Winnipeg Jets’ Powerless Power Play

All the ingredients were right there in downtown Winnipeg Monday night for a celebration of epic proportions. There were 15,000 fans inside Bell MTS Place and over 20,000 packing the surrounding streets, rooting for what would have been a series-clinching Game 6 win against the Nashville Predators. It was a gorgeous night — plus-30 — and everyone was amped up.

Everyone, that is, except the Jets. The Predators bottled them up, kept them contained, and ensured they didn’t display any of the electricity they showed in their energetic Game 5 6-2 victory. Their power play, especially, was powerless, going 0-4 and not producing much by the way of chances. It’s one of the main reasons those who gathered for the whiteout went home dejected rather than delighted.

Jets Squandered Early Chance to Shift Momentum

A good power play doesn’t necessarily have to generate a goal to be successful. All it has to do is build some momentum that a team can use going forward, even after their opponent’s man bursts out of the bin.

The Jets had a shot to do at least the latter early on, but missed the mark. The Predators came out looking every bit like a team desperate to stave off elimination. Viktor Arvidsson grabbed the all-important first goal just 1:02 into the game, which set his team on a good course.

Viktor Arvidsson Nashville Predators
The Jets had a chance to tie the game on the power play shortly after Arvidsson fired the opening salvo but squandered their chance. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It was a fluky goal that deflected in through the wickets of Connor Hellebuyck off the speedy Swede as he turned to avoid Roman Josi’s shot. Neither the Jets nor their fans seemed particularly concerned  — especially considering they’d stormed back from a 3-goal deficit less than a week ago.

When Mattias Ekholm was sent off a few minutes later for delay of game, it presented the Jets a good opportunity to tie the game. The ensuing man advantage, however, was disorganized and had trouble maintaining possession in the offensive zone. The only shot was a weak wrister from Kyle Connor that Pekka Rinne had no trouble seeing and stopping.

Next Pair of Power Plays No Better

The Jets had two other power plays in the first but came up empty on both. They had two decent looks from Paul Statsny near the front of the net on the second power play but Rinne made a couple of sharp pad saves. On the third power play, they didn’t even get a shot.

Paul Stastny - Winnipeg Jets
Paul Stastny was the only one to have any decent chances on the Jets’ trio of first-period power plays. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It was a far cry from the team that, coming into Game 6, had seven power play goals in 28 chances. The shots after the first were 10-10, which indicated how effective the Predators were at limiting the Jets’ chances during their six minutes of time up a man.

The lack of production kept the usually raucous white-clad Winnipeg crowd quiet and on their hands. Taking the crowd out of the game, especially one that can help swing the momentum as much as Winnipeg’s, was key to the Predators’ success.

Jets Stymied by Preds’ Penalty Kill

It was a frustrating night for the fans and Jets players alike, one of those evenings where everything the home side did — especially on the power play — seemed futile. You can thank Predators head coach Peter Laviolette for that.

Peter Laviolette Nashville Predators
Peter Laviolette’s strategy to stack the middle in the neutral zone while on the PK worked perfectly, as did his aggressive style. (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

Laviolette’s strategy — to stack all his players in the middle of the ice and make it difficult for the Jets to enter the offensive zone — worked to perfection. More than a few times, Jets players attempting to enter the zone simply hit a wall of white and yellow jerseys and soon found the puck getting dumped back down the ice.

When the Jets did get into the offensive zone, they had trouble mustering up any sustained pressure. The Predators’ penalty killers were aggressive, going right after the puck carriers and preventing them from getting good shots. Overall, they looked hungrier for the puck and a step ahead of anything the Jets tried to do.

Patrik Laine Winnipeg Jets
Patrik Laine, who usually produces dangerous chances from the top of the circle on the power play, was kept pretty much in check. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

They kept Dustin Byfuglien — who’s having a heck of a playoffs — from unleashing his famous slap shot from the point. They neutralized Patrik Laine’s patented one-timers from the top of the circle. The shots he managed to take weren’t particularly dangerous, weren’t from quite close enough or the right angle, and weren’t ones Rinne couldn’t see or stop.

Jets Know They Have to Be Better in Game 7

“We were just not skating and not moving the puck,” Laine said after the game. That was pretty much the whole story of our game, five-on-five. On the power play we have to move the puck quicker and skate faster.”

“I think the power play was a microcosm of the way we played,” Paul Stastny agreed. “We probably weren’t moving as well, weren’t moving as sharp as we want to be.”

The Jets will need to treat the game — and their powerless power play — as a learning experience, and they’d better learn fast. They need to adjust and find a way to maintain zone time and penetrate Laviolette’s stacked neutral zone. It’s something Paul Maurice will undoubtedly be making the team work on as they prepare for Thursday’s decisive Game 7 in Nashville.

The Jets are a good squad that should have faith they can overcome Game 6’s special-teams speed bump. Their fans certainly still believe. The chant they started with just a few minutes left on the clock and the outcome not in doubt proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt.