Here’s the thing about swimming with sharks: all it takes is a single exposed flailing limb or the scent of one teeny-tiny drop of blood and a pleasant dip in the ocean turns into a gory feeding frenzy.
Just ask the injured-ravaged Winnipeg Jets, who served up a plucky effort against one of the National Hockey League’s elite outfits in the San Jose Sharks at MTS Centre Thursday night but exited with bite marks galore in a 2-0 loss that keeps them in the exact same spot in the Eastern Conference standings — 10th overall and looking up after dropping four of their last five games.
The Jets fall to 20-18-5 and with 45 points remain one back of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals; four behind of the seventh-place Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Sharks, meanwhile, improve to 24-11-5 and remain atop the Pacific Division. San Jose is now 7-1-2 in its last 10 and an impressive 10-4-3 on the road.
"The frustration comes out of us still turning pucks over, still trying to make something out of nothing," said captain Andrew Ladd. "It’s killing us, really. How many times have we stressed about getting pucks deep and doing those smart things? How many turnovers did we have? Way too many.
"At some point we have to figure out, do we want to be a playoff team or are we content with being this win one here, win one there-type team?"
Missing two big-bodied defencemen due to injury in Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien, the Jets made just a couple of glaring defensive errors against the Sharks — and both ended up deposited behind netminder Ondrej Pavelec.
San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when an unchecked Logan Couture cruised through the slot and one-timed a perfect feed from Brent Burns past Pavelec. And when the Sharks increased their lead to 2-zip early in the third — with former Selkirk Steeler Andrew Murray playing the key role on a goal by Brad Winchester — the offensively-challenged Jets were essentially doomed.
It wasn’t without some tinkering, however, as Claude Noel did everything in the coach’s manual to jumpstart the attack, including reuniting the Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler-Andrew Ladd line while moving Evander Kane — now goal-less in six — onto a unit with Nik Antropov and Alex Burmistrov, but the Jets were out-chanced significantly.
"I don’t think it’s players being off their game so much, it’s players trying to create something," said Noel. "I don’t think it’s done by design. It’s done because your team wants to create something, do something. Against a team like this, sometimes you can do more by doing less. Sometimes you’ve just got to get pucks deep rather than try to create plays in areas where you’re going to get checked.
"You end up being part of the problem instead of the solution because you want to do well. We made some plays in the game that were too many cute plays. You could see those and... when you play an opponent like this, you’ve got to keep it simple.
"This game was going to be a down-and-dirty game. If we were going to get a goal or two, it was going to be a greasy goal from just battling and it was not going to be an easy space to get to."
Winnipeg would manage 24 shots against the Sharks and has now been held to one goal or less in 14 games this season — going 2-12 in those contests.
"That’s a tough team, but we didn’t make it real tough for them tonight," said centre Jim Slater. "We had some opportunities but weren’t able to get those second and third ones we hoped to. They played a good, solid, all-round defensive game, and when you don’t put goals on the board it’s tough to win."