MONTREAL — They are a beaten, lifeless lot. But, just so we’re clear: There is no truth to the rumour that instead of flying home on a charter, the Winnipeg Jets were toe-tagged and wheeled the entire distance on a gurney.
Although that may be the best analogy for where this crew is right now.
The Jets fell for the fifth consecutive game Thursday night, serving up another indifferent effort in a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre that not only drops them out of top spot in the Southeast Division, but down to 10th in the Eastern Conference at 18-19-2.
The Washington Capitals, who knocked off the New York Islanders 2-1 in a shootout, now lead the Southeast with an 18-17-2 record. In fact, three conference rivals chasing the Jets all picked up points on them last night — the Caps, Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers — while the Islanders moved two ahead with the point earned in the shootout loss.
"It’s not like we don’t know what’s going on," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "I don’t think you can expect to lose five straight games and expect that things aren’t going to change. We know that if we continue down this road, it isn’t good. That’s why there’s urgency. We’re running out of games; we know that."
The Jets actually look decent early and open the scoring for the first time in six games when Alex Burmistrov takes a perfect pass from Grant Clitsome to beat Canadiens netminder Peter Budaj. The Habs’ Michael Ryder ties it just over two minutes later with the first of two power-play goals. But Burmistrov’s goal has the Jets in a decent spot heading into the second.
"That was not what I was looking for right now," Burmistrov said afterward. "We’re looking for a win right now and battling for a playoff spot, so I didn’t care if I scored that."
"That was the easiest goal I ever scored, probably," he added with a brief smile. "A great pass by him."
The wheels come off again for the visitors. A Ryder shot finds its way through traffic, another power-play goal glances off Brian Gionta past Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec and the Jets counter with little push. It marked the first time since a 4-1 loss to Ottawa on March 17 — a stretch of 10 games — that the penalty-kill unit surrendered two goals.
"Our team has got to be better," said Noel. "We didn’t score on the power play and we gave up two-for-two on the penalty kill. I mean, if it’s not one thing, it’s another thing."
Little push-back for the Jets again, although they do fire 17 shots at Budaj. Same old, same old, though: A beaten-down team has little response. It didn’t help that a Jets goal when it was 3-1 was disallowed because Blake Wheeler was in the crease.
"These are tough situations sometimes because it feels like everything is going the other way," said Andrew Ladd. "The toughest thing to do is not start playing the blame game. You have to look at yourself first and find ways to help this team win."
After the buzzer
So many people at the beginning of the season looked to the upcoming stretch for the Jets as critical — seven of their last nine games will be at the MTS Centre. No truer words have ever been spoken or written.
"The bottom line is we’ve got some things we need to figure out in the room here," said Mark Stuart.
"It comes down to us. There’s really no excuses here. We need to turn this around because we’re running out of time.
"That’s something we’re going to talk about and figure out internally. When you get in a rut like this you can blame it on so many things. But first and foremost is our effort level. It needs to be better. We have the guys that can do it. We know we can be a good team if we all play together."