SAN JOSE — This is not what urgency looks like.
This is not what a playoff team looks like.
And this is not what a championship-calibre team — or even a team poised to make a long run — looks like.
Bad losses happen over the course of a campaign, but when a team that was once 20-9-1 to start the regular season sees its rather large cushion evaporate into thin air, this kind of response simply doesn’t cut it.
And now that razor-thin margin for error has taken another hit after the Winnipeg Jets dropped a 3-0 decision to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night to close out a three-game road trip through California.
Sure, the shot clock suggested the Jets may have dominated play, but the 41-29 edge in shots on goal certainly didn’t tell the entire story.
The folks at Natural Stat Trick had the high danger chances at 19-15 for the Jets, when you consider all situations, so the game was not as one-sided as you might think.
“Well, I’d say we created enough scoring chances. The offence gave us a chance to win the game, we just didn’t score. Then, the inconsistencies with some of our players is hurting us,” Jets head coach Rick Bowness said after the game. “Some of these guys think they’re giving us everything in their tank, they’re dreaming. We have a lot of guys in there giving us everything they can. We just need a few more guys to jump on board. It’s not over. We’re still in eighth spot. We’re going to find out what we’re made of over the next little while.”
The truth serum was flowing for Bowness and he didn’t stop there.
When asked a follow up about how he can reach those players fighting with inconsistency, he basically said it was up to those guys to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
“How do you reach them? There comes a point when your personal pride has to take over. If someone has to go in there and point that out to them, then there is a big problem right there. As I said, we’re going to find out what we’re made of and we’re going to find out what everyone in that room is made of over the next little while.”
Bowness is accurate with that assessment.
This isn’t about one or two players picking up their respective game, though that would be an important starting point.
Two of the guys the Jets clearly need more from are Mark Scheifele (nine games without a goal) and Blake Wheeler (21 games without a goal), but they’ve got company.
Scheifele leads the Jets in goals with 38, but things have mostly gone sideways since he was benched for nearly 12 minutes in a game earlier this month against the Carolina Hurricanes.
At a time when the Jets need Scheifele to be a difference maker, he’s been stuck in a rut.
“I think it’s tough. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. Obviously right now the pressure mounts, for sure,” said Scheifele. “You’ve just got to know there’s a plan for everything. I just gotta try to keep on working hard, try to keep my head up and stay positive. And that goes for every guy in this room. We’ve got to stay positive for each other. We’ve got to continue to go to work… It’s tough to say, you know. It’s hard when they’re not going in for you. Especially with the year that it’s been so far.”
Scheifele then delivered the money shot, but the key for him is for his actions to match his words.
“We’re paid to produce, so we have to produce. That’s the simplest way to put it,” said Scheifele, who finished the game with three shots on goal and five shot attempts in 20:44 of ice time. “You know, me especially, I’ve got to score goals, I’ve got to make plays, I’ve got to create opportunities offensively, create some good chances and some goals. We need more of it. We need plays, we need to handle the puck better, we need to do a lot better. That starts with me.”
It’s the second time in 12 games the Jets have lost to the Sharks, though the first meeting came in overtime so the Jets snuck away with a point.
But at a time when other teams are elevating their respective games, the Jets have basically gone into the tank, winning just seven times in the past 21 games (7-12-2).
They’re having trouble against good teams and even having difficulty beating teams that are essentially trying to lose.
The Sharks were riding a nine-game losing streak going into Tuesday’s contest and their only win in the last 15 games was against — you guessed it — the Jets.
They’re 30 points behind the Jets in the Western Conference standings, but that didn’t prevent them from beating them twice this month.
Take a moment to let that sink in.
When you combine that with victories by both the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators on Tuesday night, the playoff chase finally has some real spice to it.
With seven games left to go in the regular season, the Jets’ lead over the Flames is down to two points (with a head-to-head meeting coming next Wednesday in Winnipeg) and three points over the Predators, who hold two games in hand and will be in Winnipeg on April 8).
Talk about bringing suspense into the equation.
Perhaps a harsh dose of reality will be what the Jets need to find another gear because right now, it’s simply not happening on its own.
“I think we’re pretty attentive right now, to be honest with you,” said Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo. “We’re just not getting the results. We know what is at stake. We know what’s important. We can’t control what other teams are doing. We have to worry about ourselves and getting wins.”
Sure, the Sharks only scored once in the first period and that goal was a result of poor coverage in front of the net mere moments after a minor penalty to Mason Appleton for slashing had expired.
Jacob Peterson found space behind the net and made a nice pass to find an unchecked Noah Gregor in front for a tap-in.
Another came on a redirection by Kevin Labanc after another case of poor puck management early in the third period.
A power-play marker for Martin Kaut late in the third ensured there would be no comeback in the cards for the Jets.
At the other end of the ice, Morweena product James Reimer was solid and made a 10-bell paddle save on Appleton late in the second period, but this isn’t as simple as the Jets getting goalied.
That’s too lazy of a narrative for a team that has managed just nine goals during the past seven games going into Friday’s tilt against the Detroit Red Wings.
“Obviously it’s tough for goals to come by. We’re pretty cold right now,” said Scheifele. “(Are) there things I think we could do differently, for sure. But like I said before, we’re in the thick of it. When confidence is low and you’re cold, you grip the stick a little tighter. We’ve just got to go to work on Thursday when we have a practice at home, and be ready for a good homestand and really put the workboots on.”
One of the strange developments for the Jets at a time when goals are tough to come by is the usage of Nikolaj Ehlers, who had only 13:50 of ice time, including five shifts in the second period.
Bowness explained some of that was more related to Ehlers being held back on the bench when he sends Kevin Stenlund out for defensive zone draws, and with the top power play unit staying on for nearly the entire two minutes of a minor penalty in the second period, than being unhappy with his play.
No matter how you slice it, Ehlers is a dangerous offensive weapon and he needs to be on the ice more, especially when the Jets are going through a tough time offensively.
As for how the Jets try to pull themselves out of this funk, the solution is not overly complicated but it requires a serious commitment.
“Well, we definitely need more from everybody. There’s no doubt,” said Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo. “We haven’t scored many goals in a while. So there’s no doubt, we definitely need more from everybody. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. That’s one thing we can’t lose sight of is going off-script and doing things a different way that’s on your own page. We have to stay together here. We’re going to get through this together. We’re going to find a way.”
How can the Jets restore that seemingly shaken confidence?
“When we look back at what we did well and when we had success and try to re-do that, I think we’ve gotten away from some things that have given us success in the past,” said DeMelo. “The biggest thing is, as hard as it is and as frustrating as it is, we’ve got to continue to stay together here. We can lean on each other and block all of the outside noise. But we’re not out of this and the season’s not over.
“We’ve got a lot of games left here and big games and games that can swing the balance in the standings. That’s a great challenge. We’ve got to take that in and all the feelings that go with that, excitedness, anxiousness, nervousness, excitement, enthusiasm — whatever words you want to use — and use that, harness that. This is a great time. This is what we’ve worked hard for, for this moment. Let’s not lose sight of that. We’re a good hockey team and we will find a way here.”