Jets' road to ruin
Pavelec says team's undoing is poor defensive play away from home
KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency
|Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec says the team's poor defensive play away from home is central to their road woes. (JASON HALSTEAD/QMI Agency file photo)
WINNIPEG - There’s been a whole lot of talk but not a lot of action when it comes to the Winnipeg Jets fixing their awful road play.
No one has the answer. The players and coaches simply say they need to be better, but they don’t say how they’re going to do it. If they knew what was wrong they would have corrected it by now, they say.
Winnipeg hit the road on Monday for a three-game road trip that will take it to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Washington on Friday and Nashville on Saturday. The Jets are two points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and need wins badly, but they are a paltry 11-19-4 on the road this season and it’s safe to say it is now in their heads.
Someone who has had a front-row seat for his team’s Mr. Hyde impression away from MTS Centre is goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who isn’t so hot himself on the road, but at least he has a theory.
And it all starts in their own end.
“You have to play defensively, and if you play good defensively you’re going to create your chances and you’re going to score some goals,” Pavelec said. “But if you don’t, if you play like you want to make three points in the game, you’re not going to win.
“At home we play great defensively, and then you get your chances and then you score the goals. It’s simple enough. We can do it at home, but we are not able to do it on the road.”
Winnipeg’s statistics at home and on the road are fairly similar except for two categories: special teams and hits. In their last 10 games at home the Jets’ power play has a 32.4% success rate. In their last 10 road matches, it’s a paltry 8%.
As for the body checks, the Jets are averaging five fewer per game over their last 10 road games compared to their last 10 at MTS Centre. Obviously those keeping stats might be kinder to the home team, but it begs the question: Are the Jets physical enough on the road?
“You can’t really always look at the scoresheet after the game for what the hits and everything are,” energy line centre Jim Slater said. “Hits are missed all over the game, so I don’t know if that’s a fair assessment.”
But are the Jets physical enough on the road? Slater says they are.
There’s not much separating the other stats, including face-off success rate, shot blocking, and shots for and against. The Jets are even turning the puck over more at home in the last month or so.
So perhaps Pavelec is on to something. Although the numbers make it appear offence is the problem, the Czech netminder believes it’s the lack of defensive focus that is causing the offensive shutdown. Pavelec sounded particularly perturbed about his team’s defensive play during its 3-2 loss in Vancouver on March 8. The Jets allowed 45 shots on net that night.
“That’s one of the best teams in the league,” said Pavelec, who was just warming up. “You have to play defensively. If not, you’re not going to win. It’s simple. You want to play offence? OK, good. Good luck. You’re not going to win.
“You have to respect who you play against, and you have to realize you have to play defence against those guys and then you’re going to have your chances. Every time we play great defensively we get our chances and we’ve got the guys who can score the goals.”
So there’s some food for thought as the Jets hit the highway for what could be a make-or-break road trip. It might not be the answer, but right now they should be looking at everything and anything. After all, they can’t get much worse.
“If we’re not going to win the games on the road, we’re not going to make the playoffs,” Pavelec said. “It’s simple enough.”