Not-So-Special Teams Crushing the Jets

No game could be a better representation of the Winnipeg Jets’ season than the 4-3 shootout win against the Florida Panthers on Dec. 15. The second period featured three Panthers goals within a seven-minute span, all of which came on the power play; Bryan Little continued his hot streak and answered with goals in both regulation and the shootout; and following recent trends, special teams nearly ruined the Jets’ chance of victory.

“It wasn’t pretty, by any means, but you’re going to need wins like that in this league,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said to the Winnipeg Sun following the game. “It was a good sign there in the third period we could gut it out, get it into overtime and get the two points.”

It wasn’t pretty, that’s for sure, and their special teams haven’t been pretty in the games since.

Power Play: 14.7%

For a team that has spent over 184 minutes with an extra skater, the Jets have been lackluster on the power play. They have had the sixth-most power play opportunities in the league, and yet they have only converted on 16 of 109 opportunities.

Paul Maurice, Blake Wheeler, Nic Petan and Patrik Laine - Winnipeg Jets vs Philadelphia Flyers - November 17, 2016 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers) Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice said the “struggling” penalty kill still has “a ways to go” after a sloppy win on Dec. 15.

The Jets’ power play could be a key to winning, just as their lack of scoring is instrumental in their defeats. Over the course of four games in November, the Jets went six-for-18 on the power play, and that was reflected in their record. Those same four games saw Winnipeg pick up seven of a possible eight points, their longest point streak of the 2016-17 season thus far.

It’s no coincidence that power play scoring yields more points in the standings. A fruitless game against the Rangers on Dec. 8 saw the Jets lose 2-1, failing to capitalize on three power play opportunities. Even extended stints with a two-man advantage weren’t enough for the Jets to find the back of the net.

“[It’s about] finding the right people in the right spots. We’re still working on trying to get that right,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice to the National Post following the loss vs. the Rangers. “That third power play, we lost every battle along the wall. You’re going to have to fight for some pucks, come up with some pucks, and it’s got to move a hell of a lot quicker than it did.”

Penalty Kill: 75.4%

Team Record GP TS PP GA SH GF PK%
Winnipeg Jets 15-16-3 34 122 30 4 75.4%

“Our penalty kill is struggling to say the least,” said Maurice to the Winnipeg Sun. “It’s got a ways to go.”

Though his words don’t accurately reflect just how poorly the PK is doing, Maurice isn’t wrong; the Jets’ penalty kill has now fallen to 28th in the league. Their woes came to a head against the Panthers, when Toby Enstrom got all three penalties that led to the Panthers’ game-tying and go-ahead power play goals.

“You never want to sit in the box and when you’re in there, get scored on,” Enstrom said in the same article.

“I’m happy for every minute I get,” Enstrom continued. “I try to play the right way every night. Sometimes maybe it doesn’t work out, but you have to try to put that [behind you].”

Though Enstrom spoke highly of his teammates for battling back “the team stepped up really good and I’m proud of the boys” it is simply not enough. The Jets have now allowed more power play goals than any team in the league. To make matters worse, the Panthers sported the worst power play in the league headed into Dec. 15, though they have since improved to 24th with a measly 14.8 percent.

I haven’t seen [the video of the penalties]. The referee is there to make sure the game gets played the right way. I’ve got to do it better, that’s just how it is. It was tough. I trust the referees. They do a great job.

-Toby Enstrom, per the Winnipeg Sun

Compare the Jets’ stats to those of the Chicago Blackhawks, who are right behind them in penalty kill percentage. Though the Blackhawks have a numerically worse penalty kill with a percentage of 73.9, they have received 30 fewer penalties and have been scored on six fewer times than the Jets. Fewer Blackhawks penalties could explain their 22-8-4 record as opposed to the Jets’ 15-16-3.

Every penalty hurts for the struggling Jets team, especially when it leads to a go-ahead goal with less than three minutes in regulation as it did against the Rangers on Dec. 8. This is emphasized by Maurice, whose matter-of-fact attitude shows obvious frustration about taking unnecessary penalties.

“Whether you think you’re right nor not, it doesn’t matter. Learn how to play with your stick on the ice and keep your body in the right spots,” Maurice said to the National Post following the loss to the Rangers on Dec. 8.

The National Post wrote that all three penalties against the Jets that night were stick penalties, which are typically considered to be the most careless. It was this carelessness that cost Winnipeg the game: the Rangers scored the game-winning power play goal after Drew Stafford went to the box for a high stick.

Connor Hellebuyck and Brandon Tanev - Winnipeg Jets vs Philadelphia Flyers - November 17, 2016 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers) Jets forward Brandon Tanev defends goalie Connor Hellebuyck in a game against the Flyers.

Looking Ahead

The Jets are now coming off consecutive wins and are hoping to string together three Ws for the first time this season, which could be vital in keeping their playoff chances alive.

“I wouldn’t say we played our best game [against the Panthers], but we got the result,” said center Mathieu Perreault to the Sun. “Sometimes, you’ll play a good game and you lose, so we’ll take those two points. Looking at the standings, they’re very important for us and we know that at this point.”

Their penalty kill has a chance to rebound Tuesday night against the Vancouver Canucks, who are tied with the Jets for 25th in power play percentage.