Jets fail another litmus test to Avalanche as significant decisions loom

Gabriel Landeskog fired home three goals for a hat trick as the Colorado Avalanche scored six straight goals in a 6-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

This is what an elite team looks like when it’s clicking on all cylinders.

For one period on Friday night, the Winnipeg Jets made it look like they not only had what it takes to hang with the team that’s currently residing in the NHLs penthouse, but they built a 3-0 advantage against the Colorado Avalanche.

To say they had dominated the flow of play wasn’t completely accurate, though it’s exactly what happened to them when the Avalanche found another gear during the final 40 minutes of play and the Jets provided absolutely no pushback whatsoever.

When the scoreboard read 6-3 for the Avalanche after the final buzzer sounded, the truth of the matter was that the final tally was a touch flattering for the Jets.

This game wasn’t even that close, even after starting with a three-goal headstart.

For all the talk about the Jets possibly pushing back into contender status this season, it was another litmus test this team failed miserably.

Right now, the Jets barely even resemble a bubble team, having dropped four consecutive games and collected just one of a possible eight points going into Sunday’s matinee against the Arizona Coyotes.

At a time where the Jets should be showing urgency and playing up to a certain standard, they simply aren’t meeting expectations - either of the internal or external variety.

That the Jets remain only six points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a record of 22-21-9 seems like nothing but a mirage, considering they would need to leapfrog four teams to accomplish that goal - only to likely earn a first-round date with the Avalanche.

For as much talk there has been about the Jets still having 30 games to get things sorted out, efforts like Friday night paint a picture that is not nearly as rosy.

It’s games like this that reinforce the belief there just might be something wrong with the mix of players assembled or the construction of the roster.

This group, though it doesn’t lack talent, is not greater than the sum of its parts - and that’s a problem Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is going to need to address.

The closer things get to the March 21 NHL trade deadline, the more apparent it’s become that the Jets are looking more and more like a team that’s in need of another major shake-up.

Yes, the pending unrestricted free agents like forwards Andrew Copp and Paul Stastny are going to be the primary focus for Cheveldayoff in terms of maximizing his return, but making a few other moves during the coming weeks could be a pre-emptive strike toward whatever plans the organization has for bolstering the squad for the 2022-23 campaign and beyond.

Despite several talented forwards - even with guys like Nikolaj Ehlers, Cole Perfetti and Copp sidelined due to injury - the Jets don’t find the back of the net often enough.

They’ve also had far too many games when the group is carried by one line - and maybe gets a contribution on special teams, as was the case Friday when Adam Lowry scored shorthanded to augment the two goals created by the trio of Kyle Connor (one goal), Evgeny Svechnikov (one goal) and Pierre-Luc Dubois (two assists).

“I wish I had the answer,” Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry told reporters in Denver. “Well, we’re going to have to continue to demand (consistency). Big thing is that our level of desperation has to continually increase.”

Even after bringing in Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt during the off-season to upgrade the blue line, the Jets still don’t defend well enough - and that’s not pointing the finger at either player by any stretch of the imagination.

To recap, the Jets don’t score enough, nor are they a defensive juggernaut.

They’re not overly physical and the goal of becoming a tougher team to play against remains very much a work in progress.

That’s not exactly a recipe for sustained success.

It’s also part of the reason the Jets seem to be suffering through a bit of an identity crisis.

“If you look at the best teams in the NHL, they don’t always play their ‘A’ game. There’s nights that they’re not the best with the puck, there’s nights they don’t have their best legs. But they can fall back on things that they do well, and they do it consistently,” said Dubois. “And that’s why they win games, even when they’re not feeling great. And when they’re feeling great, they blow teams out of the water. Consistency of the team and consistency of the players are two different things.

“But I think if we have an identity to fall back on every night, you know what kind of team is going to show up for us. That’s when you have consistency. You lose some, but if you play to your identity, if you have an identity and you play to it, you’ll lose some games but you’ll win some when you don’t even play well. And I think we’re still trying to find what our identity is here, and that’s what’s hurting us. We just have to find what our identity is and do it.”

Working through that frustration is essential for the Jets to break through this rough patch.

“It’s one of those things where, collectively and individually, it’s about accountability and looking in the mirror and trying to find what you bring to the table, what you can contribute collectively and go from there and build it out as the season wears on,” said Jets centre Adam Lowry. “We’re over halfway and you’d like to have that ironed out and clearly, that’s an area we still need to get sorted out really fast here.”

Connor Hellebuyck may have allowed a goal or two on Friday that he wouldn’t like, but he also faced a barrage of shots once again and has been subjected to more shots on goal than any other goalie in the NHL.

By making his 44th start in 52 games against the Avalanche, Hellebuyck has been shouldering an enormous load.

He remains the foundation of this Jets team and remains under contract for two more seasons after this one, that’s why the onus is on Cheveldayoff to retool this team on the fly.

In a situation where all of the Jets top-end players needed to be at their absolute best on Friday, they didn’t get enough from several of those big guns.

On the flip side, Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog notched his second hat trick in as many outings against the Jets and top centre Nathan MacKinnon scored twice and racked up a ridiculous 14 shots on goal and 16 shot attempts to pace the offensive attack.

The Avalanche will obviously need to exorcise a few playoff demons this spring, but they look like a team that is built for a long playoff run.

They’ve got a high-octane offence and added plenty of depth both up front and on defence, while goalie Darcy Kuemper has been in a groove after a bit of an uneven start.

Even after a rocky first period, Avalanche backup goalie Pavel Francouz slammed the door as his teammates began chipping away at the deficit and then eventually took complete control.

If the Avalanche are now the gold standard in terms of how teams are put together, the Jets are in need of an injection of talent - and possibly a bit more youth - if they want to compete with them in the Central Division.

It’s admirable when a GM like Cheveldayoff doubles down on his belief in the group he’s assembled like he did coming out of the NHL All-Star break, but when his team doesn’t respond or get the job done, the management team has no choice but to have difficult discussions and ultimately make hard decisions when it comes to the direction this organization plans to go.

As the days go by, there are more and more signs that something significant must be done.

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