WINNIPEG - Paul Maurice didn’t look or sound like a guy who was about to be handed a pink slip.
The head coach of the Winnipeg Jets has been around the game long enough to know that dealing with questions about his job security during a losing streak that reached seven games on Monday after a 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators comes with the territory.
He didn’t overreact, nor did he lash out.
Maurice calmly looked into the camera and made it clear his energy was focused on more important matters.
“I’m not worried about it at all,” said Maurice, who is the second-longest tenured head coach in the NHL behind Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning. “And it has nothing to do with keeping it. The set of circumstances you’re in, you just don’t let it affect you. This is a tough situation. But don’t have any problem with the heat. I do this every day. I’m here every day. I know what’s going on. We’re trying to fix it. Guys played hard. They’re playing hard, they’re competing, they’re sticking together. That’s the only path out of this. That’s the right path. So I’m not going to spend a minute worrying about that.”
Maurice was also asked if he felt the noise level surrounding his team's slump was justified?
“I’m not complaining about any of the questions you ask. We’ve lost seven in a row and that’s just a fact,” said Maurice, whose club slipped to 27-21-3 on the season and will close out the road portion of the schedule on Wednesday against the Calgary Flames. “What we’re talking about here is not to let that be the story in the room and being able to keep your head composed and be able to come out and fight your way out of this.
“There are fans that love this team, but if you lose seven in a row, they’re not going to be very happy with that and why would you be. I can tell you that nobody here is happy about it.”
Maurice had joked going into the season that with the glare of the spotlight on the all-Canadian Division, there would probably be somewhere between two and five firings in the North.
To this point, the Montreal Canadiens replaced Claude Julien with Dom Ducharme and the Flames removed Geoff Ward to bring back Darryl Sutter.
With five games left in the regular season and the Jets now tied for third place with the Canadiens, Maurice isn’t on the precipice of being added to the list.
However, this late-season swoon for the Jets has brought an unexpected turn to the proceedings and is eerily reminiscent of what transpired late in the 2018-19 campaign.
When a losing skid like this occurs, all aspects of an organization usually get a thorough review.
That’s why exit meetings -- even if they’ve shifted to the Zoom world in the midst of a pandemic -- are held.
Questions are asked, answers are delivered and evaluations are made based on the combination of those exchanges and the on-ice results.
Those discussions will be held whenever this season comes to a close.
In the meantime, it’s up to Maurice and his coaching staff to come up with possible solutions to the issues ailing this team and it’s up to the Jets players to execute at a higher level.
That burden must be shared, otherwise the Jets are headed for a third consecutive early exit.
Speaking of questions, the big question for the Jets right now revolves around how they plan to try and stop the bleeding?
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Jets alternate captain Josh Morrissey. “There are nights in this league where you really put out a poor effort and get rewarded with a win for whatever reason, and then there’s nights where you do seemingly a lot of the right things and play hard and can’t seem to buy one. But that’s the NHL -- it’s an unforgiving league.”
Following Monday’s morning skate, Maurice used humour to try and capture what his team was currently going through.
“We’ve hit a rough spot on three systems: 5-on-5, penalty kill and the power play,” said Maurice.
That’s not exactly a winning formula.
Maurice knows it’s a terrible time of the season for the offence to dry up, for the power play to struggle and for the penalty kill to spring a leak.
On Monday night, the Jets' lone marker came from Morrissey during a four-on-four situation on what was the defenceman’s game-high ninth shot on goal.
The high-octane offence was once again held in check, limited to a grand total of 10 goals during the past seven games.
The Jets power play finished zero-for-six and gave up a shorthanded marker, though the penalty kill seemed to take a step forward, going three-for-three.
With fewer than two minutes to go in regulation, Jets defenceman Logan Stanley was unable to clear the puck out of the defensive zone, setting off a chaotic series of events that ended with a Nikita Zaitsev slapshot beating Laurent Brossoit with 77 seconds left on the clock.
Allowing another late goal was a serious blow for the Jets, who have not recorded a single point during this stretch of games that represents the longest skid since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in 2011.
When a losing streak lasts this long, a team goes through a wide array of emotions and the Jets are no different in that regard.
“I'm proud of the way they're handling it. I mean, nobody likes it, but they've done the right things,” said Maurice. “So we're not slamming doors. It's not... that they don't care enough. We've already gone through the phase that everybody is barking. Now we're making sure that we're doing this together and trying to be as supportive as we can.”
Jets captain Blake Wheeler did his best to try and set the tone as he spoke with reporters, reinforcing the need to focus on the process and not the result, no matter how difficult that might be during this challenging time.
“That’s how it’s going for us right now. (The Senators) had a couple of even-strength scoring chances all game and (the Jets) lose the game, it’s kind of hard to describe,” said Wheeler. “It feels like we have to be perfect to win a game. It’s just really important for our team to drown out the noise right now and look at that film and say that the only thing missing was the result.”
There is a reason the aforementioned noise is growing louder.
Two weeks ago, the Jets found themselves locked in a battle for first place with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Right now, they’re running out of time to get back on track and are in a legitimate battle to try and avoid dropping to fourth place in the North.
Where the Jets end up placing matters less than trying to sort out a few critical issues in their collective game before the playoffs arrive.
“Typically, you still suffer a couple losses before you get back on the winning side even when you get your game right,” Wheeler reasoned. “I think the last handful of games have been way more good than bad. We’ve just got to keep pushing. We’ve just got to stay with it and not let it get to us and hopefully, we can build some confidence here before the end of the regular season.”
The plan Wheeler put forth makes plenty of sense, but the Jets runway is limited and the clock is most definitely ticking.