There could not have been a better time than last night for the Winnipeg Jets to play a team below them in the standings on home ice.
With the two teams in the way of the final playoff spot in the East (Toronto and Washington) struggling of late, the Jets had an excellent chance to pull within two points of the eighth place Maple Leafs. Or so they thought.
Unfortunately, games aren’t won simply because you expect to win. You have to go out, look your opponent in the eye and gets things done; something the Jets failed to do on Tuesday night at the MTS Centre against the New York Islanders.
As has been the case for a month of action now, the Jets were simply unable to muster any offense, with their only goal coming from grinding forward Chris Thorburn late in the first period.
Winnipeg outshot the visiting Islanders by a 38 to 24 margin but didn’t exactly make life tough on goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who despite the high shot total, was never really under that much pressure.
P.A. Parenteau’s goal at 1:36 of the third put New York ahead and they would hold that lead until Matt Martin’s empty-netter iced the game away.
The game was more or less lost for the Jets when they failed to score on two seperate power-play oppurtunities in the third period. Aside from a couple shots that were thrown on net in hope of a deflection or rebound, the club’s ice-cold play with the man-advantage continued to be unable to generate many scoring chances. They did have some sustained pressure with the goalie pulled in the final minute but with no reward, and the Islanders skated away with a 3-1 win and two big points.
The most frusurating aspect of Winnipeg’s recent losses is certainly the fact that, had they been able to win these games, they could very well have moved into at least a tie for the final playoff spot. What’s worse now is that even though teams like Toronto and Washington have been unable to seperate themselves from the pack, the Jets struggles have allowed teams below them to move closely behind. With the win, the Islanders moved two points back of the Jets with two games in hand; while teams like Montreal, Tampa Bay and Buffalo can still hold out hope as well.
With how poorly they have played and how grim their losses have become, it is remarkable that the Jets still have a good chance at the post-season. However, they will have to start winning games sooner or later and it won’t happen until they can somehow start finding a way to score more than one or two goals a game.
Perhaps a change to what worked previously in the season such as changing up the top two lines would benefit them. Earlier in the year the two combinations that worked best was the top line of Bryan Little, Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler and then the line of Nik Antropov, Andrew Ladd and Kyle Wellwood. While going back to those lines wouldn’t fix all of their problems, it is something head coach Claude Noel should consider at this point as some type of offensive spark is painfully needed.
Now off to Minnesota for a meeting with the Wild on Thursday night, that game will be of particular importance for the Jets. In what will be their final road contest before returning for eight straight games at home, a win would be a huge morale boost before the team prepares for what is without question the most important home stretch of the season.
Some oppurtunities have been squandered but many still remain. For the Winnipeg Jets, it is time to knuckle-up and make the most out of them.