one of four options: Connor down low, Morrissey up high, Scheifele in the slot or Laine, the triggerman for the one-timer on the opposite side of the ice.

With the success the Jets have had on the power play this season, teams have started to adjust, said Maurice, limiting the number of high-scoring chances by eliminating Winnipeg’s best weapons. To do so, opposing penalty killers have started to either attack Wheeler quicker or leave him an open lane to shoot.

Wheeler has yet to score on the power play, though he does have 19 assists. Laine (11 goals), Scheifele (7) and Connor (6), on the other hand, have been more prominent around the net, even if it is often Wheeler the one passing them the puck.

"It depends on the team, if they’re pressuring us a lot and if they do, all we have to do is move it quick, easy passes and we’ll open something up," Laine said. "There’s always going to be an option. If they’re taking away all the passing lanes then Wheels is going to have room to shoot it and he can also score from that distance. After he takes a couple shots, then somebody else is going to be open, so just try to take what they give us."

"You talk about trying to take those options away and Patty had one on the dot, back-door seam last night. So it’s there, it’s right there," said Wheeler. "It’s just the pass was a little bit in front of him, didn’t connect on it quite as good as we want to but it’s right there."

Maurice also noted the fewer number of penalties the Jets have drawn in recent weeks, which has resulted in fewer power-play opportunities. While it’s certainly true that teams draw penalties through hard work, particularly in the offensive zone, refs tend to even out calls for both teams. In the last four games, the Jets have been on the penalty kill just seven times.

"That changes the way the game is called. So we’re not taking a lot of penalties and we’re getting low-number games. Part of our power play, it’s one-for-three (against Dallas), so you’re pretty pleased," said Maurice. "But we’re on a bit of a run where it’s gone a little dry. We haven’t had a lot of reps and in that stretch of time we’re also not practising a whole lot because the schedule is pretty heavy. So I think that’s affected our power play a little bit."

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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