For the umpteenth time this season, the Winnipeg Jets saw a game that was winnable turn into a loss thanks to a resounding lack of discipline amongst the players.
The NHL’s worst team in terms of penalties continued that trend on Thursday night in the team’s 5-1 loss at the hand of the Washington Capitals in a game that could’ve helped give a now-floundering Jets team some breathing room in the race for the Western Conference Wild Card positions. Instead, a terrible effort that saw the Jets shorthanded six times against the league’s second-best power-play team resulted in yet another loss that can be partially blamed on the team’s penalty problem.
“We just let their power play have way too many opportunities,” Jets captain Andrew Ladd told the Associated Press after the game. “Every time we got something going we ended up in the box.”
The problems on Thursday started in the first period when a Mark Scheifele tripping penalty lead to a John Carlson goal. With the Jets down 2-1 midway through the second period, a string of four penalties in a five-minute span resulted in back-to-back power-play goals by Nicklas Backstrom to put the game out of reach for Winnipeg. The loss knocked the Jets to 4-4-2 in their last 10 games, and they are now just two points ahead of San Jose and four points ahead of Los Angeles in the playoff race.
In their 60 games this season, the Jets have been shorthanded an astonishing 247 times which averages out to about four times per game. That over 40 more times than the next closest team, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They have a penalty kill percentage on just 80.2% which, while not the worst in the league (Buffalo), isn’t going to help you win any games. In the last four games alone, the Jets have given up nine power-play goals.
And it’s not only the amount of penalties the Jets take that seem to be an issue, but it’s when they take them. The beginning of the game is one of, if not, the most important portions of a hockey game due to teams wanting to set the tone for the rest of the contest. Unfortunately for Winnipeg, they seem to enjoy setting the tone in a positive direction for the opposition.
The Jets have been shorthanded a whopping 94 times in the first period, which is about 20 times more than then second and third periods. Those 94 first-period penalties are just 40 less than how many times the Calgary Flames have been shorthanded all season.
Some may place the blame on head coach Paul Maurice while others may look only at the players as to why the team can neither stay out of the box nor kill off the penalties they take. Is Maurice telling his men to play too physical or with too much reckless abandon that it just naturally leads to more bad decisions, or are the players just being, as was the case on Thursday night with five tripping penalties, lazy with how they are playing the game? It’s really anyone’s guess right now.
But when it’s all said and done, it really doesn’t matter whose fault the penalty problem is. What matters is the fact that if the Jets don’t get it straightened out quickly, they could once again be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Michael is a former Managing Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s covered the Buffalo Sabres, along with the NHL in general, for various outlets since 2009. His work has been featured on outlets such as Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.