Dreary loss to Rangers a sign of the times for reeling Jets

Ryan Strome scores two to help lead the New York Rangers to victory over the Winnipeg Jets 3-0, who were then officially eliminated from playoff contention.

WINNIPEG -- Raise your hand if you know how many games the Winnipeg Jets have won against teams currently above the playoff line since Feb. 17.

The number is downright alarming and it’s one of the many reasons the team has drastically underachieved this season.

Sample size is always something to take into consideration when it comes to statistics, but 30 games isn’t something to sneeze at.

As the Jets put together a record of 14-13-3, just two of those wins came against teams that have either punched their respective tickets to the Stanley Cup playoffs or are on the verge of doing so.

A 7-4 triumph over the Tampa Bay Lightning and a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues represent the only times the Jets came away victorious against teams in that category and they picked up a single point before losing in overtime to the Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars (twice).

It’s true that you can only play the teams on the schedule, but the Jets went 2-10-3 overall against playoff-bound clubs in that span.

So it comes as absolutely no surprise that the Jets are a single point away from officially being eliminated.

The latest defeat was a 3-0 shutout loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

What conclusions can one draw from this unexpected turn of events?

Well, the Jets can’t expect to move past the ranks of also-rans without doing a better job against the top-end teams.

While plenty of discussion has revolved around disappointing losses against non-playoff teams, the Jets' overall play against the elite also requires considerable improvement.

What steps need to be taken in order for that to happen?

Improvement to the structure and commitment to team defence remain at the top of that list.

But another area that was not expected to be such a struggle relates to the more than occasional offensive woes.

Tuesday marked the 37th time in 77 games that the Jets have been held to two goals or fewer and they’ve won only three of those (3-30-4).

Running into a hot goalie can be a common occurrence -- and getting frustrated by Vezina Trophy front-runner and Hart Trophy candidate Igor Shesterkin is something many teams have endured this season.

That doesn’t take the Jets off the hook though, they clearly need to diversify their offensive attack and become far less reliant on scoring off the rush.

There have been plenty of impressive individual performances among the Jets forward group this season, but there wasn’t enough secondary scoring and the defence corps has only 23 goals -- with Josh Morrissey supplying a career-high 12 of those.

Former Jets forward Andrew Copp chipped in a pair of assists in his first game against his former teammates on Tuesday and he’s now up to five goals and 15 points in 14 contests since the move was made.

Eric Comrie made his 13th start - and 16th appearance of the season -- and the Jets backup did his part to keep his team in the contest.

However, the lack of support meant he suffered what was just his fourth loss of the season.

As for the two goals allowed by Comrie, one was a perfect redirection by Ryan Strome on the power play after Jets defenceman Logan Stanley made an overly aggressive read at the defensive blue line and the other was a seeing-eye shot from Adam Fox through traffic.

“(Shesterkin) is a good goalie, but (Comrie) played just as good if not better than him. (Comrie) played a hell of a game for us,” said Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois. “There’s a lot of good goalies in this league. We’ve got to figure out a way to create more offence.”

Comrie appreciated the opportunity to go head-to-head with the NHL’s best goalie at Madison Square Garden.

“Yeah. I always want that challenge. I think you always want to say you’re better than the guy across from you and just do the best you can to beat that guy,” said Comrie, who also appreciated the words of encouragement from Dubois. “But (Shesterkin) won the game. I think he finished on top. And myself, I know you always worry about the competition across from you, but I’m not worried about that so much.

“I’m just looking to keep building.”

Speaking of goalies, Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck missed Tuesday’s game with what interim head coach Dave Lowry described as a non-COVID related illness, leaving Mikhail Berdin to serve as the backup after being recalled on an emergency basis.

With Hellebuyck not at 100 per cent and having already made 64 starts on the season, there is a golden opportunity for Comrie to start consecutive games for the first time since early November.

Since the Jets' dim playoff hopes could be extinguished before Thursday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, there is also an opportunity on the horizon for some prospects to gain some valuable experience during the final five outings.

That means finding a spot for defenceman Dylan Samberg to get back in action after sitting out the past two games as a healthy scratch.

Samberg has shown well in the majority of his 10 games and these extra reps would serve him well on the road to becoming an NHL regular this fall.

Guys like centre David Gustafsson and blueliner Ville Heinola could also be recalled next week when the Jets return for a four-game homestand to play out the string.

Of course it’s important for the Jets to not simply go through the motions and sleepwalk to the finish line, but providing a carrot to some prospects who are enjoying a strong season with the Manitoba Moose is something that could have some long-range benefits.

And with a full audit just around the corner for the Jets, getting a glimpse at the not-so-distant future and allowing a few more players the chance to help get acclimated at the NHL level is something that needs to be a priority.

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