Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/3/2017 (1730 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Winnipeg Jets are navigating their way through some tough days. Mired in consecutive losses and injuries to their back end, the Jets’ chances of making the playoffs have fallen into serious jeopardy (various sites have Winnipeg’s odds of a clinching a playoff berth at fewer than five per cent).
There are a number of directions one could look when appointing blame to why the Jets are once again destined to miss out on spring hockey; a young lineup, holes in the defensive game and below-average goaltending seem to be the most popular explanations.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice and many of his players have admitted improvement is needed in these areas, at least when it comes to the defensive side of the puck. Neither, however, has shown much concern with the offensive side of the game.
Indeed, it’s a part of the Jets’ makeup that is hard to criticize. Winnipeg is averaging close to three goals a game, which puts it among the best teams in the NHL on the attack. They also have four players in the top 30 in league scoring, including a dangerous duo in emerging stars Mark Scheifele and rookie Patrik Laine.
Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers, the other Jets in the scoring race, have proven at times to be just as dangerous around the net. When you include defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, with his unique blend of size and skill, it can be argued the Jets are on par with any team in the league when it comes to offensive gifts.
Why is it, then, that a team with the scoring threats of the Jets has such difficulty finding consistency on the power play?
"I think finishing could be better — and then the power plays we get at key times in games, we have to bear down a little bit more," said Jets forward Mathieu Perreault, another player who has found his scoring touch in recent weeks. "It seems like we’ve had some opportunities during key times in games where we could get ahead or we need a big goal and it just hasn’t really happened for us."
It hasn’t all been bad for the Jets on the power play, at least when you compare what’s happening now to the beginning of the year when the Jets were near or at the bottom of the league. By Thursday afternoon, the Jets ranked 22nd in the NHL on the man advantage with a success rate of 17.2 per cent.
"And it will get better and evolve," Maurice said. "Overall, we think we can go faster, we can move quicker, we can get more pucks to the net and finish more. It’s areas we work on every day, do video on every day. We certainly want to improve it but (our power play is) pretty solid."
Like most things for the Jets this season, success on the power play has come in spurts. During a recent five-game stretch that began in late February against the Toronto Maple Leafs and extended through the first four games of a current six-game homestand, the Jets recorded a power-play goal in four of those games.
Far more often, however, it’s looked the way it did in Wednesday’s 7-4 loss at home to the Pittsburgh Penguins, with the Jets going 0-for-5 on the PP. By comparison, the Penguins finished 3-for-5, including goals on back-to-back power plays in the second period — a sequence that sparked three goals in a span of 57 seconds, completely shifting momentum to Pittsburgh.
Not only did the Penguins, who have the NHL’s second best PP, provide a clinic for how to properly execute, they also provided some insight into what may be ailing the Jets.
Although it’s important to exercise caution when comparing a team such as Winnipeg to the powerhouse that is Pittsburgh, there are some takeaways from the Penguins’ approach. Many will look at their personnel on the power play and simply suggest that having the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang in the same lineup as the sole reason for their success.
"They’re no different than any other power-play group in the league. We go through times where they’re locked in and they’re feeling it and their confidence is at an all-time high and they’re instinctive," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "When we go through times when we struggle, we talk to the group about simplifying the game and trying to establish a shot, making sure we get people in front — all the things that I think most coaching staffs are preaching to their respective power plays around the league."
It’s hard to argue against having the kind of elite talent Pittsburgh has. But even without Letang and Hornqvist in the lineup Wednesday, the Penguins were able to click at 60 per cent. Furthermore, it was Pittsburgh’s second power-play unit that connected for two of those goals.
Like the Jets, the Penguins have had to mix and match through injuries. The results just have been better.
"If you want to be consistent you have to be able to interchange guys and I think that’s just a credit to everyone being prepared to play any position, even when the expectation is high," Crosby said. "It’s always a struggle. I think you’re constantly trying to find consistency on it."
"There’s been times where we’ve gone stretches where it’s probably not helped us in certain games and let us down but there’s also been games where it’s been a difference-maker and that’s just the way special teams are," the Penguins captain added.
Maurice is confident his team is headed in the same direction — that with the talent the Jets have, it’s only a matter of time before things start to click. He also understands what Pittsburgh has been able to achieve doesn’t happen overnight.
"Where it gets really good is when their anticipation is better than the penalty killer’s anticipation," Maurice said. "They’ve seen it enough times and they’ve worked together enough that they anticipate where the puck’s going so they get that half step, that half lane. But I’d still come back to the fact it starts with having really skilled guys."
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.