The next installment of the on-ice portion of what is plaguing the Winnipeg Jets looks at penalties and special teams. Thanks to Matt (@MathHappens51) who helped me with the penalties drawn/taken and coaching portions.
The Winnipeg Jets are a heavily penalized team and most of it is their own doing. While they have some fast forwards, they have a fairly slow defence core and many of their forwards are not as speedy as they are perceived to be by fans and media. Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Mark Scheifele are balanced by Chris Thorburn, Mark Stuart, Ben Chiarot, and
The other part of taking penalties lies in tactics. As Matt explained to me, coaches can influence penalties taken by simply deploying a system that forces players to carry the puck out of the zone as much as possible. This cuts down on puck over glass penalties. If coaches preach discipline than frustration penalties should be punished; a retaliatory penalty should not be tolerated nor should lazy penalties.
This does not mean coaching for not taking penalties; instead it means coaching an aggressive game based on having the puck, but understanding there are good penalties and bad penalties to take. The Jets take too many bad penalties and that is on coaching. Being aggressive does not mean slashing the opposition in the offensive zone, it means pursing the puck and winning it cleanly. The Jets struggle to do this and that is not because they are targeted by referees.
Another aspect of the Jets penalty-taking woes is their penchant for late hits when they get frustrated. This is especially noticeable with players like Stuart and Thorburn, but also comes into play with Dustin Byfuglien who sometimes loses it without warning, oddly to the delight of Jets fans even though this hurts the team. Dealing with these frustrations come down to disciplining players for taking selfish penalties. It is understanding that no matter how important the player those careless, stupid plays will be punished by the coaching staff because the short-term pain gives way to a long gains for the Jets.
So the Jets take a lot of penalties and always have. They also are not that great at killing penalties. This is not necessarily a personnel issue as they have good penalty killers on the team, but they do not have enough good penalty killers. Players like Blake Wheeler and Tobias Enstrom are fine on the penalty kill. Oddly enough it is players like Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart that should not be killing penalties. Penalty killing is an art where aggressiveness and speed needs to be tempered with a certain type of skill and discipline to create a deadly combination of limiting chances while punishing a team by pressuring them into making mistakes with the puck.
The Jets have this at points when they kill penalties. They also lose this at points because they do not have the players to play a skilled, aggressive style of penalty killing all the time. Sometimes you get Wheeler killing time in the offensive zone, other times you get Stuart blocking shots and making bad decisions in the defensive zone.
This is the most frustrating part of the Winnipeg Jets and penalties: their power play stinks. They have the personnel to be good, but they utilize the players in such weird ways that the team does not benefit all the skill on the power play. For the longest time Patrik Laine was not on the first unit power play because Dustin Byfuglien was the designated point shot taker and him and Laine did not work well together. When Tobias Enstrom is on the ice with Laine, Laine becomes the trigger-man from the point which plays to his strengths.
The other part of the power play being successful is having forwards who are creative. There was one unit in particular that showed how much of an asset this is for the Jets. The unit: Nic Petan, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, and Tobias Enstrom, were a dominant group at times because of the skilled passers and the ability of all the players to shoot. The puck movement this unit creates forces penalty killers to decide who is the bigger threat. This puts the Jets in a very strong position because all their players on that unit can make themselves threats. In short, the Jets are in the driver’s seat when it comes to the power play when they play skill above all.
The Winnipeg Jets have both a penalty problem and a special teams problem. The penalties come from a team that shows itself to be undisciplined and careless with penalties. If they feel like they are targeted by refs, they have to give them no doubt that there are no penalties that can be called against the Jets. Right now they make so many borderline plays that they are bound to be called on some of them.
And then there are the Special Teams. The team is passive and does not use the correct personnel to maximize the returns of both the power play and the penalty kill. Both systems are way to passive and allow for the other team to dictate what will happen. Except there have been moments when the Jets play aggressively on special teams and the change is noticeable. Suddenly pucks are being turned over and short-handed rushes are happening. Suddenly the power play is forcing the opposition penalty kill and goalie to move around a lot and be forced out of position long enough for a legitimate scoring chance to occur. These glimpses into the possibilities of competent special teams are denied by every coaching decisions that allows for passive play and scoring chances to be surrendered. What the Winnipeg Jets need to fix this is change the system to one that utilizes the fast players the Jets have to better disrupt other teams.