Jets Lacking Urgency at Pivotal Point in Season

At at time the Winnipeg Jets should be playing more desperately than ever to snag a Western Conference wild card spot and a chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug, they’re playing more like a team interested in hitting the links.

Jets Not Exactly “Fuelled With Passion” Right Now

The Jets — over their past three losses in particular — have not played nearly well enough to stay afloat in a playoff run. It’s not just a few guys guilty of looking uninterested; from top line down, they have exhibited little passion, mettle, and drive.

Paul Maurice Winnipeg Jets bench
In their past three games, the Jets have looked nothing like a team desperate to stay in the playoff hunt. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Take Sunday’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres as a perfect example. Down 2-1 in the mid-third, against a non-playoff team, against a third-string goaltender making his third career start, you’d think the Jets would be putting absolutely everything to the net to get the game-tying goal, right?

Wrong. They took zero shots on Jonas Johansson in the final 9:24. Poor passing, lazy forechecking, and their inability to get past a stacked Sabres’ blue line prevented any chance for sustained o-zone time or a push for the equalizer.

A lack of speed through the neutral zone has been a hallmark, including Tuesday against the Washington Capitals. The Metropolitan Division club skated circles around the visitors early — check out Jakub Vrana effortlessly blow by flat-footed d-men Tucker Poolman and Anthony Bitetto — and dominated them physically, as well.

Jets Not Starting on Time

The Jets’ biggest problem is that they are constantly chasing in games. They’ve allowed the first goal in nine straight, which is… well… absolutely terrible.

Connor Hellebuyck Scott Laughton
The Jets have allowed the game’s first goal in nine straight games. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Not since Feb. 8 against the Ottawa Senators have they fired the opening salvo. They have managed to win five of the games in which they’ve fallen behind, but spotting opponents early leads is not a recipe for success.

The Jets are just 12-19-8 when their opponent scores first; teams don’t often come back when trailing 3-0 against strong teams such as the Flyers or Capitals, plain and simple.

Can Jets Build on Momentum from Near-Comeback Versus Capitals?

It’s not that the Jets are playing poorly for entire games. Their second and third against the Flyers were solid. Against the Capitals, they finally showed some speed and swagger in the latter two periods and erased a 3-0 deficit to grab a point (but ultimately fell in a shootout.)

Blake Wheeler Winnipeg Jets
No one on the Jets, from the captain down, has looked particularly engaged for long periods during their three-game losing streak. The combination of Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, for example, had no shots Saturday and only two against the Capitals. (Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s strange to call out the Jets for a lack of effort since they’ve worked earnestly this season to even stay in the fight to this point; they’ve struggled through a lot of injuries and adversity on their way to 70 points.

Although a portion of the fan base might point to Cheveldayoff’s decision to stand pat on deadline day as a missed opportunity to inject some life into the his squad, the GM was smart not to deal his first-rounder or mortgage his future for a rental; as the Free Press’ Mike McIntyre put it: “The Jets haven’t looked like a legitimate contender for most of this season, so there was no reason to try to act like one Monday.” (from ‘Chevy made right move by not moving, but fans expect action-filled summer,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 02/24/2020.)

Related: Winnipeg Jets & Cheveldayoff Should Skip the Trade Deadline

Cheveldayoff did well to add Dylan DeMelo, a strong, cerebral, defender, and Cody Eakin, a hard-working hometown guy who can provide some scoring pop, in the week prior to the deadline. While they have shown well thus far — head coach Paul Maurice called DeMelo’s debut Thursday against his former Senators’ club “coach’s porn” — they are not players who can drag the disinterested Jets to the postseason by themselves.

Dylan DeMelo Winnipeg Jets
Cheveldayoff did well to add Dylan DeMelo to the d-corp ahead of the deadline for just a third-round pick. As beneficial as a player such as DeMelo can be, he’s not the type of guy who can haul an unmotivated team to the postseason. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Jets Need to Get Desperate

The Jets have 16 games left and 14 of them are against Western Conference opponents, including two each against the Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes and one against the Nashville Predators, the three other teams vying for those two precious playoff berths. Currently, the Jets are tied with the Predators and Coyotes in points but are on the outside looking in as the Predators have three games in hand. The Flames possess down the first spot, two points ahead of the other three.

Winnipeg Jets Nikolaj Ehlers Calgary Flames Travis Hamonic
The Jets have pivotal games against other wild-card hopefuls coming up, including two against the Calgary Flames. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

So, to be clear, the Jets’ playoff hopes are still very much alive. “Say what you will about our team but we have zero give-up in our room. We’ll just fight and scratch and claw until the very end,” Wheeler said post-game Tuesday.

They better. If the team as a whole — and particularly the core group paid the big bucks to perform under pressure — doesn’t start leaving it all out there on the ice, their games down the stretch will be an exercise in playing out the string. They need to take their near-comeback against the Capitals as an example of how they must play for 60 straight minutes every game through the end of the season.

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