Four game losing streak puts Jets in precarious position.
Hockey is like comedy sometimes. Timing is everything. Problem is, the Winnipeg Jets aren’t providing many laughs for their fans to enjoy. A four game losing streak has seen the Jets playoff fortunes fade and a sense of desperation is in the air. Nobody likes the term must win games, but the next three games for the Jets, all of them inside the friendly confines of the MTS Centre are must win games.
The Jets currently sit four points back of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference, currently held by the Dallas Stars. What makes matters worse for the Jets is that the Stars have two games in hand.
So how did the Jets get themselves into this prickly spot? “I’m concerned with the foundation of where we started from – the good defensive game, the solid defensive game – starts to disappear on you.” said Paul Maurice to the Winnipeg Sun. “This is human nature, and this is part of the growth process. You build one part but don’t have it shrink when you go over to build something else. You want to keep that foundation there and add to it, and that’s a challenge to us.”
During this four game slide, the Jets have conceded 14 goals, an average of 3.5 goals per game, while only netting 8 goals for, an average of 2 goals per game. That’s the simple math. But when the Jets make lapses in their own end, the puck usually ends up in the back of the net.
For example, in the game against the New York Islanders on March 4, Zach Bogosian was caught standing still at centre ice. The speedy Michael Grabner took advantage of Bogosian’s lack of movement, and blew right by him to score the overtime winner.
Another example took place against the Ottawa Senators on March 8. Mark Stuart mishandled a pass at the blue line, resulting in a two-on-one for Ottawa. While Stuart showed tremendous hustle in diving back to stop the cross-ice pass, he crashed into goalie Ondrej Pavelec, leaving both players out of position. The Senators cashed in on the tire fire in the Jets end that resulted in complete embarrassment for Stuart and Pavelec.
In fact, this four game stretch has seen many gaffes in the defensive end. Far too often the Jets are caught running around in their own zone, not having a clue on where to be or which man they need to pick up.
Pat Williams, who is the Jets writer for NHL.com suggests that the Jets might need to look into the Los Angeles Kings system. The Kings, who defeated the Jets 3-1 on March 6, look at the ice like a grid according to Williams, with every square covered. This makes perfect sense. The Kings are an outstanding defensive team, allowing a league low, 2.04 goals per game. In their win on March 6, the Kings completely smothered the Jets at every opportunity, allowing little or no space whatsoever. Every inch of ice, or square on the grid, saw a Kings forward or defenceman. It was the type of defensive hockey that helped the Kings win the Stanley Cup in 2012.
Next Three Opponents
The Vancouver Canucks come to Winnipeg, looking to redeem themselves after melting down like the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, against the New York Islanders. The Canucks surrendered 7 goals in the third period against the lowly Islanders, which has led to anxiety on the West Coast. The Canucks and Jets are even in the standings with 68 points apiece, but the Jets do hold a game in hand. Vancouver will be in desperation mode and the Jets will need to be ready for just about anything.
On Friday, the New York Rangers make their lone appearance at the MTS Centre this season. While the Broadway Blueshirts are in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, points are vital to the Rangers in order to maintain their position. Goals may be at a premium, especially if Henrik Lundqvist gets the start for New York. The silver medal winning Swedish goalie recorded a shutout against Detroit on March 9, and is looking to get his game ready for the stretch drive.
The big game will take place on Sunday as the Dallas Stars make their third and final appearance in Winnipeg. The Stars have had success at the MTS Centre this season, winning both games by scores of 4-1 on October 11, and 6-4 on December 13. The Stars are 4-2 since the Olympic break and have taken control of their playoff destiny. The Stars would love nothing more, than to bury the Jets once and for all, leaving one less team to worry about. The Jets will have to win this game, or else the playoff chase is all but over.