The Jets struggles on the power play this preseason may be indicative of a larger problem.
It’s an old hockey trope: games can be won or lost with the extra man. For the Jets this season that may ring true, and if they don’t improve on their bottom of the barrel power play from 2013-14, it’s not going to translate into many wins.
In their 4-2 loss to Calgary on Thursday evening, the Jets connected on the man advantage late in the game, but markers on any of their earlier power play attempts could have helped in propelling them to another preseason victory.
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One of the main issues, as has been for seasons now, is the personnel when the Jets are on the man advantage. Not necessarily who the personnel are, but rather where they’re lining up. From the age-old question of whether the Jets will line Byfuglien up as a defenseman or a forward, to who should be manning the wall and net front, it has never seemed the Jets know quite what to do.
When Claude Noel was running the show the Jets power play was nothing if not unpredictable. In the Jets inaugural season of 2011-12, the team finished 12th (Atlanta in 2010-11, the year prior to making the move to Winnipeg, finished 12th as well) only to plummet to the bottom of the league the following year. Without the power play clicking, it was difficult for the Jets to pick up victories in some tight games or pull away in those that were too close for comfort.
Surely, this wasn’t the sole cause of Noel’s dismissal, but it certainly didn’t help matters. When now-Jets head coach Paul Maurice took over midway through the 2013-14 season, the Jets went on a brief yet fruitless tear which certainly helped bolster what was otherwise another dismal season with the man advantage. The Jets’ improved – if you so choose to call it that – finishing the year with the 25thranked power play percentage.
With Noel now gone and Maurice at the helm, there is cause for some cautious optimism. After all, while the winning streak last season may have been an aberration, it’s not as if this team doesn’t have the talent to win games and compete for a playoff spot. But that optimism is somewhat tempered when looking at the history of Maurice-coached teams and their ability to capitalize with the man advantage.
Throughout his career, Maurice certainly hasn’t had the greatest rosters. Sure, at times, he has had stars. Eric Staal comes to mind, as does an aging Mats Sundin. His lack of star power has resulted in a careers’ worth of unproductive power plays.
In 1999-00, Maurice’s Hurricanes played to the 9th ranked power play in the NHL. But since then, no team with Maurice as its head coach has finished better than 12th with the extra-man. In fact, only three times since the 1999-00 ‘Canes has he had a team finish in the top half of the entire league. In a slight majority of Maurice’s seasons spent as a head coach – seven of thirteen – his teams have finished in the bottom third of the league in power play percentage.
Thus, the problem for Maurice and the Jets: while Kane is arguably a superstar in the making, Maurice doesn’t have game breaking talent outside of the 23-year-old winger. Where other teams in the division have a go-to player (Minnesota, Zach Parise; Chicago, Patrick Kane; St. Louis, TJ Oshie; Dallas, Seguin and, now, Spezza; Colorado, Duchene and MacKinnon; Nashville, Shea Weber), you would be hard pressed to say who on the Jets you give the puck to in a tight-game with the man advantage. It’s a score-by-committee attitude that the Jets must take, and Maurice’s teams have never been much for that if history is any indication.
There’s an argument to be made that the power play is the responsibility of any number of Maurice’s assistant coaches, but the Jets have not made a change in that regard either. And in any event, it’s the head coach’s responsibility to have his team operating to its greatest ability.
Winnipeg will need a number of things to go right in order to fight for any ground in what is perhaps the toughest division in the NHL, one of which is going to have to be the power play. The only hope for Jets fans is that Maurice’s history is just that, and pray this season will bring a power play that doesn’t fall flat.