WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets’ power play has caught fire and helped catapult the squad atop the Southeast Division standings.
Winnipeg has converted seven of its last eight power-play chances, including two Thursday night in a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. That improved the Jets’ record to 30-26-7 and moved them ahead of Florida in the conference standings.
Winnipeg had scored on seven straight chances with the man advantage before failing to do so in the third period Thursday. The Jets are now 37-of-194 overall, good enough for ninth in the NHL at 19.1 per cent.
Head coach Claude Noel says while he can’t pinpoint one specific reason for the change, he does believe Jets players simply got fed up hearing how bad the club’s power play was.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t change a whole ton.” he said. “We do have more net presence, which is better.
“I think the guys were sick and tired of listening to people talk about it.”
Sadly, though, Noel is expecting the Jets to suffer through another power-play shortage.
“I’ve also said before that it’s cyclical and I think it is,” he said.
But the Jets can’t afford to slump and fall out of first. Their 67 points would leave them seventh overall in the Eastern Conference standings if they weren’t leading the Southeast Division.
Which is why Jets captain Andrew Ladd says the club can’t get carried away celebrating the fact it leads the division.
“We’re not celebrating anything until the job’s done, there’s such a long way to go and a lot of hockey to be played,” he said. “We’ve got to keep our foot on the gas here and keep winning games.”
Ladd credits Winnipeg’s recent success to better execution and the Jets keeping the puck where it belongs.
Evander Kane, who has a team-high 24 goals, agrees and is especially pleased with Winnipeg’s recent power-play success.
“I think the execution is probably the biggest change,” he said. “If I was seven for seven on my PS3 I’d be pretty happy with myself.
”It’s great to be able to be clicking like this and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Winnipeg has been especially good this season at home playing before sellout crowds at MTS Centre. The Jets are 19-9-3 in the Manitoba capital, good enough for fifth overall in the NHL, and have four more games there before hitting the road.
Gritty forward Tanner Glass is also having a season to remember. Known more for his physical playing style, Glass has a career-high five goals thus far.
“It’s always nice playing here, the crowd’s great, they really give us an extra boost,” said Glass, who with linemates Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn have been dubbed the GST Line.
Winnipeg has averaged 4.2 goals per game in its last five contests, which is close to double its season average before this stretch.
Trouble is, the Jets have played two, three or even four more games than some of their division rivals.
And there was a letdown Thursday night as the Jets led 4-0 in the third before Tampa scored three times in the final 10 minutes to make it close.
Winnipeg faces the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, a team like the Jets has struggled on the road but still has managed to amass 81 points.
The Blues are coached by Noel’s friend and mentor Ken Hitchcock and he said he knows what to expect from St. Louis. Noel was Hitchcock’s assistant when he was head coach in Columbus.
“It’s very clear that they’ll manage the puck real well and they’ll check, check, check,” Noel said.