WHEN it comes to “special” teams, the Winnipeg Jets are proving to be anything but right now.
Take the power play, which has gone just 3-for-21 through seven games to a success rate of only 14.3 per cent that has them 24th in the league. A puzzling development, considering the firepower on the top unit: Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Josh Morrissey.
That’s the same No. 1 group that was among the best in the NHL last season, save for Morrissey replacing Dustin Byfuglien.
“Well, we’re not clicking right. We don’t have the zone time and we’re kind of out of sorts a little bit. When we get to positions, that pucks get knocked down or we’re not coming up with it. We’re not in a particularly good place to defend it. We’re working on it,” head coach Paul Maurice said following Sunday’s 7-2 loss to Pittsburgh.
Perhaps even worse than the lack of power-play success is that the Jets have already surrendered three shorthanded goals, including in two straight games on Saturday in Chicago and Sunday against Pittsburgh. The Penguins had another short-handed solo dash later in the game but couldn’t convert.
“You never want to give up shorthanded goals. Those are back-breakers. So, again, we’re going to have to clean that up. The No. 1 thing on the power play is that regardless of whether you have the extra guy, you’ve got to out-compete the team and not give anything up. That’s something we’re going to have to be better at as we go on,” Morrissey said.
Does that mean the Jets aren’t working as hard as their opponents at times?
“I don’t necessarily think that. If you look at the one (Sunday), in my opinion it was a terrible bounce. It bounced right over my stick for a breakaway, so there was nothing you can do there. (Saturday) was a two-on-one, and the puck was missing the net and it happens to go in from a weird angle off (Connor Hellebuyck’s) pad,” Morrissey said.
“Over the course of a season, there are going to be some short-handed goals against.”
With seven games in 11 nights to start the season, including five on the road, the Jets haven’t had much time to practice. And with Laine and Connor missing all of training camp due to contract disputes, perhaps that explains some of the rust.
That will change a bit with the team just beginning a stretch of five straight games at home over the next 10 days.
“We kind of talked about (the power play) before the game, having a bit more of a five-on-five mentality out there, so you work as if it was a five-on-five game and you just work with your opportunities when you get them. So, maybe work a little bit more on that,” said Mathieu Perreault, who is on the second power play-unit.
Wheeler was asked how much concern there should be over the current state of the power play.
“Zero. We’ll get it right,” the captain replied.
As for the penalty kill, Winnipeg currently sits 27th in the league at 69.2 per cent after the Penguins went 1-for-2 Sunday.
That means the combined rate of both special teams (power play and penalty kill added together) is 83.5 per cent. It’s a wide-held belief teams should aim to be at 100 per cent or greater to enjoy sustained success, and a quick look around the league shows 17 clubs are currently there.
In fact, Winnipeg’s combined special teams rate is third-worst in the league, ahead of only sad-sack Ottawa and New Jersey. In that sense, it’s a minor miracle they’ve won four of their first seven games.
Defenceman Ville Heinola was a healthy scratch for both weekend games, a somewhat surprising move considering how big a role he played in the first five contests of the year, which included recording three points (a goal and two assists) while also logging huge minutes and responsibility.
There’s no question the 18-year-old struggled a bit — some might say appeared human — in last Thursday’s 5-2 win over Minnesota, but was that enough to park him in the press box?
“That’s what I wanted. He’s a young man. He’s got lots of time,” Maurice said Sunday when asked about the decision.
Perhaps the Jets are just buying a bit more time to decide what to do with the 2019 first-round draft pick, who will burn the first year of his three-year entry level contract should he play more than nine NHL games this season.
Laine’s strong start to the season has earned him some hardware.
The 21-year-old winger was named the NHL’s second star of the week on Monday. Laine had eight points (2G, 6A) in four games last week, in which the Jets went 3-1. He’s up to 11 points (3G, 8A) in seven games this season, good for second in NHL scoring.
It’s the fifth time Laine has been named one of the three stars.
The first star was NHL leading scorer Connor McDavid (2G, 5A in three games), while the third was Sidney Crosby (3G, 4A in four games).
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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