If the NHL were a high school, the Central Division would most definitely be an advanced class of keeners. And the last thing you can afford to do when trying to keep up with a group of brainiancs is misplace your thinking cap.
A few things have led to the Winnipeg Jets’ recent struggles—prior to Wednesday’s win over the Vancouver Canucks the Jets had dropped six straight contests—but the most troubling team theme during the rough patch was an absence of sensible action.
“What sits with me the most is how undisciplined they are,” said a scout who sees a lot of the Jets, “dumb, dumb selfish penalties that cost them.”
A quick look at the stat sheet confirms as much.
Heading into Friday night’s action, no team in the league had afforded its opponents more power-play opportunities than the 82 offered up by Winnipeg. The Jets penalty-killing unit operates at almost exactly the league average—80.5 percent—but the team is tied for the most power-play goals surrendered (16 in 20 games) because it grants so many man-advantage situations.
In the second game of its slide, Winnipeg was shorthanded for two goals in a 3-0 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers, while the fourth outing of the odorous stretch saw the Dallas Stars score the third-period game-winner while enjoying a numbers advantage.
The goals against are a worst-case scenario, but how many times was momentum lost simply due to a Jets stream leading directly to the sin bin?
The bad behavior extends beyond punishable offences, too. According to the scout, Winnipeg—perhaps because it has felt games slipping away so often—has been quick to veer from its plan of attack.
“They don’t play with much rhyme or reason at times and seem to abandon their systems,” he said.
As for the penalties, taking too many of them isn’t a new trend for the Jets, who also led the league in power-play chances against last season and wound up surrounding the fifth-most man-advantage goals to opponents.
Another long-standing issue is goaltending. After a nice respite last year when the team’s .913 save percentage ranked No. 10 in the NHL, the tandem of Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson once again looks wobbly. Winnipeg’s .900 team save percentage this season is worse than all but five squads. Yes, the Jets are allowing too many shots against per outing (30.9, also better than just five squads) but any club playing in a division with the likes of Dallas, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville and Minnesota is going to need some saves. (Maybe that’s why there is so much hope around prospect Connor Hellebuyck.)
The final four games of the losing streak all came at the hands of Central foes and the Jets were outscored by a combined 21-8, thanks largely to a highly regrettable 7-0 setback versus the Predators.
For those in search of a silver lining, it might be worth pointing out five of Winnipeg’s six consecutive defeats came on the road. And when the Jets did bust the slump at home versus Vancouver, both Mark Scheifele and Drew Stafford netted a pair of goals, providing the secondary offence this team positively has to have if it is going to turn things around.
Speaking of must-haves, Winnipeg (9-9-2) desperately requires four points from its next two showings, the first coming at home versus the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night, the second another domestic affair on Monday when the only Central team with a worse record than the Jets—the Colorado Avalanche—visit Manitoba.
After that, it’s another three-game roadie and if Winnipeg wants better results on that trip, it had better smarten up fast.