Jets Need Special Teams to be “Special”

by | Dec 30, 2023

Jets Need Special Teams to be “Special”

by | Dec 30, 2023

Sometimes when we follow a specific NHL team, we start to sound like a broken record when discussing the pros and cons of said franchise, and I’m sure I don’t sound much different when talking about the waxing and waning of the Winnipeg Jets.  At least the Jets are getting some press coverage right now and why not?  Winnipeg happens to be one of the strongest teams not only in the Central Division but the entire Western Conference and if things hold for the second half of the season, we will be seeing them this spring in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Jets have already lost their top fighter ace in Kyle Connor for at least another month or so and they just keep flying in formation, having earned points in the last six games straight.  While the points keep rolling in, these are the wrong kind of points – who’s satisfied with one point per game when you should be raking in two points in many of these contests?  The latest debacle was an electrifying yet disheartening overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks and their wunderkind sensation Connor Bedard – yeah, that guy.  While the Jets controlled much of the pace of this game, when the rubber met the ice in overtime it was Bedard who gave the United Center crowd a reason to stand on their feet with his first OT-winning wrist shot as the Jets crashed and burned with a 2-1 loss.

On paper at least, the Jets remain solid.

As a whole unit, the Winnipeg Jets are a solid franchise right now and fully in the hunt for a postseason spot come this April.  With a strong first line in Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and now Gabriel Vilardi, the Jets’ offense is operating on all gears right now.  Defensively, all you have to do is mention the name Connor Hellebuyck and realize that the pipes are well-guarded up there in Manitoba.  Hellebuyck is having another top-ten year with a .918 save percentage and a phenomenal 2.35 goals-against average with a shutout registered so far.  In terms of goaltending backup, Laurent Brossoit is now showing why he was a solid addition from Vegas and now has a .911 save percentage and a 2.50 goals-against average as well.

On paper at least, these statistics always sound good but the Jets are only in the middle of the pack in Goals For with 110 total on the season (ranking 15th) but their Goals Against average is a stellar 83 which places them second in the NHL right now.  Problem solved, right?  The Jets have a strong defense backed up with excellent goaltending.  On a normal five-against-five shift, the Winnipeg Jets are one of the most solid teams in the NHL presently.  Again, mere statistics are misleading because as we all know, hockey isn’t always played with a normal 5 v 5 situation and the Jets have left behind precious points that may not add to much now but will potentially hurt them down the final regular season stretch.

It may sound like a broken record, but the Jets need to find the “special” in Special Teams.

As hockey is placing more and more emphasis on the development of special teams as highly specialized units that can make or break a team on the ice, the Winnipeg Jets need to fix their special teams units – immediately.  I previously mentioned that statistics can truly be misleading because the Jets are a solid, winning franchise this season, and yet their special teams units are more representative of a bottom-feeding, cellar-dwelling team.  How can a winning team in the NHL rank 23rd on the power play (17.5%) and 26th on the penalty kill (75.5%) and yet be one of the top teams in the Central Division?

Speaking of the Jets’ power play, here’s a scary statistic for you: the Jets have only scored on three of their last 25 power play opportunities in the last ten games.  The Jets normally do not practice special teams on the morning skates but recently began incorporating the power play as one of their practice scenarios.  Do you think?  I may not know that much about hockey, but I would place a bet that teams like the Rangers, Bruins, Golden Knights and every other good NHL team incorporates special teams as part of as many practices as they can. For example, the Jets had one power play shot on goal against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night in the 2-1 OT loss.  That’s correct, one shot.  Maybe I need to feign a bit of ignorance here but isn’t the point of the power play to take advantage of numerical superiority on the ice and blast the daylights out of the opposing penalty kill units until the puck finds their net?  I love special teams and I love the specialization of these units but the Jets need to make it simple and find a way to use the power play as an attack weapon and score goals.  Maybe more of the OT losses can be erased as OT wins – points that will desperately be needed come this spring.

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