Jets forced to regroup on multiple fronts during late-season meltdown

Connor McDavid had a hat trick by the end of the second period as the Edmonton Oilers went on to beat the Winnipeg Jets 6-1.

WINNIPEG -- The Vezina-winning goalie was pulled for the second time in three starts.

The star centre admitted publicly that he was “pissed off” about a rather public benching during a marquee matchup.

Oh, and the Winnipeg Jets announced in the morning before this blowout that high-flying forward Nikolaj Ehlers was going to miss the remainder of the regular season with a suspected shoulder injury.

Talk about an unnatural hat trick.

It began as a showdown for second place and quickly turned into a one-sided meltdown, a 6-1 drubbing that left the Jets to deal with a season-high fourth consecutive loss overall and a fifth consecutive defeat at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.

While it’s true that all teams in the North Division have gone through a crisis at some point, this looks like the equivalent of a five-alarm blaze. And the Jets are currently having trouble trying to figure out whether they’ve got a large enough water supply on the property to extinguish the flames.

The Jets are clearly playing catch-up at a time when the Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs appear to have already found their Stanley Cup playoff level -- or at least a reasonable facsimile.

If this is the Jets' playoff level, they’re going to be heading toward a third consecutive early exit.

Sure, there are eight games to go in the regular season and there is some time to get things sorted out. But make no mistake, the Jets currently have a long way to go in order to reach the point they could defeat either the Oilers or Maple Leafs in a seven-game series.

“There’s no easy fix. You’ve just got to go straight through the adversity and straight through the wall and just dig in and work through it,” said Jets forward Andrew Copp.
“Anytime you lose four in a row, you’re not as confident as you were before, especially that we were coming off a good road trip. I would say it’s shaken in the moment, but if we dig deep, we can kind of revert back to some of the positives we’ve had over the course of the season and kind of trick ourselves into feeling good. I think temporarily shaken, but definitely not broken.”

The only way for the Jets to try and restore -- or repair -- that confidence level is by renewing a collective commitment to better puck management and defensive-zone play.

Neither was a strong suit on Monday, as turnovers and coverage blunders were far too frequent against a quick-strike team that can feast on opponents when it comes to a breathtaking transition game.

Jets forward Paul Stastny felt his team’s play had been slipping since before the losing skid began, dating back to an extended stretch of games prior, where things began to get a bit loose.

How does that happen at a time when the teams jockeying for position with them are finding another gear?

“I think it’s because we were getting away with it. When you’re winning games, you forget the bad plays and you usually remember what went in and the outcome of the game,” said Stastny. “Every time you play a team and play them two times a week, you’re kind of so focused on that then you turn a page and kind of forget who you played last time and now it’s a new team. It’s more of us players holding each other accountable. It’s everybody, it’s not just certain guys. I think everybody’s got a little cheat in their game and we’ve got to be more honest with ourselves. Especially this time of year.”

Learning how to win is an essential quality for all teams, but so is finding a way to respond when things get tough.

“It’s going to be harder, that’s fine. You never want to go through a stretch where nothing goes bad,” said Stastny. “If it’s too easy, then that’s dangerous, because all of a sudden you hit a speed bump and you’re shell-shocked and before you know it it’s over. So maybe this is good (that) it’s happening now. Like I said, it’s not going to change right away. If it's the next game or the game after that, we’ve got to get back to figuring out the fundamentals that we’ve created as our identity on this team.

“And kind of stick with it. A lot of cliches here, but that’s just how it is sometimes. Not getting too worried about the end result but just focusing on, whether it’s period by period or even just five-minute segments. Be there to support each other and help each other out on the ice.”

For all of the talk about the Jets forward depth -- they’ve got six guys in double digits for goals and several others on the verge -- offence has been tough to come by of late.

There hasn’t been enough primary scoring, let alone secondary scoring.

It’s tougher to generate offence at this time of the season and the Jets need to get back to playing a more direct game, since forcing plays that aren’t there has led to some drastic results of late.

“It's an understanding of the way the game's changed. So the coach's responsibility is to make it clear and understood and then we need to play that game,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “There's just too many pucks that were put into transition that didn't need to be put into transition because we were looking for something more. In each of these games, also, we're trailing the game. What we had done well -- and again, it's a different game that's played at the start (of the season) -- but we had given up the first goal quite often early in the year and won an awful lot of those games by not changing.

“I felt that, in these games that we've been behind in recently, we've just opened our game up. Certainly, against the offence that the last two teams we've played have had, you just can't do it."

It’s not the well running a bit dry that would be the primary concern for the Jets though. Nobody is expecting the Jets to morph into a defensive juggernaut, but they need a renewed commitment to buckling down as a five-man unit.

Hellebuyck was subjected to multiple odd-man rushes on this night, including several clear-cut breakaways.

That’s not a formula that’s going to be successful when the games get more important.

Laurent Brossoit mercifully came on to start the third period after Hellebuyck had given up six goals on 23 shots on goal.

“We left (Hellebuyck) out to dry, as we have a lot lately,” said Stastny. “So that’s embarrassing on our behalf and then, we’ve just got to take a look at ourselves.”

At the other end of the ice, the lone goal to beat Mike Smith was a shot from the slot from Mark Scheifele on the power play.

Smith has given up only three goals in his past three starts against the Jets.

Earlier in the day, Scheifele shared his frustration with riding the pine for a total of 17 minutes, a clear message sent by Maurice for staying on for a shift that lasted 88 seconds and led to a goal being scored shortly after he left the ice.

“Yeah, I understand where he's coming from. I don't agree with him benching me,” said Scheifele. “But we don't have to agree on everything. He's the coach, I'm the player. We don't have to agree on everything. That's the business of sports. I'll be ready to play. And that's about it.

“You're definitely pretty pissed off. I understand where he was coming from but like I said before, I didn't agree with it. I didn't agree with it at the time it took place and the magnitude of the game. I definitely didn't agree with it. So we'll leave it at that. Now it’s forgotten about.”

The Jets have stayed relatively healthy this season, but the loss of centre Adam Lowry (upper body) for the past two games has been evident and he’s expected to miss at least one more after skating in a non-contact jersey on Monday morning.

The loss of Ehlers only compounds matters and is a massive blow for the Jets, as he’s enjoying his best season as a pro and has a dynamic skill set that isn’t easily replaced.

“(Ehlers) is going to be out for the remainder of the regular season. We’re confident and hopeful that he’ll be back for the start of the playoffs,” said Maurice, asked if a collision with Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin caused the injury. “I don’t know if I can nail it to one. He got into a bunch of different collisions. He finished the game, he’s a tough young man, but I don’t think we can pinpoint one specifically.”

One of the consistent issues for the Jets in the season series with the Oilers -- which currently stands at 6-2 for Edmonton going into the ninth and final meeting on Wednesday -- has been an inability to contain Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

After a four-point night that included a hat trick for McDavid and a goal and an assist for Draisaitl, the Oilers’ dynamic duo is up to a combined 30 points against the Jets.

The Jets' search for solutions is ongoing, but one thing is crystal clear as this race to the finish line is ramping up: the status quo is unacceptable.

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