Jets Slumping at Worst Possible Time

One often hears, from NHL players, coaches, and media, about the importance of heading into playoffs on the right foot. Indeed, reaching peak performance at the right time and entering the postseason with confidence are paramount for any team entertaining notions of hosting pro hockey’s top prize.

Therefore, it’s not ideal that Winnipeg Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice, over the past few weeks as what’s supposed to be a deep Stanley Cup Run inches ever-closer, has described his team’s play as “horse****,” said “there wouldn’t be a part of our game we’re comfortable with right now,” and admitted the team is “struggling to do some pretty basic things, at times, right.”

Jets Experiencing Trying Times

Maurice is right on the money — the Jets have not been very good for most of February. They are 2-3-2 in their last seven and not looking anything like the team considered by many to be a bonafide Cup contender.

They are frustrated — it’s clear from the frowning faces on the bench and sticks smashed along the boards. For the first time in a long time, the fans in Bell MTS Place — who have become accustomed to success — can be accurately described as restless.

Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets
The Jets have experienced plenty of frustration over the past seven-game stretch. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The slump started in Montreal, when the Jets were blitzed and obliterated by the Canadiens’ incredible speed. Since then, they’ve lost on back-to-back Saturdays to the the NHL’s worst team. They’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by allowing the San Jose Sharks’ Joe Pavelski to score shorthanded overtime goal. They’ve been bested by a Colorado Avalanche squad that broke an eight-game losing streak with a convincing 4-1 win.

The above Twitter poll from The Winnipeg Sun’s Scott Billeck points to the problems and should really have “all of the above” as an option. As Maurice said after the Saturday night overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators, the Jets are struggling in every single facet of their game.

Power Play Outages

The Jets’ power play — which has made opponents pay for heading to the box for most of this season — has gone inexplicably cold. They’re mired in a 0-for-19 slump over the aforementioned seven-game stretch. A few man advantages have generated good looks, but have just as often been momentum killers instead of momentum builders.

The power play is, in a word, predictable. Opponents are keying on and preventing every seam pass that stems from PP quarterback Blake Wheeler’s sideboards office. Maurice tried to inject life into his top unit by yanking Patrik Laine — who’s goalless streak is now at 14 games and shows no signs of ending soon — in favour of Jack Roslovic — who recently scored a power play hat trick — but that didn’t bear any fruit. Laine has been back on the top unit for the past game-and-a-half.

Mark Scheifele #55, Blake Wheeler #26 and Patrik Laine #29 of the Winnipeg Jets
It’s been nothing but futility for the Jets’ power play recently. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

The power play struggles wouldn’t be as troubling if the Jets were putting up piles of goals even strength, but they aren’t: only 14 in the stretch in question.

Defensive Deficiencies

The Jets’ defence is just as much to blame for the recent struggles. One doesn’t have to be an analytics expert to see how often they’ve been victimized, allowing 26 goals in the seven game span. They’ve given opponents too much time and space, which has equated to a multitude of high-danger scoring chances, odd-man rushes, and breakaways against. This goal by Phillip Danault is a prime example.

Phillip Danault, Connor Hellebuyck
The Jets d-corp has exhibited some dubious play lately. Here, Phillip Danault scores on Connor Hellebuyck after going end-to-end and streaking right up the middle of the ice through Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

They’ve found themselves frequently hemmed in and their attempted zone exits have been either sloppy or outright failures. As a result, the Jets have allowed a lot of shots — 35-plus in six of the past seven.

As THW’s own Rob Mahon explored recently, the Feb. 9 to the Senators — as well as number of injuries — have “exposed some holes in their defensive game” and their need for “an infusion of new talent on the back end” prior to the Feb. 25 NHL Trade Deadline.

Jets Need to Recapture Their Intensity

While the compounding flaws are frustrating, the most frustrating part is that this team is capable of much more and everyone — from the fans and pundits to the coaches and players — knows it.

The Jets have well-stocked arsenal and more than enough weapons to take on the NHL’s top teams. Lately, though, they’ve lacked the intensity needed to succeed even against weaker clubs.

For a team so adept at bouncing back from lacklustre performances and well-known for their mettle, their recent efforts have embodied an air of casualness and a lack of desire. They’ve missed opportunities they usually seize (for example, when they allowed a back-breaking short handed goal to the Avalanche that doubled the visitor’s lead and essentially put the game to bed), shot themselves in the foot with bad penalties, (they took five on Saturday, two of which were double-minors), and haven’t appeared to want wins as much as their more desperate adversaries.

Winnipeg Jets
Complacent has slipped into the Jets’ game, and it needs to be eliminated. They need to recapture their trademark intensity if they want a real shot at glory. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

It’s not hard to see why complacency has slipped in. The past seven games have not been must-wins from an objective standpoint, nor are the games ahead. Still in first place in the Central Division, the Jets are pretty much a shoo-in for the playoffs. However, that fact doesn’t make the games any less important from a mental standpoint, for the reasons explored at the top and below.

“Indeed, it’s a dangerous game to play to simply put it on cruise control for the next few weeks and then assume you can just flip a switch when the time is right,” the Winnipeg Free Press’ Mike McIntyre opined in a well-worded recent op-ed. “Complacency is the enemy that must be avoided at all costs if this team wants to still be playing hockey four months from now.” (from ‘Jets can’t afford to take nights off,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 02/15/19.)

Break Could Be Just What the Jets Need to Refocus

The Jets don’t play again until Wednesday in Colorado. The three-day break couldn’t come at a better time, as it will give them a chance to reflect on what’s out-of-whack and how to realign it.

Winnipeg Jets' Mathieu Perreault
The three-day break could be just what the Jets need to refocus and get back to playing the way they know they can. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan)

While, again, the Mile High City matchup is not a must-win from a standings or “make the playoffs” perspective, it will be as important of a game as they’ve played all season — they need to prove to themselves they can beat the bottom-feeders and show the hunger for winning they exhibited until recently.

The feelings of frustration and futility cannot continue to fester. If the Jets enter the playoffs playing as they are now, they’ll be making a first-round exit. They need to sort things out and head into the playoffs in high gear rather than neutral if they want to make the four-year-old prediction below a reality.