ANALYSIS: Jets maintaining structure is key to bumping their slump

There are equal parts consternation and frustration for fans of the Winnipeg Jets over the past couple of weeks. And a 1-0 loss to the Western Conference cellar-dwelling Arizona Coyotes Monday night at Canada Life Centre only served to fuel that fire.

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A prolonged offensive slump over the past seven games that has seen the team win just once has renewed the calls for change behind the bench, and/or on the ice.

And the Jets sliding from a tie for first in the ultra-competitive Central Division to fifth place — and potentially sixth by the time the team plays next on Friday night against New Jersey — has only ramped up the level of angst.

But there is reason to believe that a goal-scoring drought — like the one Winnipeg’s normally consistent offence is going through right now — can’t last forever.

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The likes of Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and the entire team have scored nine goals on 258 shots during the past seven games. That works out to about a 3.5 per cent shooting percentage.

The major contributor has been a dormant powerplay that has converted just two of the last 36 chances going back to the first period of a 5-1 win over Chicago on Nov. 5. And according to my rural B.C., one-room school math, that’s a 5.5 per cent success ratio.

Even the most pessimistic Jets fans might agree, I would think, that that extreme low level of productivity will not continue to plague this team for the sustainable future. But the concern is it could last long enough to create a widening gap between Winnipeg and the playoff line in the Western Conference, especially with a half-dozen teams in the once-moribund Pacific Division all part of that race.

At the time of this writing, the NHL average shot percentage is 9.5, ranging between the league-best Colorado Avalanche at 12.1 and the back of the rest of the pack N.Y. Islanders at 6.5. So it’s reasonable to suggest the Jets could, or at least should, eventually find themselves at around that 10 per cent mark.

Based on their last seven games — averaging 37 shots per — that would work out to 3.7 goals. They’d be 6-1 over the final two weeks of November and riding high into December — if that were the case. Which it isn’t.

Applying the same realistic expectation to the power play, the NHL average is 18.3 per cent. Even the Islanders’ 32nd rating of 10.2 per cent is almost double what the Jets have been scuffling along at for more than a month.

Considering Winnipeg’s average with the extra skater since the start of the 2017-18 season is 22.6 per cent — sixth-best over that four-plus-season stretch — it defies logic that one of the Jets’ two units won’t get untracked soon.

But until it does, the biggest single positive Paul Maurice’s troops have going for themselves is avoiding the temptation to abandon their team defensive structure, which has resulted in them allowing three goals against or fewer in 16 of their last 17 games played.

The one exception is that outlier last Friday in Minnesota, when Nate Schmidt and his buddies were leaking more than just gravy after celebrating U.S. Thanksgiving.

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Do the players need to develop an even greater resolve to get to, and take away the eyes of, an opponent’s netminder for screen or tipped goals? Do they need to shed their “perimeteritis” and create more net-drive second- and third-chance opportunities? Do they need to pick up the pace substantially when they are moving the puck on the powerplay? Do Scheifele and Blake Wheeler need to get going so the narrative ends about Maurice messing up his lines to get those two untracked?

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The answer is yes to all. And maybe that will happen as early as Friday against New Jersey, when this team has finally enjoyed some downtime after a hectic schedule of 14 games in 28 days.

It had better with East Division heavyweights Toronto and Carolina following the Devils on Sunday and Tuesday to close out the homestand.

But as long as the Jets maintain belief in the system, they have a chance to regain their mojo. Because the most pressing issues are all solvable in that Connor Hellebuyck isn’t being forced to stand on his head every night, like he has the previous two seasons.

And Winnipeg isn’t getting hemmed in its own end for extended shifts, like they were since their blue line was decimated prior to the start of the 2019-20 campaign.

I am, admittedly, not an analytics guy. But those who are say the Jets’ metrics are mostly tilted in the right direction in terms of expected goals, zone starts and a host of other advanced stats that are becoming more and more part of everyday hockey conversation.

That’s why there are those — yours truly included — who see this slump as more of a product of the grind that is an 82-game schedule, as opposed to the idea that the coach no longer has the trust and confidence of his players.

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