WINNIPEG — The S word was prominent for Rick Bowness in this post-game address.
As the Winnipeg Jets head coach stood at the podium after Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, Bowness kept coming back to stubbornness.
It’s often an important quality when it comes to belief, but when that stubbornness seeps into the offensive side of the equation, it can lead to forced plays and turnovers that feed transition for the opposition.
That was one of the key components in what was the fourth loss in the past six games for the Jets, who are 31-18-1 and remain in the thick of things in the Central Division and Western Conference, despite the recent slide.
“When you don’t have your legs and you don’t feel your best out there, the worst thing you can do is what we did, just keep giving them the puck,” said Bowness. “We had bad puck management at both blue lines and all you’re doing then is feeding their transition, feeding their speed, so a lot of that is on us. We know their strengths. We know they’re a fast team, a highly-skilled team that can score, yet we were very stubborn with our puck management.
“We’ll get a lot more consistent with our play when we stop being so stubborn with the puck. We’ll play a lot faster and when you’re playing fast, it’s a lot more fun and you’ll be a lot more consistent.”
Bowness has preached the importance of all four lines looking the same, but right now the Jets are stuck in the midst of a bit of an offensive funk.
In five of the past seven games, the Jets have been held to two goals or fewer.
Of course, it can be more difficult to put the puck in the net during the second half of the season but the most important thing for the Jets is that they don’t sacrifice the commitment to team defence while searching to regain the scoring punch that still has them in the top half of the NHL for goals per game.
“That’s a deep-rooted question,” said Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt, who scored a late goal before Pierre-Luc Dubois added one with the net empty in favour of an extra attacker. “We just have to have a lot more consistency in our game. We come out and play really well and then we don’t. We have to find the stretches these days in the middle of this schedule where you’re going to have to pick ‘em up. These points right here are as important as they are in Game 2 as they are in Game 80. We’ve got to be a lot better than we have been in the last week or so.”
Schmidt was involved in a play that led to an upper-body injury to Sabres forward Dylan Cozens that knocked him out of the game.
Schmidt spun around and caught Cozens in the head while spinning around trying to check him.
The officials huddled up and called a major for elbowing but after reviewing the play, the penalty was reduced to a minor for roughing.
It was an awkward play, but not a malicious one — even though Cozens left the game with 10:24 to play and didn’t return. Afterward, Sabres coach Don Granato told reporters Granato would have returned if there would have been more time left in the game.
The strange thing for the Jets is that as they’ve been getting healthier, they’ve hit a bit of a rough patch.
Everyone knew it was going to take some time for the players coming in to get settled with new linemates and while there have been flashes of brilliance, things are still a bit in flux when it comes to the permutations and combinations.
“We keep trying to fit pucks into the middle instead of chipping it and using our speed. It’s a mix but you know, it’s something we’ve talked about a lot and something that’s got to change,” said Ehlers. “When you start out trying to make those passes and they don’t work and you continue trying to do that, it’s not a good look. And that’s when you’ve got to start trying to play a little simple.
“We were flat-footed a couple times and they were able to turn it over. Luckily there’s a game on Saturday where we can change things around. We’ve got 25 guys in this room who are not OK with our performance.”
Lulls are going to happen over the course of 82 games, but battling through these stretches is what can pull a team together.
When asked for his assessment of where the team’s game was at, Ehlers wasn’t about to sugarcoat things.
Nor was he about to express concern over the long-range forecast for the group.
“I don’t know. Obviously, not great. But I believe in this team,” said Ehlers. “I believe we’re a great team. We’ve got the tools, we’ve got everything to get it right. It’s just the mindset.”
The Sabres won for the fifth consecutive time (and have picked up a point in six in a row) and rode the play of their stars — with Tage Thompson chipping in a goal and an assist), Jeff Skinner and Rasmus Dahlin each chipping in a pair of assists and Owen Power and Victor Olofsson rounding out the scoring.
Former Jets goalie Eric Comrie wasn’t overworked and made 19 saves to pick up his first win since Nov. 2 in what was his first start since Jan. 10.
“When the guys play like that in front of you it’s a pretty easy night,” Comrie told reporters. “That was the best I’ve seen us play all year. That was incredible.”