OTTAWA — The offence is a concern and the repeated turnovers a recurring nightmare. Two thirds of what was once the top line has yet to score, the penalty kill is struggling and the power-play is much more miss than hit.
But here is an even bigger cause for concern for Claude Noel and the Winnipeg Jets, now 1-4-1 after an ugly, mistake-prone 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators in front of 17,919 at Scotiabank Place in the nation’s capital:
It’s not even Haloween yet and the head coach is running out of buttons to push, though it could be said the panic button must now be awfully tempting.
Asked afterward what the team’s No. 1 problem might be right now, Noel said:
"Well... I’ll let you decide that."
Pressed further, the boss added this take, which might just perfectly sum up the Jets’ sorry state right now:
"Finding ways to win games is the No. 1 problem. How you do that? If you’re going to win it 1-0 or 2-1 or whatever, you’ve got to create something. You have a roster that has produced in the past and in some areas they have to do a better job."
The Jets actually led this game 1-0 after the first period as Dustin Byfuglien scored his first of the season. But the Sens replied on goals by Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza in the second, with Daniel Alfredsson gobbling up a turnover to make it 3-1 in the third. Michalek scored into an empty net as Noel actually pulled Ondrej Pavelec a couple of times in the final five minutes, the first coming with the Jets on a power play, in an effort to find a spark for his team.
This on a night in which the head coach also juggled his lines again, moving Andrew Ladd onto a line with Nik Antropov and Alex Burmistrov.
"You’re trying to get people untracked," Noel said. "It’s pretty clear, you can skate and do your work and you can be happy in terms of effort but at the end of the day you have to be accountable to yourself about producing. And producing is about winning games and if you’re a scorer, score and if you’re a checker, check."
The Senators were 1 for 4 on the power-play and, coupled with Wednesday’s third-period collapse in Toronto, the Jets have now surrendered three PP goals in the last four periods. As well, the Jets struggled again themselves with the man advantage, going 0-for-4.
But it’s about more than just the special teams. Right now it’s about want-to for the Jets. And against the Sens they were occasionally woefully short in that department.
"It’s about us in here right now," said Jets winger Tanner Glass afterward. "Give Ottawa credit, but it’s about taking care of the puck and making the right plays when they’re there. There’s a a Trevor Linden quote I like to think back to — ‘There’s one way to play and it’s the right way.’ Sometimes the right play isn’t a fancy one, it’s getting it out, or getting it in deep and getting in on the forecheck.
"It’s challenge for us in here now. The veteran guys who have been through these battles before have to step up and get this going in the right direction. It’s about attitude and how we approach each period."
The Jets, for a second straight night, struggled mightily when the momentum shifted in the second and fell into a long funk that cost them.
"It’s extremely frustrating," said defenceman Mark Stuart. "I think if you asked every guy in here they would say that... I hope they would say that. It’s no fun losing. But, on the other hand, that’s the easy thing to do: get frustrated and start pointing fingers. We are doing some things well. We just need to take those and do more of them."