Tumbling down standings, Jets have chance to show what they’re made of

Karel Vejmelka earned a 46-save shutout and Antoine Roussel scored the lone goal as the Arizona Coyotes blanked the Winnipeg Jets 1-0.

WINNIPEG — Blake Wheeler chose his words carefully and was methodical in the delivery of his message.

With the Winnipeg Jets clearly frustrated after a 1-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Monday, the team captain took more of a philosophical approach when asked about the current state of affairs.

He chose to take a bigger-picture outlook at a time when some folks see things falling apart at the seams after the Jets were defeated for the sixth time in the past seven games.

“When you go through tough times, that’s when you find out what you’re made of,” Wheeler cautioned. “If you just coast through the season and score goals at will, you’re going to get punched in the mouth in the playoffs. How are you going to deal with it? I think our group going through some adversity and learning how to win games without relying on the offence, that is going to make us grow a lot.”

This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky premise Wheeler is leaning on.

He’s got some evidence to back up the statement, provided the Jets take care of their end of the equation.

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History is littered with teams that find a way to pull together after going through a rough patch — or patches — over the course of a campaign.

“Been there, done that. It’s a long season. Every team goes through it,” said Jets forward Paul Stastny. “It doesn’t matter if it’s early in the season, middle or late in the season. You might go through it a couple of times. But you don’t want that cheat in the game and you don’t want guys to quit on each other. I think we’re not doing that and staying focused on the task at hand.”

Jets head coach Paul Maurice wasn’t interested in doing a deep dive into what he might learn about his team during the coming days and weeks, choosing to focus on the micro while keeping the macro observations to himself — at least for the time being.

“What happens is it helps you define a game that you’re going to play,” said Maurice. “And in the last two (games) coming off that 7-1 (loss to the Minnesota Wild), I think we’ve started to define that better. That’s all.”

In Monday’s game, a neutral zone turnover off the stick of Nikolaj Ehlers ended up as the lone goal of the contest, with Antoine Roussel delivering the decisive marker late in the second period of a tilt the Jets held a 46-15 edge in shots on goal.

But this isn’t about searching for moral victories.

Sure, the Jets generated a high volume of shots, but some of the best scoring chances ended up missing the mark or were blocked — the exception being a point-blank shot from Kyle Connor that hit Coyotes goalie Karel Vejmelka in the right pad when he wasn’t even looking at where the puck was coming from.

Ultimately, this was a missed opportunity for the Jets, there’s no way to sugarcoat it.

Yes, there were things they did well, especially on the defensive end.

But given the recent struggles, those were two points the Jets needed to have.

Much of the chatter following the morning skate centred around looking for ways to keep the good feeling going after Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Calgary Flames snapped a five-game losing skid.

Instead of feeling good about winning consecutive games for the first time in nearly two weeks, the Jets were blanked for the third time in the past 12 games — and second time in the past four.

Outside of the four-goal outburst on Saturday night against the Flames (which included an empty-net goal), the Jets have been limited to just five goals during the six losses — an alarmingly low total when you consider the offensive firepower in the lineup.

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One of the areas that’s been letting the Jets down of late is the power play, which is sputtering in the midst of a 2-for-34 stretch (5.8 per cent) that has it dipping into the bottom third of the NHL after residing third overall in early November.

The Jets are in the midst of testing out a newly-configured top power-play unit and, on a night where they had more than eight minutes with the man-advantage in the third period alone, they kept firing blanks, finishing zero-for-six while being limited to seven shots on goal.

“Entries have been a little bit of a challenge. When you’re going through the rut on the power play, you tend to slow things down. We’re trying some different things and different combinations, just trying to make something happen. I haven’t really spent a whole lot of time worrying about the power play. Obviously, tonight it would have been nice to get one but what we have is there, just going through a tough time.”

Things have become too static and there are times where the puck movement simply hasn’t been quick enough.

An extra pass is made or it takes a split second longer to get the shot off, which allows the opponent to get in the lane and block it.

Plays that get made when things are rolling aren’t connecting and, when frustration seeps in, that can become a vicious cycle.

The offensive woes aren’t only related to the power play, though.

The even-strength production has dried up as well, partly because the Jets haven’t been spending nearly enough time on the interior, piling up many of those shots from far less dangerous areas, where they’re much easier to handle.

“We’ve got to get a little heavier net front,” said Maurice. “Those are the basics of your offensive game. But you get into those situations where you’ve got the puck and it’s traffic and there’s not an easy place to put it there. You keep it to the outside more. But the net front will be the place that things will start going for you.”

With a record of 10-8-4, the Jets are falling in the standings and could find themselves below the playoff line in the Western Conference by the time they play their next game on Friday night against the New Jersey Devils.

That should serve as a wake-up call for a club that spent the early part of November in top spot in the Central Division.

Given how things have gone lately, it’s fair to say the Jets could use a day away from the rink to recharge and get mentally refreshed.

But this next stretch won’t be easy, as it includes visits from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes — two teams that look like beasts from the East — before this four-game homestand wraps up.

With 10 games to go before the Christmas break, the Jets have a golden opportunity to show themselves — and the rest of the NHL — what they’re actually made of.

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