Jets flourishing with man-advantage:
It has become the ultimate pick your poison situation.
When the Winnipeg Jets top power-play unit steps on to the ice with the man-advantage, every team around the league knows that things run through Blake Wheeler along the right-wing boards.
But because of Wheeler’s elite-level passing ability, it’s difficult to put the required amount of pressure on the Jets captain.
Among the options available to Wheeler include three right-handed shooters, Mark Scheifele in the high slot, Patrik Laine on the left wing and Dustin Byfuglien at the top of the umbrella.
And if an opponent cheats toward any of those three options, Kyle Connor is available down low or in front, looking for space for himself or others.
“It’s fun to be a part of. We’ve just got so many options,” said Connor, who has scored four of his seven goals with the man-advantage. “We’re not scoring all of our goals from one spot. (Scheifele) has got (three), (Laine) has a bunch over there and you know what he can do. (Byfuglien’s) will come too, he’s got a good shot. If they take away one option, we’ve got so many (others). It’s just so lethal.”
The Jets (9-5-1) host the New Jersey Devils on Sunday as they continue a four-game homestand.
Thanks to a stretch of scoring at least a goal in 11 consecutive games (including 14-for-36 during the streak), the Jets moved into sole possession of first place in the NHL through 15 contests, operating at 34.8 % efficiency.
Fifteen of the 16 goals with the man-advantage have been produced by the top unit — with Friday’s goals coming a combined 15 seconds into the respective power plays.
Some nights, members of the second unit wonder when it’s going to be their turn.
“No, you’re happy for the team. Obviously you want to get some PP time in, you want to improve on your own power play,” said Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers. “But when these guys go out and score in the first 30 seconds, first 10 seconds sometimes, it’s pretty incredible. It’s exciting our power play is going the way we want to, we’re moving the puck fast. Both power plays. We’re getting pucks to the net, we’re getting our chances, that’s something we need to keep doing.”
Jets assistant coach Jamie Kompon runs the power play and was responsible for the Jets implementing some of the principles used by the Washington Capitals.
Moving Wheeler to the right-wing boards on his strong side has led to a dramatic improvement for the Jets power play.
Wheeler already has 12 power-play assists this season and his ability to create open seams is impressive.
“It doesn’t matter if everybody is open if you can’t pass the puck, but (Wheeler) certainly can and he’ll find you if you’re open,” said Laine. “I try to read off (Wheeler) and try to find a seam. With a lot of teams, the seam is there, but there are teams that are shading on me. But I still need to go somewhere where it’s good for our team and that somebody else will be open. So I’ve got to find some room for myself as well and when I get the puck, I’ve got to shoot it.”
Until Wheeler iced Friday’s 5-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche with an empty-net goal, he had assisted on the previous nine goals scored by the Jets.
A Hall of Famer named Wayne Gretzky holds the NHL record for assists on consecutive goals, at 10, a number he reached twice during his illustrious career.
That’s some pretty impressive company for Wheeler to be keeping.
It’s interesting to think that during Laine’s rookie season in 2016-17, there was an uproar among the fan base that the Finnish sniper was banished to the second unit. But the reason was simple. At that stage of his young career, Laine was too static, simply waiting to unload his powerful one-timer whenever he could.
Last season Laine scored 20 goals on the power play and he’s already up to seven this season with the man-advantage and the growth in that part of his game is obvious.
Friday’s goal was a prime example, as Laine worked his way down low and got himself in position to unleash his shot after Wheeler feathered a perfect path across the ice and over three sticks.
“When you’re younger and playing amateur hockey, you can stand in one spot and if you get the puck in the right hole, you’re going to beat goaltenders,” said Maurice. “(Laine is) a real smart offensive guy and to be a shooter like that, you have to learn how to find your hole. In a couple of years, he’s learned when to be high. He was really high (on the left-wing circle) early (in his career). He sat really high in that hole and didn’t move and now he’s got a comfort level of kind of having a much bigger range on that side of the ice, he’ll get down to the goal line if he needs to.”
As smooth as the Jets have looked on the power play of late, they believe there’s another level they can reach.
“We’re pretty hot on the power play,” Laine conceded. “It’s been a good level, but there are still a lot of things we can improve for how we can be even better than that.”
Jets captain Blake Wheeler celebrates a goal with his teammates during a Friday night win over Colorado.