In a 56-game season, every point is crucial.
Just 14 games into their 2020-21 schedule, the Winnipeg Jets have already squandered far too many.
Jets “Experts” At Clutching Defeat Out of the Jaws of Victory
The Jets have allowed their opponents to break a third-period tie in the final two minutes three times already.
Most recently, they gave up a goal to the Ottawa Senators’ Brady Tkachuk with 8.2 seconds on Saturday afternoon to lose 2-1.
Just four days before that, they gave up a goal to the Calgary Flames’ Elias Lindholm with 1:42 left to lose 3-2.
And back on Jan. 24, they gave up a goal to the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl with 0.7 seconds to go — yes, all they needed to do to snag at least a point and a chance at two was to hang on for less than one more second — to lose 4-3.
That’s between three and six points, down the drain, because they couldn’t close out a combined 1 minute and 51 seconds between three games.
Maurice Claims There’s No Trend, But Facts Don’t Lie
Head coach Paul Maurice said unconvincingly Saturday he doesn’t believe this denotes any sort of trend, and claimed these are “three different events.”
When something happens in nearly 25 per cent of your games — when something is this predictable — it’s a trend, even if the circumstances are different each time.
What led to the most recent collapse was a miscommunication between Derek Forbort and Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck left the net to stop the puck in front of the restricted area before it hit the back boards, thinking Forbort would come play it.
The d-man, however, went into the corner, thinking the goaltender was going to play it to him rather than just stop the puck in its tracks and leave it there.
That led to Connor Brown picking up the puck and playing it back to the point for a shot that Tkachuk tipped in. Hellebuyck, for all his strengths, is an atrocious puck handler, and should have stayed in his net in that situation.
The late-game goal allowed against the Flames was due to a careless high-sticking penalty from Nathan Beaulieu, who has struggled this season.
The late-game goal against the Oilers was due to no one paying attention to Draisaitl in front of the net.
Lack of Mettle, Poor Deployment
Overall, it all points to a lack of mental mettle and poor personnel deployment by Maurice.
The combination of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, who have all been poor at even-strength and on the defensive side of the puck (Scheifele has an even plus/minus, while Connor is minus-5 and Wheeler is a team-worst minus-9) were out for the the Tkachuk goal.
The fact they weren’t stapled to the bench in that situation points to two possible realities. One: that the coach isn’t smart enough to realize the players he’s sending over the boards late-game are the wrong ones, or two: that the tail is wagging the dog and the players — not the coach — are dictating when they play.
Neither of those possible realities are good.
Resiliency is an asset the Jets had last season in spades, when “staying in the fight” became a rallying cry. It’s something that begins with the leadership group and influences the team as a whole. They need to find that fighting spirit again.
Lost Points Will Loom Large Later On
In such a short season, you have to play for the point when you’re tied late in the third, even against a team such as the Senators you think you can snag the game-winner on in regulation. Your top defensive players should be out there to ensure the game goes into overtime.
That’s especially the case considering the Jets — who have some of the best offensive depth in the league at their disposal — are above .500 in extra time in recent seasons. They’ve gone 12-8 in three-on-three and 5-4 in shootouts since the start of the 2018-19 campaign.
The Jets simply need to find a way to stop this alarming trend (starting a petition to shorten the third period to 18 minutes won’t work, by the way.) Missing out on any more points will loom large later on.
The most alarming thing: the points they’ve thrown away already may mean the difference between a North Division playoff berth or yet another disappointingly early finish.