After last-minute loss, Jets must re-evaluate how to earn every possible point

Elias Lindholm scored the game winner as the Calgary Flames defeated the Winnipeg Jets 3-1.

WINNIPEG - Not even the originator of this cross-sport use of a term could have known how fitting his words actually were until he sunk his teeth into what he was intending to say.

Pierre-Luc Dubois was speaking to reporters in Calgary moments after the Winnipeg Jets received an unexpected shot to the solar plexus and the sting of the wound was obviously still fresh.

It wasn’t just that the Jets suffered another crushing blow to their slim playoff chances, it was the manner in which this 3-1 defeat transpired that had Dubois searching for a phrase to best describe the situation.

"I think the ups and downs, we can do a better job of dictating how the game is played and not letting the other team be the game managers,” said Dubois. “We have to win games. We have to find a way here down the stretch."

In football, game manager is often a term reserved for a quarterback that isn’t flashy, but does a good job of protecting the ball and minimizing the risks when it comes to decision-making.

Not surprisingly, Dubois was asked by a reporter on the scene for a little clarification to what he meant when using the term.

After allowing a brief moment for a chuckle, Dubois was happy to dig deeper.

“To be honest, I kind of made that up. But, you know, every team has their own identity,” said Dubois. “Every team plays the game a different way, I think the good teams are the teams that bring their game and make the other team adjust and make the other team adapt. We can do a better job of every night when you play the Jets, you know what type of team you’re going to play against.

“You know it’s not going to be easy. You know what to expect. Especially at this point of the year, we can’t be tip-toeing into games. Every game, you go down one goal or two goals, that might be the end of the game. Games are (tightening) up, it’s becoming more and more like playoff hockey. There are going to be more and more one-goal games, so we have to be the aggressors in those games and try to lead them from the start.”

Dubois makes a bunch of good points here and it’s clear he’s got a firm grasp of the situation the Jets are in.

There have been far too many games when the Jets are not the team that is dictating the style of play or the terms.

They’ve often been the team that’s been forced to adapt, rather than forcing the opponent to do so.

Given how razor-thin the margin for error is, the Jets absolutely cannot afford to be tip-toeing into games either.

That’s why becoming the “game manager” in the manner Dubois intends would serve the Jets extremely well.

Slow starts are another one of the issues that’s been plaguing the Jets of late.

Despite coming out of the NHL All-Star break with a record of 4-1-1 before suffering consecutive losses to the Flames and Edmonton Oilers, the Jets have now given up the first goal in six consecutive contests.

For a team that’s often struggled to score goals, having to chase the game frequently is not a recipe for success and that proved to be true once again in this Monday matinee.

The Jets managed to get the equalizer from fourth-line centre Dominic Toninato on a beautiful redirection of a point shot from Neal Pionk, but this was one of the rare nights when the top guns didn’t have much of an impact offensively.

Jets sniper Kyle Connor was unable to get the puck out of the defensive zone in the final minute of regulation and that bobble proved to be incredibly costly as Flames centre Elias Lindholm made a perfect tip of a pass from Johnny Gaudreau for the game-winner.

That the goal came with only 46.3 seconds to go only made the outcome more difficult for the Jets - who fell to 22-20-8 on the season and remain seven points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference - to swallow.

“It's hard when you're 40 seconds away from at least getting a point, but it's a hard fought game,” said Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt. “It's starting to get to that time where you need to start accumulating points this time of year. It sucks that we give up one late.

“Points missed are points missed, right? You look at the season as a whole, you look back and see we have (eight) overtime losses, that's an extra (eight) points. And then there’s games like this that you're so close to getting an extra one, right? It’s hard. Guys were bummed in the room.”

The play in question was not without an element of mild controversy as the NHL situation room chose to review the play for goalie interference after Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk made contact with Connor Hellebuyck in the blue paint before the puck crossed the line.

Tkachuk’s willingness to get to the difficult areas is one of his calling cards and when he felt a push from Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo, he made a subtle shift of his path to bump into Hellebuyck.

Ultimately, the NHL situation room allowed the goal to stand, feeling there was not goalie interference on the play.

“Any goals in the last minute are league-initiated challenges. That's all you can say, right? It's a league call and I'll just leave it at that,” said Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry. “I think as a group we're disappointed. We made a mistake and it ended up in the back of the net. We played a real solid, committed team game and there should be disappointment.”

The Jets don’t have much time to worry about what might have been as they’ll continue this four-game road trip on Wednesday with a game against the Dallas Stars - who sit fifth in the Central Division and hold a four-point cushion over Winnipeg.

With consecutive losses, the hill the Jets are trying to climb got a little bit steeper.

If the Jets don’t get things turned around quickly, the focus will shift to how general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will handle the Mar. 21 NHL trade deadline.

Prior to the Jets opening this road trip that includes three more games against Central Division opponents in the Stars, the Colorado Avalanche and the Arizona Coyotes, Lowry was asked about the urgency he feels around the group leading into the time of the season when many contenders are loading up and other teams are looking to change their mix of players or acquire assets for the future.

“There's pressure to win every night, regardless of what date is coming up,” said Lowry. “We all know that the trade deadline can be unsettling for individuals, and it's on every team. For us, that's way too far in the future. Like I said, we have to keep a singular focus.”

Lowry has been around the NHL long enough to know how important it is for him to remain calm.

The same goes for his players, since the stretch run of the season is tough enough to navigate without having potential distractions creep in.

With 32 games to go in the regular season, those games are going to be meaningful, whether the Jets fight their way back into the race or continue to fade into the background.

These next several weeks will be critical in figuring out which players are going to be part of the solution - and which others might find themselves on the trading block.

It’s a topic that will be discussed and dissected thoroughly and how the Jets handle the situation could provide some important answers to questions about roster composition and what might be necessary in order to make the leap from bubble team to contender status.

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