What is Killing the Jets?

The Winnipeg Jets are now a respectable 2-2-1 for the season. This is more of a Rodney Dangerfield level of respect, but they’ve rebounded nicely after an auspicious start.

For anyone who has paid a modicum of attention thus far, the Jets have a killing problem. In short, they get killed – killing penalties. The team has posted a penalty kill percentage (PK%) of a paltry 55.4%. For context, the league average at the moment is 78.2%. Put another way, of the 4 goals per game allowed by the Jets this season, half of them are scored shorthanded.

You don’t need Russel Crowe levels of a beautiful mind to understand that this figure is bad. How bad? Since 1963, the worst season-long penalty kill percentage is 68.32% (congrats to the 2009 Maple Leafs). I understand we are working with a small sample size, but this makes me long for the days of Matt Hendricks.

The next question to ask ourselves is, why? Is this an anomaly, or symptomatic of a larger problem? The following chart is from Evolving Hockey:

We Don’t Excel

This looks confusing, but it is not – much like Patrik Laine’s new sunglasses (he looks like the Finnish Bounty Hunter). The key stats to highlight are PK%, CA/60 (Corsi), FA/60 (Fenwick), and xGA/60 (Expected Goals). From 2017-2021, the Jets have been one of the worst teams defending 4 vs 5 by every appreciable advanced statistic (check out the Corsi, Fenwick, and Expected Goals rankings). The only metric where we have faired decently is our actual PK%. Why is that? Excellent goaltending. The Jets have been bad killing penalties, but our goaltending has saved us. Sound familiar?

There appears to be some unknown X-Factor at play here. Let’s solve for “X”. This is less of a statistical analysis, and more of an observational one. The Winnipeg Jets play a very conservative and passive brand of penalty kill in a Diamond formation. In this instance, diamonds should not be forever. The tendency is for our forwards to sag into the slot, and refrain from challenging the puck carrier.

In theory, this formation is intended to limit high danger chances, but in practice, it leads to more zone time and more opportunities on net. The Jets would benefit from being more like a married couple, passive-aggressive. It’s appropriate to be passive at certain stages of a penalty kill, but aggressiveness rules the day.

The team has swapped in and out personnel, but until the Jets take a page from Laine and change their style – they will be killing me.

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