As someone who usually covers the Canucks, one of my first thoughts when the Winnipeg Jets first signed Shawn Matthias was that he’d be able to help them out most on the penalty kill.
Matthias has utility elsewhere. Up to the time of his joining the Jets, he was a surprisingly efficient rate producer of goals — just goals, not really much of a playmaker. I thought the everything but the kitchen sink forecheck, rush-attack of the Jets would suit his style of play well, too.
But the Jets didn’t need Matthias to light the lamp. They had high-end offensive pieces in place already. Any help on that front would be welcomed, certainly, but Matthias had more to offer elsewhere.
It always surprised me, then, when I’d watch the Jets, and the coaching staff seemed more or less reluctant to use Matthias in that role. Matthias ranked sixth in penalty kill ice-time for the Jets in his first season.
Then, in this off-season, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff went out and signed Matt Hendricks and cited the penalty kill as one area where he could help the most.
It struck me as odd because again, they had a perfectly useful penalty killer in their midst that they seemed completely indifferent towards using.
Here’s where Matthias ranked last season in penalty kill rates for Jets forwards, by shot attempts against per hour, unblocked shot attempts against per hour, goals against per hour and expected goals against per hour.
And Matthias put up those numbers playing the sixth-most minutes on the penalty kill of any Jets forward, which is to say that he didn’t get the reps on a new team to build any real familiarity with the system the Jets employ.
The Jets have the 19th-best penalty kill in the league right now, allowing the opposition to score on essentially one out of every five power plays. There’s room for growth. It’s been that way for a long time, too.
Last year, the Jets ranked 26th in penalty kill percentage; the year before, 25th; the year before that, 13th. It’s never been an area of strength. And there’s no consistent trend of growth in that department.
Considering all of that, it seems odd that when the Jets do have Matthias in the lineup, they don’t use him more in that role. Their last game, a 4-2 win over the New York Islanders, the Jets played Matthias just over a minute on the penalty kill, which is a good sign, but it needs to be a consistent theme while they have him in the lineup.
In Vancouver, Matthias was the Canucks best penalty killer in his only full season with the team. As a bonus, he also scored goals at an obscene rate at five-on-five. Really, he’s always been a really intriguing bottom of the lineup piece for these reasons.
He needs to be put in specific situations to succeed. The style the Jets play at even strength suits him, but what he does well suits the Jets. They’d be wise to start to acknowledge as much, while they’re playing him anyway.
If the Jets are going to pay him $2.25-million to sit in the press box most nights, they might as well maximize their returns when he is playing. And he is right now, so the time is nigh for the Jets to make good on that.