The Winnipeg Jets lost back-to-back games in regulation for the first time this season, falling to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday and Saturday by scores of 2-1 and 4-2, respectively. Here are three takeaways from the pair of losses in Oil Country.
1: Jets Lack Killer Instinct
For a team with, on paper, some of the best forward depth in the entire league, the Jets sure didn’t make the most of their chances in the two losses.
On Thursday, after the Oilers went up 2-1 in the second, they completely shut the Jets down.
The Jets were unable to work the puck into high-danger areas or sustain any type of meaningful zone time in the back half of the game. When they did get a glorious chance in the final minute — Mark Scheifele with a wide open side with Laurent Brossoit pulled — he fanned on the shot.
On Saturday, the Jets missed a number of glorious opportunities to go up 3-1. Kyle Connor couldn’t score on an empty net after Mike Smith made a puck-handling gaffe behind the net. Dylan DeMelo shot the puck directly into Smith’s pad in the dying seconds of the second when Smith was down-and-out after a Blake Wheeler shot hit the post.
The Jets had another chance to build on their lead with an early-third-period power play, but it was ineffective. Soon after it expired, the one-goal lead evaporated as the Oilers blew the Jets’ doors off with three straight goals.
On social media postgame, the Jets’ Twitter account chalked up the loss to “no puck luck tonight.” It wasn’t a lack of puck luck. It was a lack of killer instinct once again.
The Jets have been an awful third period team this month and have frequently allowed late goals to tie or have blown leads. The blown third-period lead Saturday was the fourth time they’ve relinquished one in March.
Andrew Copp said postgame Saturday that “part of winning games, especially in the playoffs and down the stretch here is going to be learning how to put teams away.” Copp went on to say they’ve one a good job of that this season, but they haven’t.
If they keep letting their opponents hang around as they did Saturday, it will continue to come back and bite them.
2: Jets’ Top Line Needs a Wakeup or a Shakeup
Paul Stastny, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler have been together for a long time now, but they need to be broken up, at least temporarily.
The trio has looked lazy in recent games: they’ve been ineffective at even strength — with just one even-strength goal in their last four games — and have been awful defensively.
The line was completely outclassed by the Connor McDavid line Saturday and was on the ice for both McDavid’s first-period marker and Leon Draisaitl’s game-winner at 9:36 of the third.
Wheeler said pre-game Saturday his line has given up on the plus/minus stat this season, and he said it with a smile. It’s alarming when the so-called leader of the team finds poor play funny.
With Wheeler a team worst minus 14, Scheifele second-worst at minus seven, and Stastny a minus seven through his last six, the line as composed simply cannot prevent goals against. It needs to change.
It’s clear Stastny and second-line centre Pierre-Luc Dubois need to swap places, or Wheeler needs to be dropped to the second or third line to give Nikolaj Ehlers or Mason Appleton a shot in that spot.
But don’t expect any of those things to happen. Head coach Paul Maurice never used to hesitate to bring out his line blender to come up with better combinations, but these days he is reticent to make any changes at all, trotting out the same lines night after night regardless of results.
3: Jets Can’t Always Win “Their Way”
Winning the so-called “Jets way” is also known less charitably as winning unsustainably. They’ve often found ways to gut out points with pure skill while getting greatly outplayed and out-chanced from a high-danger perspective.
You can only go to that well for so long, and it looks like the well dried up after they went to it twice in their recent three-game series against the Maple Leafs: winning 4-3 on March 9 and losing 4-3 in overtime, getting three points despite being outplayed at 5-on-5 in both contests.
If the Saturday game showed anything, it’s that you can’t give up more chances than you get and expect to win. The Oilers were the better team, generating 11 high-danger chances to the Jets’ six and an XGF of 2.81 to 1.4.
The Athletic’s Murat Ates’ commented Saturday that he didn’t believe in the “magical idea that they could always ‘decide’ to win. If they had that power, they’d win two, three, four, all of the games in a row.”
One of hockey media’s best analytical minds doesn’t believe it, and no one else should either. Let alone the team itself.
“Fancy stats” don’t mean everything, but they don’t mean nothing either. They’re definitely not “horse-s**t” like Maurice thinks.
Don’t Look Now, but Here Come the Canucks
A playoff picture that was looking quite secure just a week ago is now looking a lot more tenuous for the Jets.
Losers of three of their last four, the Jets suddenly find themselves only four points up on the fifth-place Canucks, who they face on Monday and Wednesday as their seven-game road trip continues.
The Jets have four games in hand on the Canucks but if they cannot overcome their flaws and end up dropping both at Rogers’ Arena, their postseason prospects will be downright precarious.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.