Jets’ response to extended slump will prove what they’re made of

Winnipeg Jets' Nate Thompson says players don't feel any pressure from the media, it's more of their competitive nature to perform for one another.

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets have arrived at the proverbial fork in the road.

Yet the astute words of the late, great Yogi Berra do not apply in this case.

After dropping a season-high six consecutive games following Friday’s 5-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the answer isn’t as simple as “take it.” Right now, the struggle is real and the search for solutions has hit a serious rut.

“We don’t know that, otherwise we probably would have won the game,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “It’s a real test of our team, our group, our character and certainly one of the toughest stretches we’ve had in a long time.”

Wheeler isn’t prone to exaggeration and he’s not wrong.

This is not only one of the toughest stretches the Jets have had in a long time, it’s the toughest.

It’s the third six-game losing streak since Paul Maurice took over as head coach, but the first that includes six consecutive regulation losses (Jan. 27 to Feb. 6 of 2015 and Nov. 5-16 in 2015).

Prior to the slide, the Jets had won five of six and were in the midst of applying some pressure to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Instead, the Jets’ hopes of finishing in first place have been replaced by the need to get their collective house in order during the final six games of the regular season.

If they don’t do that soon, slipping to fourth place could become a legitimate possibility. And if the problems were easy to fix, this slump would probably already be over.

At the very least, things wouldn’t have reached this tipping point.

Nothing is easy right now for the Jets, who built a pair of two-goal leads on Friday (2-0 and 3-1), only to watch the more desperate Canadiens rattle off four unanswered goals with very little pushback supplied by the visitors.

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During the first half of the season, the Jets made a habit of finding a way to rally and overcome deficits.

In a strange turn of events, the offensive well has recently run dry. Going into Friday’s game, the Jets had scored only six goals during a five-game losing skid. Getting three — including a pair from fourth-liner Trevor Lewis — against the Canadiens should have been enough, yet it wasn’t.

With dynamic winger Nikolaj Ehlers out of the lineup for the remainder of the regular season, the Jets need more production from their big guns, plain and simple.

Since Mark Scheifele was benched during the second period of the marquee matchup against the Maple Leafs, he’s scored once — and that was window dressing in the 6-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

Kyle Connor has only one goal (and point) during his past six games and only managed one shot on goal during the past three games. Connor is the best pure finisher on the Jets and he needs to generate more.

This is a four-time 20-goal scorer, three-time 30-goal producer and was well on his way to cracking 40 last season prior to the stoppage.

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With Maurice hinting strongly that Adam Lowry would return for Monday’s game against the Ottawa Senators, he suggested there could be another turn of the blender when it comes to the line combinations.

Reuniting Scheifele and Connor on the top line looks like something both players need right now and it would be a surprise if it doesn’t happen.

Another solution Maurice will be seeking is where to put Pierre-Luc Dubois. The latest idea to move Dubois down to the third line in Lowry’s absence was well thought out and meant to try and build his confidence.

Somewhat surprisingly, there wasn’t much immediate chemistry between Dubois and Mathieu Perreault. It’s been a revolving door of linemates for Dubois and the spinning wheel is about to take another turn with Lowry’s pending return.

The long-term fit for Dubois as a No. 2 (or 1B) centre remains very much in play, but things aren’t going smoothly right now. Figuring out where Dubois slots in must be one of the priorities for the Jets during this final stretch of games.

He needs to find a place where he’s comfortable — whether that’s on the wing with Scheifele, alongside Paul Stastny or on a unit with Lowry that’s asked to go up against the opposition’s top lines.

Dubois, who has gone 11 games without a goal, has the ability to be a difference-maker when the games matter most. At present, he’s trying to figure out what his role is going to be – but it’s not too late to get that sorted out.

For a variety of reasons, the Jets’ line combinations have been in flux throughout this entire season. Being able to move things around when things aren’t clicking is important, but so is finding some continuity.

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But for as much experimentation that’s taken place up front, the Jets have mostly been married to the same defence pairings this season — especially in the top-four.

Although Neal Pionk and Josh Morrissey have been used together at times while chasing the game of late, using them on a consistent pairing is something both players could benefit from.

Since Dylan DeMelo and Derek Forbort are already used together on the Jets’ top penalty-killing unit, trying them together at even strength is also worth exploring. That would leave Tucker Poolman on the third pairing with one of Jordie Benn, Logan Stanley and Ville Heinola.

When it comes to goaltending, the Jets don’t have any real concerns, though finding a way to get backup Laurent Brossoit a couple of starts to help keep Connor Hellebuyck as fresh as possible could also help matters.

You can learn a lot about the make-up of a team when times are tough and things don’t get much tougher than what the Jets are enduring right now.

“There are no easy answers,” said Maurice, whose squad has slipped to 27-20-3. “Confidence is such a difficult thing to define, it’s such a hard thing to capture.”

We’re about to find out what this edition of the Jets is made of. Can they find a way to turn the corner or is this crisis going to continue to spiral out of control?

It won’t take long to find out.


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