Lack of balanced attack derailing Jets' search for consistency

Marc-Andre Fleury had 31 saves, and Alex DeBrincat scored the eventual game-winner, as the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Winnipeg Jets 3-1.

WINNIPEG – The look of sheer disappointment on the face of Nate Schmidt as he sat at the podium, leaned back, collected his thoughts and took another stab at trying to answer the pressing question about breaking the win-one-lose-one cycle told you all you need to know about the state of this Winnipeg Jets season.

The upbeat defenceman chose simple arithmetic to try to sort through the 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks his team had just endured.

“The biggest thing is the understanding of the first game back like this, it's just as important,” said Schmidt, who assisted on the Jets' lone goal Tuesday night. “You win a game, the two points versus Nashville are worth the same as they are (against the Blackhawks). That's how you break the habit.”

The Jets had come out of the break looking like an inspired group, rattling off a 2-0-1 stretch that helped raise the confidence levels for a team that knew full well it was facing an uphill battle.

The Jets played with emotion and seemed to feed off that energy.

They paid closer attention to detail, especially defensively.

They received top-notch goaltending.

And, more importantly, they had found a way to get results.

That those results came against teams that were ahead of them in the Western Conference standings restored some confidence and raised the level of belief.

But on Tuesday night, the Jets went from the hunters to the hunted, facing a reeling Blackhawks team that is rebuilding and had dropped 11 consecutive games within the Central Division, going 0-7-4 during that span.

Here’s the thing: Although it was going to require manufactured emotion, a tilt with the Blackhawks required the same level of intensity because the Jets' margin for error is so slim.

Not being able to string together wins in consecutive games since early January isn’t going to cut it for a team that needs to take three of every five games (and possibly add a few bonus extra time points) over eight consecutive blocks to stay in this congested race.

The game was not without mild controversy as Blackhawks goalie Marc-Andre Fleury appeared to throw his stick during a shorthanded breakaway for Jets centre Adam Lowry.

As Lowry made a move to the backhand and tried to slip the puck through the five-hole, the stick came out of Fleury’s hands and played a role in preventing the goal.

“I think I had him beat and his stick comes out and kind of gets in my way, but I still had a good chance to score. It would have been nice to put that one in and get us up, but unfortunately it didn't go in,” said Lowry. “I talked to (referee) Kevin (Pollock) about it, too. It’s tough, real-time for them to make that judgement call. It’s a pretty big swing play if they’re not sure. He thought it was a poke-check.

“I think it’s more of a strategic drop, if you will. It’s one of those ones, you can’t fault the ref there. It’s a tough play, they’re coming from behind and stuff, so it’s one of those things where you’d love to get the call. I think any one of us would love to get a penalty shot but it’s too tough, too quick unless they’re going to be certain, you wouldn’t want that call going against you.”

Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry chose the diplomatic route when asked for what he saw in real time versus what a slow-motion replay may have suggested.

“I know what you want me to say. I know what I have to say,” said Lowry. “It’s a bang-bang play, right? That’s all that I can really say. The stick came out of his hand and whether it was intentional or not, it came out of his hand.”

While the commitment was mostly there defensively for the Jets, a couple of issues crept up on the puck-management side of things, and those neutral-zone turnovers proved costly on the first and second goals by the Blackhawks.

“You know what, I always say that the neutral zone is the most important zone because if you’re good in it, you’re playing in the offensive zone and if you’re not, you’re playing in your own end,” said Dave Lowry.

It was a simple explanation, but it was also an accurate one.

It’s natural to point to the turnovers because they ended up in the back of the Jets net, but Tuesday’s game reinforced another theme that has been prevalent for much of this season.

This team is no longer an offensive juggernaut that has the ability to outscore its mistakes at will.

Folks have become accustomed to the Jets shaking off the defensive deficiencies by scoring a pretty goal off the rush, perhaps a tic-tac-toe marker or a backdoor tap-in.

This is not a team that’s in the top 10 in league scoring, it's in the bottom third, 22nd, to be precise (at 2.84 goals per game).

It’s been clear for quite some time that a limited amount of secondary scoring has been a factor on this front.

The offensive struggle is real for the Jets' third line, and the fourth line still doesn’t see much ice time, so it’s not surprising they’re not generating much.

On nights when the top guns aren’t firing on all cylinders – or the power play doesn’t do damage – it can be a coin flip.

The raw numbers reinforce the theory, as the Jets are just 1-16-4 when scoring two goals or fewer – and that lone victory came last Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild.

That the Jets have scored two goals or fewer in 21 of 48 games is downright alarming.

Mark Scheifele scored in a fourth consecutive game on Tuesday and his offensive revival is a critical component for the Jets as they prepare to wrap up this stretch of five consecutive games against Central Division opponents on Wednesday against the Wild.

The Jets can’t be a one-line team or rely on a handful of individuals.

They need contributions throughout the lineup and must have different guys stepping up on various nights.

Finding a more balanced attack would go a long way toward solving the offensive issues.

The Jets would also be buoyed by the return of a healthy Nikolaj Ehlers, who has missed the past 11 games with a knee injury but is likely still a couple of weeks away.

That means the cavalry isn’t coming for some time, so the answers must come from within.

Of course, there are going to be more hiccups during the final 36 games. There are even going to be evenings when the Jets play very well and don’t get a result.

At this stage of the season, losses to struggling teams seem to sting even more.

For the Jets, they’ve dropped outings against the Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers during the past five games alone, to go with disheartening losses against the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres earlier this season.

One of the hallmarks of a successful team is the ability to not lose consecutive games very often – in fact, that was a calling card for the Jets not long ago.

Right now, the Jets are having an awfully difficult time stringing together two wins in a row.

For a team that is probably going to need to rattle off a lengthy winning streak or perhaps collect points in seven or eight during a 10-game block, this constant sputtering is only going to raise the degree of difficulty.

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.