WINNIPEG – Nate Schmidt is a beacon of positivity, so he can understand why he’d be looking at the bright side.
That’s not to suggest the veteran Winnipeg Jets defenceman is ignoring the difficulties his team is presently enduring, but the way Schmidt sees it, he prefers the current predicament to the one his team was in roughly 12 months ago when they were down and out rather than still being in a situation where they still control their own destiny.
In short, it beats the alternative – even after what can only be described as a failure to create some separation between the two teams chasing them in the Western Conference turtle derby after a 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night.
“Any time you lose a game at this time of year, I feel like it’s a lost opportunity to get yourself a little further in the standings,” Schmidt told reporters in Missouri. “We have 11 games left to do right. You’re in a dogfight right now. You’re in the fight and you’d much rather be here than where we were. You’d much rather be here and give yourself a chance. I like that we have 11 games to do right. Get yourself going and give yourself a chance.
“If you’re sitting here saying there’s 11 games left and we don’t have a chance, that would suck, that’s not fun. We’ve battled to be here all year and things haven’t been awesome lately for us but, at the same time, you’re here for a reason and you have a chance to go do something with this.”
As the Jets dropped to 39-29-3 on the season after missing out on the opportunity to sweep the four-game series against the Blues, they remain four points up on the Calgary Flames (who hold a game in hand) and five up on the Nashville Predators (who hold three games in hand but were smoked 7-0 by the New York Rangers on Sunday).
So as disappointing as a weekend split is for the Jets against a pair of teams below the playoff line, it didn’t really cost them – other than the opportunity to build a bit more of a cushion.
The Jets host the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday before heading out on the road for three games in California.
Three of the next four games are against non-playoff teams, but while that looks like a schedule advantage, the Jets can’t afford to take any of those clubs for granted either.
“Have a short memory. We got to get ready for Tuesday. We’re in the eighth spot,” Jets head coach Rick Bowness told reporters. “You’d rather be in the eighth spot than ninth. This is where we are, now it’s up to us to stay there and hopefully push up a little higher.”
There have been a lot of rinse-and-repeat moments for the Jets of late, including giving up the first goal in five consecutive games and nine of the past 10.
Having to chase the game is not a formula for success, especially for a team that’s been having trouble lighting the lamp recently.
The Jets did a pretty good job of limiting the chances against, but the ones they gave up were mostly of the Grade A variety.
By the time the final buzzer had sounded, the Jets had given up two backdoor tap-ins (for Kasperi Kapanen and Nathan Walker) and a breakaway goal (Jakub Vrana), spoiling the effort of Connor Hellebuyck, who made his 54th start of the season on Sunday.
As for the offence, the Jets have been blanked in two of the past three games and they’ve slipped to the bottom third of the NHL in goals scored.
“It sucks. You want to win games. It doesn’t mean you have to win them with six goals every night but you want to score enough to win games and we haven’t been doing that,” said Ehlers. “So, we know what we need to do, it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.”
Another issue for the Jets is the inability to convert on the power play.
By going zero-for-three on Sunday, the Jets are stuck in an 0-for-13 rut and the inability to get anything going during a four-minute power play in the first period failed to generate any momentum whatsoever.
The Jets made some tweaks to the two units, promoting Nikolaj Ehlers while moving Pierre-Luc Dubois to the second unit but the changes didn’t lead directly to results, forcing the group to go back to the drawing board.
Ehlers dropped the gloves with feisty Blues forward Brayden Schenn in an effort to spark his teammates, but the move didn’t have the desired effect as the Jets were unable to sustain any momentum in the contest.
“Yeah. I hit him down in the corner, he gave me a cross-check. I came up, slashed him and when you’re fighting for a playoff spot like we are and it’s not going your way, you should do anything and try anything. It didn’t work out,” Ehlers told reporters before turning his attention to the topic of emotion. “Very important. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to be fighting every single night, but I tried something. It’s not that I love fighting, but like I said, right now you’re doing anything to get going.”
For the Blues, rookie goalie Joel Hofer made 33 saves to combine on a shutout with Thomas Greiss.
Hofer, a Winnipegger who is having an excellent season with the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League, won’t get credit for a full shutout because he was forced to leave the game momentarily after having an issue with the blade on his skate.
“Of course, there’s obviously a little more motivation there,” Hofer told reporters. “I thought the team played really well in front of me. It’s nice to get the win, especially against those guys.”
As for the shutout not ending up on his official record, Hofer wasn’t the least bit concerned.
“It’s alright. I don’t really care about that. I’m just happy to be here and to get the win,” said Hofer, who improved to 2-0 on the season as he filled in for the suspended Jordan Binnington and 3-1 overall at the NHL level for his young career. “I’m super grateful for the opportunity they’ve given me.”
This stretch of inconsistency has stuck around for too long for a Jets team that has fallen back to the pack and is now battling to find a way to snap out of this funk before it’s too late.
“It’s been like that for a while,” said Ehlers. “Our last road trip, I thought we did really well and the game that we lost was our best game. (On Saturday against the Nashville Predators), we showed some fight getting back into that game and getting that win, so we need to look ourselves in the mirror and figure out what we want.”