Jets special teams not so special

By: Adam Wazny | Saturday, February 23

Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, left, deflects a shot by Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler, right, in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb 23, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

Of the many things that have to go right for the Winnipeg Jets to be successful -- good goaltending, strong defensive play, hard work -- special teams play has to be near the top of the list.

Right now, it's at the bottom.

Winnipeg's power play and penalty killing units were back to their dreadful ways in a 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday afternoon, going 0-for-4 with the man advantage and allowing three goals on six chances when short-handed. This less-than-spectacular special teams play continues a season long comedy of ineffectiveness by the Jets, who will need to figure these areas out if they wish to climb over the playoff line in the Eastern Conference.

The Jets are 7-9-1 this season. They continue this five-game road swing Sunday afternoon in New Jersey (4 p.m.). Following that, the Jets are in Manhattan to take on the New York Rangers Tuesday night before returning to MTS Centre for a date against the Devils again Thursday.

Maybe by then the club will figure out its penalty killing, which has been in the NHL basement for most of the season. Coming into the contest, Winnipeg was sitting in 30th among the league rankings at 70 per cent. Once the orange-clad crowd stopped cheering following the three Flyers power play goals, the Jets PK percentage dipped to 67.9 per cent.

That's not very good.

But it's more than just a low success rate, and that came into focus again Saturday. The Jets were actually up 3-1 in the second period before careless penalties by Dustin Byfuglien (high-sticking) and Jim Slater (delay of game) seconds later gave the Flyers a 5-on-3 advantage, an edge eventually cashed in by Flyers captain Claude Giroux.

The Slater penalty, where he grabbed a loose puck with his hand off a faceoff, was particularly troublesome. The NHL has called that new rule consistently all season, with the Jets falling victim to it a couple times, so a veteran like Slater has to know he can't do that. The Jets have been down two men six times this year.

Another concern for the Winnipeg coaching staff: how the penalty killers react to an attacking power play. Both of Philadelphia's third period power play goals came on the rush, with Winnipeg failing to locate the extra body in the slot. The coaching staff has done a good job right the penalty killing ship of late, but this circumstance has caused them grief more than once this year.

Or maybe by the time the Jets fly back into Winnipeg the club will figure out the power play -- a misnomer if there ever was one. Remember Bryan Little's overtime power play goal against the Florida Panthers way back on Feb. 5? Well, the Jets have gone 0-for-21 with the man advantage since that tally. That's eight games, folks.

Imagine what a power play goal here or a power play goal there -- especially in the five loses the Jets have absorbed since the Little score -- could mean to a club already facing offensive challenges.

And that's the devastating part of this special teams disaster. With every point in the standings so valuable in this 48-game season and the playoff picture figuring to be in flux all year, not having an effective power play or a dominant penalty kill figures to be the difference between 5th place in the conference and a 5th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

The Jets power play is clicking at only 15.4 per cent, good for 20th in the NHL. Typically, coaches would like their special teams number to add up to around the 100 mark -- 20 per cent with the man advantage, 80 per cent on the penalty killing. Winnipeg's special teams number currently sits at 83.3.

There's nothing special about that.

Opinion

Adam Wazny is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer who has covered sports in the city for over a decade. He has worked as a reporter for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, and now spends most of his time checking his Twitter. Did someone say Twitter? Find him here: @wazoowazny.

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