What is going on with the Winnipeg Jets and why are they sliding?

Winnipeg Jets (Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)
Winnipeg Jets (Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports) /

It is not news that the Winnipeg Jets have struggled as of late. The team surged out of the gate with a mishmash of replacement players and broken parts. They have since cooled to the point where a once-assumed playoff spot is in real jeopardy.

So what’s going on? Very few problems can be attributed to a singular cause. To hypothesize on a few contributing factors:

  • Coach Bones’ message seems to have fallen into an echo chamber;
  • poor goaltending relative to the start of the season;
  • powerplay struggles (I’m not touching Faceoffs); and
  • reduced shooting percentage.

I’m going to focus on shooting percentage. The Winnipeg Jets have traditionally thrived on excellent goaltending and sharpshooting. Both are in decline.

To illustrate how even a slight dip in shooting percentage can impact a club like the Jets we need to set our variables. In the first 30 games of the 2022-23 season, the Jets’ record was 20-9-1 (“Phase 1”). In the last 32 games, the Jets are 15-15-2 (Phase 2”). We’ll use these “Phases” as the benchmarks moving forward. In Phase 1, the Jets’ shooting percentage was 10.8%. In Phase 2 it has dropped to 9.4%. A delta of 1.4%.

1.4% might seem like small potatoes, but extrapolated over an 82-game season it is very significant. Here’s why.

Let’s assume the Jets average 30 shots a game over 82 games. That’s 2460 shots per year. For a Phase 1 shooting percentage, that represents 265 goals in a year. For a Phase 2 shooting percentage – 231. That’s a difference of 34 goals over 82 games. Is that significant?

Why is Winnipeg Jets shooting percentage so important?

For context, the Jets are 32-3-1 when scoring 3 or more goals this season. They are a frightening 4-22-2 when scoring 2 or fewer. Let’s say (improbably) each of those 34 goals are spread evenly over each game the Jets score 2 or fewer goals in a game. As we have seen, a one-goal difference in a game greatly changes the Jets’ prospects in those games. Realistically, it could mean a multiple-win swing in a season (all other variables being equal).

You might ask, can the reduced shooting percentage in Phase 2 be attributed to the Jets’ quality of shots? Meaning, were the Jets getting more high-danger chances (“HDCs”) in Phase 1? In the first 30 games the Jets registered 405 HDC’s and in their last 30 games – 16 fewer (389). In fact, both their Expected Goals and HDCs have increased in Phase 2.

In short, there are getting better scoring opportunities in Phase 2, but they are just not capitalizing. More importantly, they are 13-3 in Phase 2 when their shooting percentage is over 10% (which is the league average).

What about volume? The Jets are 20-10-1 when getting 30 or more shots. Their shot totals have remained somewhat consistent throughout this year, and therefore not contributing significantly to the goal differential between Phase 1 and Phase 2.

What is causing this dip in shooting percentage? Kyle Connor and Nik Ehlers are scoring at a reduced rate this year. KFC averaged a 15.4% shooting percentage the previous 2 years and is currently at 12.2%. Ehlers is down nearly half from this previous 2-year average. That said, both Blake Wheeler and Josh Morrissey have seen upticks in shooting percentage thus far this year – balancing things out to a degree.

The bottom 6 forwards have been abysmal. Typically your fringe guys don’t shoot as prolifically as your stars (obviously) but the goalless streaks of Lowry, Barron, Appleton, Kuhlman and Stenlund in Phase 2 really hurt the Jets in overall shooting percentage. As stated plainly – you need the bottom 6 scoring.

Some of the dips can be attributed to luck, and on balance, should regress somewhat to the mean. The Jets’ additions of Nino and Vlady should definitely help – especially given their replacement value.

dark. Next. What is the future of Blake Wheeler on the Winnipeg Jets?

Wayne Gretzky famously said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Recently for the Jets, it has been “you miss most of the shots you take”. This is a proverb no NHL team wants to be guilty of.