Can’t Score? Make Byfuglien A Forward Again

The leading goal scorers on the Winnipeg Jets have scored five times this season. Kyle Wellwood has five goals in 14 games, Evander Kane has five in 13 and Jim Slater has five in 12. That puts them in a tie for 34th in the NHL.

It’s not the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination. The fact the Jets are 5-7-2 and 3-2-1 on their current seven-game road trip suggests the team is playing pretty well. It’s difficult to criticize a club that started very slowly, but picked up its game on the road. Trouble is, the Jets have been shut out twice in their last five outings, couldn’t hold a lead in Florida and had to score twice in the third to tie New Jersey (more about that later).

As head coach Claude Noel said after the Jets 3-0 loss to the Rangers on Sunday night, "We’re playing very well in our own end and all over the ice, defensively. We need somebody to step up and start scoring some goals."

There was a brief shining moment when it appeared the Jets had the offensive side of the game figured out. They beat Carolina 5-3 at home on Oct. 22 and then beat Philly 9-8 in a wild one in Philadelphia on Oct. 27 (in between, they lost 2-1 to the Rangers despite outshooting New York 28-17). In the space of five days they scored 15 goals.

However, the rest of the season has been a mystery. The Jets have scored a grand total of 19 goals in the remaining 11 games. That’s a "goals for" average of 1.73 goals per game. That won’t win you a lot of hockey games, even by today’s low-scoring NHL standards.

Of course, what makes all this rather ironic is the fact the Jets have no real problems up front. They’ve had a load of injuries on defense, but their forwards have remained healthy. The players they expected to go to battle with every night have been in the lineup most nights. Kane has missed a game, Nik Antropov (three goals) has missed two and Slater has missed two. However, Blake Wheeler (no goals), Andrew Ladd (3), Alexander Burmistrov (4), Tanner Glass (2) and Bryan Little (no goals) have played regularly, but they haven’t lit the lamp.

Now, to be fair, this team has certainly played hard. No one would criticize the Jets for taking a night off. It’s just that this team couldn’t score in a women’s prison with a handful of pardons.

So what does Coach Noel do? Here are a few things:

1) Change the power play. The Jets went 0-for-4 on the power play in New York. They had 17 power play chances at the start of the season before they scored. Winnipeg is seven-for-48 on the power play this season (14.6 per cent), 20th overall in the NHL. Not the worst in the league, mind you, but not very good either.

2) Attack the net. This team plays on the perimeter way too much. Somebody has to start attacking the goal and creating havoc in front of the net. They did it in the third period agianst New Jersey and it worked. It happened against Philly and the Jets scored nine times. It didn’t happen against Tampa or New York (twice) and the Jets score once in those three games. Go to the freakin’ net.

3) Despite his claim that he’ll never play forward again, make Dustin Byfuglien a forward again. It was the mess he created around the opposition’s net that helped Chicago win the 2010 Stanley Cup. The Jets would be better off with any of the seven defensemen they have in the lineup now playing at the back end with Byfuglien up front. Big Buff might not want to play there, but that’s where he can help the team the most. That’s where he should be.

If the Jets could figure out how to score, they’d instantly become a dangerous NHL team. A better power-play combined with Byfuglien playing foward would make the Jets a lot more dangerous than they are now.