Jets’ New-Look Power Play Units Show Well in Debut

Over the course of his long career, Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice has never been afraid to bring out his line blender.

He did just that prior to Friday’s matchup against the Vancouver Canucks, mixing up his power-play personnel in an attempt to create the perfect melange. The bench boss’s pureeing paid off, as both units were key to the Jets’ 4-1 victory.

Meet the New-Look Units

With his traditional power play units struggling to find traction so far with just eight goals in their first 16 games, Maurice shook up his units in a big way. He split up Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, moving the latter to a unit with Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Andrew Copp, and Josh Morrissey.

Winnipeg Jets Kyle Connor Mark Scheifele
Maurice kept Scheifele and Connor together, but moved Wheeler — who has traditionally played with them on the top PP unit — to his own unit as a centre. Both Scheifele and Wheeler scored in the game at even strength. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) (James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports)

Wheeler, meanwhile, who played his first game as the second-line centre in the wake of Bryan Little’s injury, skated with Jack Roslovic, Patrik Laine, Mathieu Perreault, and Neal Pionk.

With a wealth of weapons on both lines, it’s tough to say which one was the “top” unit, and even tougher since both got about equal time. That’s a departure from the norm — the traditional Connor/Scheifele/Wheeler trio has generally commanded at least three-quarters of any given man advantage over the past two seasons.

Winnipeg Jets Scheifele Wheeler Connor
Neither line commanded the lion’s share of the power play time like the Wheeler/Scheifele/Connor trio has over the past two seasons. (James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports)

Scheifele’s Squad Got First Crack

It took until the second period for the Jets to get a power play, but when they did, the newly-designed lines made a great first impression.

With Bo Horvat in the box for tripping, Scheifele’s unit hemmed the Canucks into their own end for the entire two-minute minor, generating four shots and plenty of pressure. Only a beauty pad save by Thatcher Demko on Ehlers kept the Canucks up by a goal.

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

16 seconds after Horvat’s penalty expired, an exhausted Jay Beagle was sent to the sin bin for holding Laine, and the other unit got a chance of their own. They made good on it.

Halfway into the second opportunity, Wheeler entered the zone with speed — both units were noticeably speedier than the traditional units that have fallen flat and looked static this season. Roslovic picked up the loose puck, dangled his way to the front of the net, and potted his own rebound after Demko stopped his first shot.

The Canucks didn’t have a clear idea of how to handle the revamped power-play units or what looks they would try and execute. The element of surprise has been something sorely lacking from the Jets’ PP — the team’s old lines have become utterly predictable and opposing teams this season have by-in-large shut down the schemes that worked so well a season ago.

The back-to-back strong efforts gave the Jets some mojo as they outshot the Canucks 19-9 in the middle frame and scored four unanswered goals.

Maurice, Wheeler Happy with Early Results

When asked after the game to assess the power play performance, Maurice said “it was real fast, and two different looks. But everyone in a spot they’re comfortable with… It wasn’t a huge adjustment in terms of what these guys have been running. We didn’t put a bunch of guys in new positions.”

“We tried to find a way to get all of them back to their best position… it was fast, they moved it right, it was good.”

Maurice went on to note both units were strong during the morning skate and some friendly competition emerged between them.

Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice
Paul Maurice was happy with the way his new units performed in their debut. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

“This morning in the pregame, we were snapping it around pretty good,” Wheeler confirmed. “That was good to see the guys go out there first and hem them in — they could have easily had one — draw one right after, and get rewarded. So that was definitely a big point in the game.”

The captain’s assist on Roslovic’s goal was his first helper in 11 games and his first power-play point of a very trying season so far.

Getting more consistent results from a power play that was fifth in the league and operated at a 24.8 percent clip last season will be key for the Jets in evening out their wildly inconsistent play.

Related: Jets’ First 15 Games: Exciting, Infuriating, and Unpredictable

The early results are certainly encouraging. Maurice said Saturday he’d trot out the same lines — no doubt hoping for an encore performance — in the Jets’ contest versus the Dallas Stars this afternoon.

Expect him to trot them out again after that if they prove Friday was no fluke.