Jets Special Teams Woes: PK

Kevin McCartney
March 11 2013 05:38PM

The Jets have been struggling to stay on the playoff bubble in the East all year. A 3-game win streak to end February gave way to two decisive losses to divisional opponents, and the recent road trip collected 5 of a possible (and expected) 8 points against also-rans and the struggling Devils. Sure, there have been some injuries, particularly to the team's best two defencemen in Byfuglien and Enstrom. Goaltending has been... well, that's another article. But the Jets special teams has let fans down more nights than not. The mere fact that I can write a multi-part series on the Jets woes at special teams is disheartening. Might as well start with the good news. That's right, the Penalty Kill is the good news. Good gravy...

FROM WORST TO FIRST! NOT WORST!

Despite Claude Noel recently calling the PK the Jets' 'bread and butter,' the team has been shockingly bad at it. The Jets were the worst in the league until an exceptional game last week against a dangerous Tampa Bay squad. Now the Jets boast a not-exactly-sparkling 27th ranked penalty kill. This road trip has seen the Jets PK jump from 25th ranked up to 22nd. At the MTS Centre, the Jets can get through 2 minutes without a red light 3/4 of the time. Give me a hallelujah! Okay, that still kinda stinks, but let's look at where we came from: 

For the graphically impaired, after game 8 (the 8-3 stomping by the Lightning to open February), the Jets team penalty kill was below 60%. Not just in that game. For the season. Since that game, the Jets have been slowly crawling out of the shame cellar and into the unfurnished basement.

The home and away splits don't give us much more insight - both have been bad but getting better. Game 3 at home (Islanders, Jan 27th) and Game 5 away from home (the aforementioned Lightning game on Feb 1st) are book-ends to a miserable week in Jets hockey - a 1W, 3L span with a goal differential of -8 and a penalty kill that went 9 for 18. But the line goes up after that week! Only to dip later and make me so sad... but then it goes up again! (I said there wasn't much more insight)

  

Now the good news: the Jets PK is rising rapidly in the rankings by going 8 games and 22 opposing powerplays without a goal against. The graph below is the game by game results on the penalty kill. 

  

FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS  

   Inline image 1

Currently, the Jets PK sits at 27th best (you have to choose your attitude), squeaking ahead of an Anaheim team that has been pulling their goalie on penalty kills while on the road. Or at least the stats seem that way - I haven't watched their games. Meanwhile, the Jets have actually been playing in the most disciplined games in the league, leading all teams in 5-on-5 time with 49:30 played at even strength per game. A large part of that is the Jets themselves, as they have faced the third fewest short handed situations, and the second fewest short handed minutes in the league (if you guessed it was because they got scored on during those situations to keep the minutes low, you'd be right, and kinda mean).

But the number of penalties taken per game by the Jets has actually been growing along with the team's penalty kill success rate. Let's see if we can start to understand how the Jets have turned things around for this 8-game run, and how they've done it while taking more penalties.

WHAT CHANGED?

There has been plenty of speculation about that. Febuary 10th (after game 11 on the charts above), Noel claimed the PK had become more aggressive to solve its problems. That may be true, but from my perspective, what changed for the last 10 games is surprisingly clear. #1) they ended the Nik Antropov Fiasco (Airship down on Empire, amIright fellow dorks?). And #2) Jim Slater and James Wright are losing PK minutes like a leaky balloon. Or , more accurately, they played like a leaky balloons and are now losing minutes.

Jim Slater still leads Winnipeg forwards in short handed minutes (45:11) and short handed minutes per game (1:48). But his share of the minutes has actually been declining from being one of two primary forward pairings (playing roughly 50% of all short handed minutes) down to just 38% over the last ten games, and 30% over the last 3 (thanks to Left Wing Lock for that data).

4x5 Penalty Kill

Total

Slater

Antropov

Avg Shot Distance

34.8 ft

36.4 ft

38.1 ft

Opponent’s PP S%

19.4%

22.2%

32.1%

 Fenwick Against/60

55.1 (4th)

On Ice

59.3

On Ice

78.5

TM W/O

60

TM W/O

48.9

GA/60

6.76 (17th)

On Ice

10.7

On Ice

18.7

Off Ice

4.9

Off Ice

6.9

Total SH TOI (4x5)

115:30

39:27

16:03

There are a number of things to explain in this chart. First, thank you to Behindthenet and HockeyAnalysis for the numbers.

I've left Wright off the chart for ease of viewing. He typically plays with Slater, and trails him by a small margin in 4x5 TOI. Their stats are very similar and the point here isn't to figure out which of them is better at being below team average at this. Next, TM W/O is a stat I've never used before - it is a WOWY (With Or Without You) stat that calculates what that players linemates do when that player is not with them. In Slater's case, that is mostly James Wright (you can see little variation), and for Antropov, that was Burmistrov almost exclusively (and Burmi is better off without him as far as Fenwick is concerned). Fenwick Against is all shots or missed shots taken against the Jets, but blocks are not counted like in Corsi. So we're saying if Slater blocks a shot, that's good in this case. The rest is hopefully clear.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Winnipeg's Fenwick Against per 60 minutes of 4 on 5 time is extremely good, ranking 4th league wide. Both Slater and Antropov are above that (worse than team average), and Antropov is beating out even the Sabres for goat status (albeit in limited minutes). Though Slater's Fenwick Against is not galling, his Goal Against/60 is, more than doubling the team average. Again, it's a small sample at this stage, and the team only has 18 short handed goals against. The fact that Slater has been on for 7 of them at 4 on 5 (never mind 3 on 5) is... bad. Did I have to say that? Antropov was on for 5 in just 16 minutes. Blerg.

The shot distance is particularly interesting to me. It's not a perfect stat, and the sample is of course very small (93 shots total 4 on 5). But if we can imagine those numbers to be true for a moment, is it possible that the distance increases against these struggling players because the opposition powerplay is generating clear shooting lanes from positions intended to be covered by those forwards? There simply isn't enough data to tell yet, but I wonder.

In recent games, Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd have become the team's top pair of Penalty Killing forwards, and Evander Kane is getting minutes as well. All three have better GA/60 while on the ice than off thanks to Slater, Antropov, and Wright. Burmistrov is still getting minutes, now with Kane, and is GA/60 on/off ratio has improved to even. With mercy on the fans and goalies, Noel and Pearn have barely used Antropov on the PK during its impressive shutout stretch.

The trouble with this team remains its depth, and as long as Jim Slater, James Wright, and Nik Antropov are required to take significant minutes against other team's top players, the Jets will bleed goals against. Shifting the personnel on the PK has led to significant improvements, and while the Jets can't be perfect for another 23 games, it appears as though they have found a recipe for a successful penalty kill.

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Kevin is the Managing Editor of Jets Nation. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, The Sporting News, and around the Nations Network. An enthusiastic over-analyst, his background and interests are diverse, but you might notice he's obsessed with hockey. Track him down on twitter @kevinmccart or @nhljetsnation
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