The Winnipeg Jets are in a complete and utter free fall, losers of five straight and seemingly without answers as to how to turn things around.
Here, we’ll take a look at their disastrous 0-5 homestand and the key moment in each game that turned the tide irreversibly toward a loss.
April 17 vs the Oilers: Two Men Covering McDavid, None Covering Puljujarvi
The Jets came off a successful five-game eastern road trip — by the end of which they’d played 17 of their past 22 games away from home — for this matchup with the Edmonton Oilers.
Understandably enough, the team looked tired and was not generating many chances. However, they stuck around in the game and were trailing by just one in the third period.
That is, until both Tucker Poolman and Kyle Connor chased Connor McDavid behind the net, completely abandoning Jesse Puljujarvi in the process. McDavid got the puck to the wide-open Finn and he slammed it past Connor Hellebuyck to double the lead.
Putting pressure on McDavid is understandable, since he’s feasted on the Jets this season like a vulture feasts on a dead carcass — in fact, he set an NHL record Wednesday evening by recording nine straight multi-point games versus a single opponent in a season, the Jets — but you can’t just leave a man unaccompanied in front like that.
As few chances the Jets were generating that evening, there was no way they were scoring two. The Oilers won 3-0 by adding an empty netter.
April 22 vs the Maple Leafs: Opting not to Pull Hellebuyck Early
The reigning Vezina-winner looked nothing like that in this matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs, allowing goals on a wrist shot from Auston Matthews and a weak backhander from Wayne Simmonds on the first two shots he faced.
His body language and positioning betrayed that he had absolutely nothing — and he should have gotten the hook just 1:18 into the game and replaced with Laurent Brossoit — but head coach Paul Maurice opted to stick with him. To the Jets’ credit, they pulled even by the midway mark of the first on goals by Mark Scheifele and Andrew Copp and the game looked like it could go either way.
That is, until Hellebuyck allowed a third goal on his sixth shot against, on a Joe Thornton slapper from long range that the official scorer determined Jason Spezza got a piece of.
Hellebuyck was yanked after Spezza’s tally, but it was one marker too late. The goal was a momentum killer as the Leafs went on to win 5-3 (the fifth goal being an empty netter) despite Brossoit performing well.
April 24 vs the Maple Leafs: Tavares’ Tally Caused by Scheifele’s Lazy Change
“Mark Scheifele” and “lazy” are two terms you don’t often hear together, but the Jets’ usually-dedicated alternate captain was guilty on this play of a complete lack of effort.
After Kyle Connor turned the puck over, Scheifele decided to glide to the bench for a change instead of back check. That led to a two-on-one with William Nylander and John Tavares that ended with Tavares’ roof job.
The goal turned a 2-1 game into a 3-1 game and the Jets never recovered. Scheifele was benched as a result and didn’t see another shift for more than 17 minutes.
April 26 vs the Oilers: McDavid’s Slick Second-Period Marker
The Jets got off to a decent start as they were looking to snap their three-game losing skid, playing the Oilers tough through the first 15 minutes of the opening frame. But then the Oilers rattled off a pair in 2:09 to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
You’d think the Jets would pay close attention to McDavid in the second after he scored in the first, well, because he’s McDavid, but the defense allowed him two more ten-bell chances early into the middle frame. On his first chance — a breakaway — he was stopped by Hellebuyck.
But he would not be denied. On another rush just moments later after the Oilers exploited the Jets with another long stretch pass, McDavid hesitated briefly — he was able to do so because Dylan DeMelo was in another area code — then slid the puck between Hellebuyck’s five hole.
The rout was on thereafter and the Oilers went on to absolutely embarrass the Jets in a 6-1 laugher.
April 28 vs the Oilers: Wheeler’s Inexcusable Infraction
Just a few minutes after the captain scored to tie the game 1-1 in the second period, he killed any momentum his team could have built by taking a bone-headed high-sticking penalty behind the play. He caught Ethan Bear in the mug even though Bear was nowhere near the puck or involved in the play in any way.
Wheeler was sent to the sin bin for a double-minor and surprise, surprise, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored to put his team back in the lead. That goal turned out to be the game winner.
The captain certainly didn’t lead by example when it came to discipline. He was also in the box for tripping when Tyson Barrie opened the scoring.
Jets Saying the Right Things, but the Situation is Dire
Despite there being not much evidence the Jets can get things turned around — well-spoken veteran Paul Stastny said recently the team had been cheating and not playing the right way well before the losing streak — Hellebuyck is defiant.
“We’re going to snap out of this and it’s going to be big and we’re going to carry that momentum,” he said post-game Wednesday. “It’s a matter of time.”
“We’re not scoring as much as we were, but that just means once we start scoring we’re going to be scoring a lot,” he continued. “Playoffs are right around the corner, so if we’re saving all our goals for the playoffs that’s huge. I think you know our team is very offensive and they’re going to come.”
Jets fans have learned to see through Hellebuyck’s bluster: he also disagreed with being pulled on April 22 and has said many times in the past that he’s “liked his game” even when he’s played poorly. As everyone knows, “just flipping the switch” in the playoffs isn’t really something that’s possible. You have to go into the postseason playing well if you have any hope of making a long run.
Scheifele was a bit more measured in his comments Wednesday night, but he too said he is “confident in this group that good things will happen” if they keep working hard. Unfortunately, those sound like empty platitudes at this point as the Jets clearly aren’t walking the walk.
If the team’s leadership core does not address long-festering problems right now, the Jets will be swept in the first round whether their opponent is the Maple Leafs or Oilers. It’s as simple as that.