Jets’ Poor Performances in Winnable Games Cause for Concern

The Winnipeg Jets are quickly gaining a reputation as a slump-buster for struggling NHL squads, and too frequently, are proving to be the cure for what ails teams in desperate need of a win.

Jets Playing Down to Their Opponents Too Often

Tuesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres is a prime example. The Atlantic Division club came into Canada Life Centre with one in in their past 12 games, winless in seven straight, and starting a goaltender in Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen who had only won one NHL game in his career.

The eight-win Sabres seemed ripe for the picking, but the visitors skated away with a well-deserved 4-2 victory, working harder and capitalizing on more opportunities than the home side. Rasmus Dahlin had the first multi-goal game of his career.

That was just the latest instance of the Jets playing down to an opponent that should have been beatable for a team considered a Stanley Cup contender by many after a strong offseason by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.

A similar scene played out on Nov. 29, when the Central Division bottom-feeder Arizona Coyotes came into town with only four wins and starting Karel Vejmelka, who had never won an NHL game. Vejmelka made 46 saves in a 1-0 snooze-fest (the author was unfortunately subjected to that game live.)

The Coyotes haven’t won another game since.

Karel Vejmelka Arizona Coyotes
Karel Vejmelka made 46 saves against the Jets and captured his first-ever NHL victory on Nov. 29. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Jets were also shut out 2-0 by the New York Islanders on Nov. 6 — the Metropolitan Division squad has seven wins all season — where they mustered up just 24 shots and were slow all game.

They also fell 4-3 in a shootout to the Vancouver Canucks Friday night. Granted, the Canucks came into the game with some swagger — injected by new head coach Bruce Boudreau after the organizational house-cleaning that saw Travis Green among others shown the door — but the Jets should have still been able to handle a team that had to that point had just 10 wins.

Blame Falls Squarely on Coaching, and Maurice Has Admitted as Such

The Jets are powerful on paper, but that power is being throttled by head coach Paul Maurice.

This tendency to lose to weak teams is just another clear sign Maurice is not the man to lead the Jets into the promised land, and that fresh blood behind the bench is needed to resurrect a squad that is too often comatose.

Related: Jets’ Full Potential Won’t Be Reached With Maurice Behind the Bench

Maurice is unable to motivate his team or prepare them sufficiently to play when their opponent is a “weak” one. That’s evident by their breakdowns, lethargy, and general lack of intensity.

Maurice has often been without answers for what ails his team, and usually spouts lame excuses — time zone changes, injuries, back-to-backs — or platitudes about being better, or faster, or more detailed. But that’s changed recently. Interestingly enough, he has publicly taken the blame twice in the past week.

“We were slow to start with. We skated for 15, 20 minutes. And then slowed and could never get back up to speed. That’s my job,” he said after the loss to the Sabres. “We gotta play faster than that, we gotta player harder than that, be more engaged than that regardless of our set of circumstances. We need to be better than that.”

He said something extremely similar last Tuesday, after the Jets were dominated in a 4-2 loss to the speedy Carolina Hurricanes.

“We weren’t good enough to win tonight. They (the Hurricanes) deserved it,” he said post-game. “We just weren’t prepared to play. That’s my job. For the style of game that was going to be played, we didn’t skate nearly well enough to expect to win.”

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice
Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice has admitted recently that he’s not doing his job, but he’s still behind the bench. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

But even as Maurice has literally admitted in front of scribes that broadcast to millions that he’s not doing his job, Maurice apologists have chosen to ignore that. The True North organization remains blind to his flaws and loyal to their own detriment.

Anger, Apathy Setting in Amongst Fan Base

Sometimes Maurice comes up with a clever sound byte that fools people into believing he’s an effective coach. But more and more are realizing he’s to blame for the season that’s spiralling out of control.

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Many have become fed up with Maurice for making a deep core of forwards, much-improved defence, and Vezina-calibre goaltender much less than the sum of its parts. Here’s a selection of comments on the Winnipeg Jets subreddit after the game against the Sabres.

  • “I wish I could show up to my job unprepared and underperform all the time with the skills to succeed and still keep my job.”
  • “One step forward, five steps back. Embarrassing effort tonight. This team isn’t and doesn’t deserve to make the playoffs.”
  • “We’re spending to the cap and this is not a playoff team. Depressing…”
  • “I’m honestly pretty apathetic about the team right now. There is too much talent on this team for this kind of repeated lacklustre performance. I don’t know what the answer is but it’s tough to be optimistic.”
  • I could have gone to the game tonight free and I turned it down. I could have watched the game tonight but I watched The Grinch instead.I don’t really care anymore honestly. They don’t so why should I?”

If fans are angry, it at least means they still care. What these comments reveal should be even more alarming to True North: the fact that — due to the Jets repeatedly whiffing on points they desperately need to put in the bank — a not-insignificant portion of the fanbase has checked out completely. They no longer see the team under Maurice worth investing time or money in watching.

Pierre-Luc Dubois Joseph Woll Winnipeg Jets Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre-Luc Dubois and the Jets are going to keep losing fans if they stick to the status quo. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

Alienating even a single fan is dangerous nowadays, with attendance down and the thousands-deep list of Jets’ fans waiting for season tickets long gone. Fans are no longer content with just having the NHL back — they expect a winning product.

With every game the Jets play down to opponents and act the slump buster, more fans will come to see them as irrelevant. That alienation was on display Tuesday, as boos rained down in the third period. They rained down last Tuesday as well, during an ineffective five-minute third-period power play against the Hurricanes.

Fans have every right to feel they and their dollar are being disrespected and taken for granted by an organization communicating — through its lack of action — a contentment with mediocrity.

The ultimate sign that fans are done is when they throw their jerseys onto the ice. That’s happened in Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver in recent years. If the Jets can’t start winning winnable games, Winnipeg will soon join that club.

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