Like prices on Black Friday, the Winnipeg Jets hit a new low Friday afternoon against the Minnesota Wild in an embarrassing 7-1 loss.
Snakebitten Jets Show Signs of Deep Frustration
The Jets came into the matinee at Xcel Energy Center losers of four straight and having scored only four goals in those four games. That paltry number came despite firing 153 combined shots in losses to the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Jets got good looks throughout those games and were hoping the too-familiar script of “working hard but not having anything to show for it” would finally flip, but it stayed exactly the same. They outshot the Wild 14-9 and had the better scoring chances, but once again, couldn’t buy a goal with Scrooge McDuck money. Mark Scheifele was stoned by Cam Talbot on a power play one-timer; Nikolaj Ehlers missed a wide open net.
Meanwhile, the home side got the puck luck the Jets would sell their arms, legs, and maybe their firstborn children for. Alex Goligoski opened the scoring 52 seconds in on a weak wrist shot from the point that found its way through a maze of bodies; Mats Zuccarello extended the lead to two with a point shot that deflected off Connor Hellebuyck, off the crossbar, off the back of Hellebuyck’s arm, and in.
Jets Emotional State in Second Made a Comeback Impossible
Coming into the second period, the Jets were visibly frustrated, and their frustration led to the most farcical period of their season. Even with all their offensive depth on paper, it was obvious they had no chance of making a comeback on the ice.
The breakdowns became psychological as every play was overthought, every stick was grasped too hard, and every breakdown led to a goal against in a three-tally second for the Wild.
The bench got quiet after back-to-back goals against early in the frame; a neutral-zone turnover and a bungled blocked shot by Nathan Beaulieu led to Ryan Hartman’s 11th at 2:04.
As every Jet was preoccupied with whether they were ever going to score again, they got terribly out of structure in the defensive zone and it led to Zuccarello’s second of the game, just 45 seconds later.
Head coach Paul Maurice juggled the lines thereafter, but it was pointless. Shortly after the blender came out, Eric Comrie — who replaced Hellebuyck after the 4-0 goal — whiffed on an easy wrist shot from Jon Merrill.
The Jets seemed satisfied to engage in thuggish antics in the latter half of the second, with Beaulieu slew-footing Goligoski and Evgeny Svechnikov slashing Hartmann and then taking him down after the whistle, which led to a big scrum and a four-minute Wild power play.
It was more the same in the third, with Pierre-Luc Dubois taking a penalty for full-nelsoning Kevin Fiala for no apparent reason and turnovers leading to two more goals. Perhaps the only positives to the performance was that the Jets’ usually abysmal penalty kill went 5-for-5, and that Dubois broke the goalless drought of 164 minutes, 44 seconds with a meaningless power play goal with less than five minutes left.
Positives Few and Far Between; Something Has to Give
While the Jets could have rightly preached — when the losing streak was only at three — that they would be fine if they just stuck to their processes, they can’t preach that anymore.
Right now, their hallmarks are of extreme emotional fragility and of looking lost in the wilderness. None of the top-six forwards — the players paid handsomely to carry the offensive mail — are performing anywhere close to good enough, especially captain Blake Wheeler, who makes $10 million but has exactly zero goals on the season.
A stubbornness has leaked into the Jets’ game as they almost refused to shoot after falling behind 5-0. As some examples, they wasted odd-man rushes both at even strength and shorthanded by attempting passes with no chance of success rather than just firing the puck on net.
Maurice seems without answers as how to stop the season from spiralling out of control. His idea of impactful changes are playing seventh defenseman Beaulieu as a fourth-line forward and using his line blender to make nonsensical melanges when already losing by a bundle.
One has to wonder how much more leash the second-longest-tenured NHL coach has and how much more he deserves. A team considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender after a strong offseason from GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has not flourished under his leadership and has won only nine of its first 20 games. His charges certainly don’t look motivated to play for him; his decision to stick with the status-quo is leading to predictable futility.
From what went down Friday, it doesn’t appear the slump will end any time soon unless wholesale changes are made, but it does appear their season is in serious jeopardy.
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.