Though the Winnipeg Jets aren’t off to their best start of the season, the one area where they are struggling seems to be the biggest problem so far: special teams.
To start the season, the Jets were unable to get much going on the power play, and fell victim to the opposition on the penalty kill. Since the beginning of the year, Winnipeg has started to pick it up – slowly.
Through seven games, the Jets have five goals on the man-advantage, four of those coming from Patrik Laine. While that may seem like decent numbers, given their power-play opportunities, the Jets are struggling. Their 16.1 percent success rate on the man advantage is the 10th worse in the NHL, and although it’s early, Winnipeg needs to solve the puzzle and tinker around with their man advantage unit.
First off, Laine is obviously the key. He is a sharpshooter, with a 26 percent shooting percentage, and knows how to fire the puck as quickly as possible. Watching Laine work on the ice reminds me of Alex Ovechkin; both are solid shooters who know how to get off a quick wrister and even slap the puck past the goalie before he even realizes it.
With him as the catalyst, the Jets are copying the Capitals and putting him on the point alongside Dustin Byfuglien. While Laine does score on the man advantage and seems to have no trouble finding the net, there is no reason why they need to mimic Washington.
(Laine’s heat map from SM-Liiga, courtesy of Reddit.
As you can see from his heat chart, Laine is not much of a scorer from the point. He is successful right in the middle of the circle near the faceoff dot, and around the net. He isn’t like Ovechkin, who can rely heavily on his size and slapshots to score one-timers. While Laine possesses enough size to score on slapper, he is much more equipped for quick wristers from the top of the circle. Therefore, the Jets should try to move him to the wing, and have another defenseman on the point.
With Trouba’s absence, it’s easy to see why the Jets seem to be struggling on the man advantage. They don’t exactly have two puck-moving blueliners anymore, and Dustin Byfuglien can’t do it all by himself. Winnipeg needs another defenseman with a heavy shot to get things going.
In addition, the Jets need to take advantage of people like Mark Scheifele, who can create plays on the fly and be an avid creator of multiple scoring chances. in order to make the most of the power-play, they will need Scheifele to guide the play quickly. Instead of waiting for the picture-perfect highlight-reel goals, Scheifele needs to find an open man and just get pucks on net in any way possible; many goals come off lucky bounces and deflection tries, and Winnipeg needs more of that.
The Jets’ struggles on special teams, however, doesn’t end with the man advantage. Their penalty kill sits at 23rd overall, with only 75 percent success on the PK. This is something that hurts Winnipeg greatly, due to the fact that they spend plenty of time in the box. Unless the Jets can stay out of the sin-bin, they will have to take steps to improve their corps on the penalty kill.
So far, they have had to have been relying heavily on Byfuglien, due to the fact that many other defensemen are struggling. Ben Chiarot, Toby Enstrom, Paul Postma and of course, Mark Stuart, have poor possession numbers and can’t seem to be much of an asset shorthanded.
What the Jets need to do is spend more time blocking shots and also try to jumpstart their offense. A great player to have on the PK is Tyler Myers, a huge defender who can block plenty of shots and add physicality. With Scheifele and even Matthieu Perreault on the PK, the Jets can create scoring chances and spend less time out of their zone, taking away the opposition’s scoring chances.
These are small steps, but with a bit of time and practice, they can gradually improve their special teams. It just takes some tweaks.