The Winnipeg Jets’ power play is one of the best in the league. Their 23.4 percent success rate in 2017-18 was without a doubt a big reason why the team finished second overall in the league standings, and an improved 24.5 percent success rate took them to the Western Conference Finals.
What makes the Jets so incredibly dangerous is without a doubt the myriad of options.
Like most hockey teams in the world, the Jets employ a 1-3-1 power-play formation. The Athletic’s Ryan Stimson did a great job outlining the general idea behind the system as well as each player’s responsibilities in his hockey systems 101 article, as seen below:
For the Jets’ first unit, which was responsible for 45 of the team’s 64 power-play goals last season, that formation looks like this:
At the point, there’s Dustin Byfuglien, who isn’t the most dynamic player at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds but has the ability to distribute pucks in the offensive zone while also possessing a booming slap shot. At the left half-boards, Patrik Laine provides a lethal one-time option. Blake Wheeler quarterbacks the power play off the right wall with passes to the other four players, while also creating shooting chances for himself. Even in the slot and in front of the net, the Jets’ PP features two dangerous goal-scorers in Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor.
So, unsurprisingly, a heat map of the Jets’ power-play shot rates reveals above-average shot rates for all positions other than the net-front.
So, let’s take a look at how they do it, focusing on PP1 and, while breakouts have a huge impact on the overall success of a team’s power play, let’s focus on the Jets’ in-zone play in this piece. Having ranked 17th in the league Corsi-for per 60 at five-on-four last season, it’s worth checking out what they do in the offensive zone, and why they don’t need to be firing the puck at the net as much as other teams.
When watching the Jets on the man advantage, it’s easy to see how Wheeler got to his incredible 34 power-play assists. Anything the Jets’ PP does runs through Wheeler, and he is the one player creating space for the whole unit. The clip below shows how it’s done.
Laine gets the puck off a rebound and his immediate reaction is to turn around and move it back to the point. From there, Byfuglien passes it on to Wheeler, who takes a few quick strides toward the net, suggesting he’s looking to move the puck to one of Laine, Scheifele and Connor, or shoot it himself. Note below how Wheeler keeps his eyes locked at the net all the way up to the moment where he spins and passes back to the point.
In doing so, Wheeler creates space not only for Byfuglien but also for Laine on the opposite side of the ice. Byfuglien elects to take a one-timer and ends up finding the back of the net, but thanks to the space Wheeler created, he also has a wide-open passing lane to Laine.
In the clip below, the same thing happens, only this time, Byfuglien makes use of that passing lane. Wheeler receives the puck and skates down the right boards while opening up his body, allowing him to observe the ice and keep his options open. He once again decides to pass it up to Byfuglien, who this time moves it right over to Laine, who buries a one-timer. Here, it’s also important to note how quickly Byfuglien moves the puck, leaving the PK unit and goalie no time to react before the shot.
Once again, both Byfuglien and Laine end up with tons of space thanks to Wheeler simply skating the puck down the boards.
That begs the question: With teams analyzing their opponents’ systems before each game, why don’t they do a better job covering these point passes and preventing plays like the two above? As seen in the image above, all four Golden Knights defenders are at the faceoff dots, leaving Byfuglien wide open. Should they be playing a higher coverage?
The answer to that is probably no. If the penalty-killers stand too far apart, it opens up a passing lane through the middle – the “royal road” – which is dangerous against any power play, but especially when Patrik Laine is the player waiting to be set up for one-timers on the other side.
In the clip below, the Jets come into the offensive zone with a controlled entry. The Wild PK doesn’t want Winnipeg to get set up, so they attempt to stay high and cover a pass back to the point. In doing so, they leave the passing lane across to Laine wide open, allowing him to score on a one-timer.
Plus, if the forwards stay higher to be quicker to cover the point while the defenders in turn move up to cover the royal road and the slot, the Jets still know how to utilize their net-front player:
(Granted, the Kings’ PK was covering the passing lane over to where Laine normally is, despite him being high up at the blue line and no threat whatsoever in this play.)
The same happens against more aggressive penalty kills that know about the Jets’ skill level and therefore try not to give them time to handle the puck and make plays. When the PK fails to force turnovers with their aggressive play, that again leaves a lot of room for the Jets, who know exactly what to do with it.
In the clip below, the Canucks pin Scheifele against the left boards, but he manages to move the puck back to the point. Byfuglien, as usual, quickly passes it on to Wheeler. And with that, Wheeler again ends up with tons of space.
The Canucks forwards try to cover the cross-ice pass back to Scheifele as well as a point pass to Byfuglien, thus forcing their defencemen to react. While one D-man now has to move in on Laine in the slot, the other moves toward Wheeler to block a shot, leaving Connor wide open in front of the net.
The St. Louis Blues did a better job covering the Jets’ options in the sequence below.
When Wheeler gets the puck on the right side, the Blues’ closest forward turns away from him to prevent a point pass. As both Scheifele and Connor are covered as well, the closest defenceman can close in on Wheeler to prevent him from driving to the net and taking a shot.
However, despite the Blues covering the point, Wheeler manages to get the puck back to Byfuglien with a bank pass. A give-and-go later, Wheeler is presented with two nice passing options.
And if none of those are open, Wheeler can make use of his heavy shot himself:
The Jets have the luxury of being able to stack their PP1 with five players who all present legitimate threats (and still have enough players leftover for a dangerous second unit). As a result, teams struggle to cover their options. While many power plays have one go-to play that they try to execute (e.g. set up the same player for one-timers over and over), the Jets have multiple options. So even though Laine is without a doubt the biggest threat – with a league-leading 20 power play goals last season – it’s impossible for PK units to neglect any of the other options.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Winnipeg has a legitimate PP quarterback in Blake Wheeler. Everything the first power-play unit does runs through the Jets’ captain, which resulted in an incredible 5.67 first assists per 60 minutes at five-on-four last season – league best among players with at least 30 minutes of five-on-four ice time.
In conclusion, the Jet’s power play is likely nothing other teams can copy. It’s what all teams want to do, and the Jets just happen to have the right players to execute.
*All stats are from naturalstattrick.com.