High-pow­ered

Jets flour­ish­ing with man-ad­van­tage:

Winnipeg Sun - - SPORTS - KEN WIEBE kwiebe@post­media.com @Wiebe­sun­sports

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.”

JOHN WOODS/CP

Jets cap­tain Blake Wheeler cel­e­brates a goal with his team­mates dur­ing a Fri­day night win over Colorado.

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