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30 in 15: Jets focus on second-line scoring, defense

by John Kreiser / Winnipeg Jets continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

Most of the cast that came up short of a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is back for the Winnipeg Jets this season. But the playoff berth the Jets will be chasing will be in the Western Conference rather than the Eastern.

Realignment has moved the Jets into the Central Division, which is headed by the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd said the switch will make for an interesting challenge.

"It's a tough division with a lot of great teams. We're going to have to be on our toes every night and be ready to play a little more physical hockey," he told "There are some big teams in that division. It should bring the best out of us."

The Jets need their best to be a little bit better than last season, when they came up four points short of ending a playoff drought that dates to 2007. As the Jets prepare for the new season, here are three key issues they'll have to resolve to make the postseason for the first time since the franchise moved from Atlanta to Winnipeg in 2011:

1. More scoring from the second line is a must -- The first line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler is among the NHL's most productive. The problem for coach Claude Noel has been secondary scoring. Aside from Evander Kane (33 points), no other forward managed more than 18 points.

Rookie Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg's first-round pick (No. 7) in 2011, started training camp playing between Kane and offseason acquisition Devin Setoguchi on the second line. The trio showed some chemistry early in the preseason, and Noel said he was happy with Scheifele's performance. But the coach offered no guarantees and wants to make sure the 20-year-old is ready to play a two-way game.

"I think Mark's been good," Noel said. "Mark's here and he's playing well and doing all the right things.

"I don't want to put any pressure on him. He's an offensive player, and he always will be. But he should look at the way he needs to play, because roles change. Your task as a young player should be to be a good all-round player, an efficient player."

If Noel doesn't feel Scheifele is ready for the job, he could turn to veteran Olli Jokinen, who had seven goals and 14 points in a disappointing season after signing with the Jets.

No matter who's in the middle, one key will be getting the puck to Kane, an emerging power forward who scored 30 goals in 2011-12 and 17 in 48 games last season.

"I'm hopeful that we can find some chemistry," Kane said.

2. Team defense has to improve -- Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec led the NHL with 44 appearances last season and won 21 games. But his 20 regulation losses, 2.80 goals-against average and .905 save percentage were among the poorest figures among NHL goaltenders.

Pavelec is set as the No. 1, and he has to be better. But he needs help, and his teammates know it.

"You have to play well in front of your goaltender in order for him to have a good save percentage," Kane told the Winnipeg Sun. "If you look at his highlight-reel [saves], I don't know if any other goaltender in the League can compare to it."

Noel agreed that the forwards and defense have to do their part to support Pavelec, who was second in the NHL in shots faced last season (1,251; Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres, 1,270).

"We're going to have to play a good team game and our goalies are going to have to do their part," Noel said. "That's part of the solution. Your players have to check better . . . and goaltending (is) also going to have to pick up a little bit more."

3. The special teams have to be, well, special -- They certainly weren't last season. Winnipeg was last on the power play at 13.8 percent and 24th in killing penalties at 79.7 percent. The PK was especially bad on the road at 73.5 percent.

Nothing worked on the power play. The Ladd-Little-Wheeler line scored seven of its 44 combined goals with the extra man, and no one had more than the four scored by Dustin Byfuglien. Kane, one of the NHL's best young power forwards, had 15 goals at even strength and two with the extra man. Improvements on the second line should give the power play a boost.

The Jets were disciplined last season; their 138 power plays allowed were the second-fewest in the NHL to the Minnesota Wild's 135. But Winnipeg surrendered 28 goals, a key reason general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff brought in Michael Frolik from the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Jets missed the playoffs by four points last season; even a middle-of-the-pack showing by the special teams could have made up that differential.

Author: John Kreiser | Columnist

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