What We Learned: Winnipeg Jets’ greatest failing this season

Colorado Avalanche right wing Jarome Iginla (12) fights with Winnipeg Jets left wing Adam Lowry (17) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Sometimes you can take a lot of penalties and not have it be a big problem.

For example, the Los Angeles Kings are currently rocking the third-highest total number of penalty kills in the league, and if that number holds it would be the second time in three years they finished in the top-three.

The other time? In 2013-14, when they finished with 100 points in a nails-tough division and eventually won a Stanley Cup.

But for obvious reasons, it's usually a pretty bad idea to do so, and the Winnipeg Jets are learning that the hard way this season.

Halfway through their season, they've proven they're a decent possession team (51.3 percent on a score-adjusted basis through 41 games isn't easy in the Central), and generally outscore their opponents at 5-on-5 (plus-8). They give up too many high-quality looks and their goaltending has been, shall we say, inconsistent. But for a team of this general quality to have only 41 points from those 41 games is at least a little surprising.

That is, until you look at the penalties number.

They closed Saturday night tied for last in the NHL in terms of number of penalty kills conceded (with Columbus at 154, but in two fewer games). The gap between them and the second-worst team (Los Angeles) in terms of PKs conceded per game is the same as the gap between the Kings and seventh-worst Bruins. Moreover, they'd allowed power play goals from opponents 34 times, the largest number in the league by almost 10 percent, and 10 more than the league average.

(They would give up another power-play goal against Buffalo on Sunday.)

Now, you might say that the goals-against number is a function of the fact that, until Connor Hellebuyck came aboard, the Jets' goalies were Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson, two guys who are demonstrably not very good. Where Hutchinson is concerned, that has been true this year; he has a .903 full-strength save percentage. However, Pavelec is well above the league average, boasting a .931 at 5-on-5. Hellebuyck entered Sunday's game with the Sabres at an astonishing and unsustainable .957. So in general, the Jets have been a decent enough goaltending team. And given the number of high-danger chances they're facing every night (11.4, fourth-most in the league), all get a slight uptick in quality-adjusted save percentage.

So no, it doesn't seem all that fair to blame their PK struggles on poor goaltending overall, because that's not the issue. What is the issue? This:

NHL
NHL

Basically, if there is a measure by which we can examine how well they protect their net while killing a penalty, the Jets are absolutely terrible. So taking what we know about how well their goalies have generally played this season, it should come as no surprise that the Jets' save percentage on the PK is miraculously just 20th in the league at .856. Not that it matters, though, because the rate at which the Jets take penalties is so significant, and the rate at which they concede all types of shot attempts, combine to form a lethal combination.

How bad is it? The number of high-quality chances they give up per 60 minutes is currently the eighth-worst since 2007-08, which is why, despite some okay goaltending, the Jets are giving up more goals per 60 minutes than all but 19 teams in the last nine seasons.

Another thing they're not particularly good at is drawing penalties, as they've collected just 128 power plays for themselves, two below the league average and 22 back of the league-leading Coyotes. Moreover, only the Calgary Flames have had less success on the power play (12.7 percent to Winnipeg's 14.8 percent), meaning that the 19 goals they've scored isn't helping much either.

If we accept that about 5.5 or so goals of goal differential over the course of a season amounts to two points in the standings, the impact this has on the Jets' playoff hopes is enormous. Their current special teams net is minus-16, which has already cost them roughly three wins. In a playoff race as tight as the West's has been — no teams entered Sunday more than five points out of a playoff spot  — leaving six points on the table, mathematically, is unconscionable.

This is obviously a problem of team process and not results or individual goaltending performance. And moreover, it's a persistent one. Problematically, though, it's actually getting worse.

NHL
NHL

The numbers at the left side of that graph highlight that Winnipeg was decent, not great, in terms of what it allowed over the first half of last season while on the PK. Perfectly respectable numbers but nothing to write home about. They've gotten progressively worse during that time, and just from watching the games you can see that they're a lot more passive. Guys on the points especially have a lot of time to make their decisions, and usually when you give the NHL's better offensive defensemen (those who would be spending time on the power play) time to think about what they're going to do, and space to do it, you're going to be fishing the puck out of your own net a lot.

And if you look at the types of penalties for which they get whistled, they're not traditionally what you'd think of as the penalties teams with the majority of possession take. They entered Sunday tied for first in interference, tied for fifth in trips, tied for sixth in roughing, holding, and cross-checking, tied for eighth in slashing, but only tied for 16th in high sticking, 21st in hooks. It's a strange mix of obstruction penalties and stick fouls, but how about this: They've taken 12 unsportsmanlike conduct majors this year. The next-closest team in the NHL only has eight. It's all just bizarre.

Another problem here is that Maurice probably feels as though has been given plenty of reason to not-trust his penalty killing groups. Looking at the results, it's hard to disagree with him. But he's been trying new and different things — like giving Tyler Myers more PK time, and significantly scaling back the percentage of shorthanded TOI he's giving the Trouba/Stuart pairing — and nothing is working. The loss of Jim Slater, who was the teams fourth-busiest penalty killer last season, might have something to do with it as well.

Paul Maurice has talked in the last few weeks about simplifying ways in which the team can get back to that level, but what's ironic is that the Jets actually did better last season when their PK statistically resembled the one this year, going 23-12-6 in the final 41 games of the season. Obviously that wasn't going to last, and here we are. But one wonders if he took some lessons from the wins and losses and not how badly his team was getting clubbed on special teams for much of last year.

If this were fixable on the fly, why wouldn't they have done it yet? People have been talking about this problem since November and it hasn't relented in any way.

Most Jets losses, you say, “The penalty kill crippled them again.” It's been that way all season.

Something needs to change, but it might not be possible without a major overhaul.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: On the other end of the special teams spectrum, the Ducks' power play is still rotten. And it really, really shouldn't be given the talent level.

Arizona Coyotes: C'mon.

Boston Bruins: Friday night marked the Bruins' 3,000th franchise win. That's a lot, and only Montreal has more.

Buffalo Sabres: What they say that's good - Robin Lehner won his first rehab start in the AHL. What they don't say that's bad: He conceded four on 28.

Calgary Flames: Remember folk -- Bob Hartley won a Jack Adams like six months ago, and now he's trying a line of Micheal Ferland with Johnny Gaudreau.

Carolina Hurricanes: The 'Canes scored eight goals in two games on a back-to-back. Sure, it was against Columbus both times, but this team isn't exactly goal-rich, so you take what you can get.

Chicago: They told Phillip Danault to play like Marcus Krueger. Now he does, and the results speak for themselves.

Colorado Avalanche: If you can believe it, this article was not written a year and a half ago.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The good news is Kerby Rychel might be an upgrade from Nick Foligno's play this year.

Dallas Stars: Wouldn't it be great if your team were slumping and still had 62 points in 44 games to lead the toughest division in hockey?

Detroit Red Wings: The Wings placing Jakub Kindl on waivers is strictly a cash move, and more might be in the offing.

Edmonton Oilers: The Flames traded this guy for Ladislav Smid ha ha ha.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers got a few days off this weekend, which is good because half their team had to go finish high school and the other half needed to squeeze in some Matlock reruns.

Los Angeles Kings: Vintage Jon Quick right here:

Minnesota Wild: Devan Dubnyk is almost a .930 goalie since coming to Minnesota. That's good.

Montreal Canadiens: Quick question - When does Carey Price get back again?

Nashville Predators: If there's one thing the Preds love, it's losing to Coyotes backups. They do it almost all the time. It's weird.

New Jersey Devils: You will never guess the conclusion arrived upon in an article examining whether Cory Schneider gets as much run support as he should.

New York Islanders: The Islanders aren't playing that well, but it's not because they've had a tough go of things, schedule-wise.

New York Rangers: If this kind of thing keeps up much longer, Henrik Lundqvist might just retire rather than continue to play against Alex Ovechkin again.

Ottawa Senators: The OT in the Boston/Ottawa game on Saturday night was out of control, but the Sens eventually won it through Mark Stone.

Philadelphia Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere is so, so, so good and fun to watch. So, because this is how things go with the Flyers these days, he has a lower body injury.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens are 5-2-2 in their last nine, and Sid Crosby has 6-4-10 in those games. Pretty sure that's just a coincidence, though.

San Jose Sharks: Yoooooooo.

St. Louis Blues: The only thing associated with Ryan Reaves and “burying” should be “his contract in the minors.

Tampa Bay Lightning: They don't need guys like Jonathan Drouin when they can barely beat Vancouver in OT.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The asking price for Roman Polak is...... too high? What?

Vancouver Canucks: National disgrace Jake Virtanen might still be good at hockey? I dunno, folks.

Washington Capitals: Braden Holtby hasn't lost in regulation since Nov. 10. He has a .937 save percentage in that time. Can we just give him the Vezina now or do we have to wait until June?

Winnipeg Jets: No one has ever said this sort of thing before.

Play of the Weekend

Erik Karlsson goes from blocking a shot between his own hashmarks to setting up a Mika Zibanejad goal from the top of the opposite circle in about 6.5 seconds here. Anyone know if “blocking a shot” counts as defense?

Gold Star Award

Carolina Hurricanes' Elias Lindholm (16), of Sweden, and Columbus Blue Jackets' Seth Jones (3) skate for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Carolina Hurricanes' Elias Lindholm (16), of Sweden, and Columbus Blue Jackets' Seth Jones (3) skate for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

This article by Fluto Shinzawa has the correct read on the Johansen/Jones trade: Building up talent in one high-value area and then trading it for help in areas of deficiency is what all teams should be trying to do. But it's rare that it happens.

Minus of the Weekend

ANAHEIM, CA - JANUARY 06:  Jonathan Bernier #45 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks push during the third period of a a 4-0 Leaf win at Honda Center on January 6, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - JANUARY 06: Jonathan Bernier #45 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks push during the third period of a a 4-0 Leaf win at Honda Center on January 6, 2016 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Jonathan Bernier allowed seven on 31 Saturday night. That's no good.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “Miller Time” is willing to go to the mattresses.

]To Anaheim

Pacioretty
Markov
Desharnais
(13.75M on cap)

To Montreal
Fowler
Rackell
Silfverberg
Hagelin
(~13M on cap) 

Signoff

Why even unpack?

 

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)