NEW YORK — The good ship Winnipeg Jets, proudly riding high on the NHL seas just a couple weeks ago, is now taking on water and sinking out of the National Hockey League playoff race.
The Jets lost their fourth straight, and sixth of their last eight, Tuesday night in Long Island, falling 5-2 to a surging New York Islanders squad that is tightening up the Eastern Conference playoff race. Amazingly, the Jets still sit atop the Southeast Division at 18-18-2 for 38 points, but the Washington Capitals are two points back with two games in hand after knocking off the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday.
Winnipeg’s free fall — they are now 3-7 in the last 10 games — also means that if they were not in first in the Southeast, they would be outside looking in on the playoffs at ninth place.
"This effort is unacceptable," said Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. "We are in a race for the playoffs and it’s just not right. The way we play, we’ve got zero chance to win the game tonight.
"(Monday) night I said we had to stop it, because if you put four or five games together where you lose, it can be a struggle.
"I think we are in trouble right now."
The Jets are down again, having surrendered the first goal for the fifth straight game when Anders Lee, playing in his first NHL game, scores his first career goal. Winnipeg responds when defenceman Paul Postma, inserted into the lineup for Derek Meech, scores his first of two and the teams are tied 1-1 going into the second. All this mostly because of Pavelec’s steady play that keeps them in a game in which they were being badly out-chanced.
Winnipeg takes a 2-1 lead on Postma’s second, but the Isles counter with two before the end of the period — including a critical power-play marker with 28 seconds left in the frame. That goal just hammered home how lifeless the Jets looked. After 40 minutes, the Jets had been outshot 30-17 and outside of the work of Eric Tangradi, Chris Thorburn and fellow foot soldiers Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood, seemed to generate little.
The Jets’ No. 1 unit of Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler again was held off the scoresheet.
"It’s tough... fourth loss in a row. It’s frustrating, for sure, and you’re not happy as a group," said Ladd. "But you can say all you want and talk all you want, but at the end of the day, we as a group have to figure out a way to get out of this hole and get going the right way. As an individual, you have to figure out what you have to do to get to that next level. I don’t even think we’re even close in here. It’s just not good enough."
Jets coach Claude Noel shakes up everything in an attempt to find a spark, moving defenceman Dustin Byfuglien to the wing with Little and Ladd and Wheeler to a trio with Evander Kane and Olli Jokinen. And... zilch results.
"It was a tough game for us. It looked like we were slow. It looked like they had the puck. It looked like we were struggling to get it," said Noel.
"We’re trying to win games. It’s not a fun time. Players aren’t enjoying it, we’re not enjoying it."
AFTER THE BUZZER
The Jets chartered to Montreal, where they’ll get today off and attempt to regroup, reload and find some sort of energy.
"We look like we’re a fatigued group right now," Noel said. "We’ve played the most games in the league and it looks like it’s wearing on us. It’s not only that, it’s the fact you lose games... It’s a tough emotional time for the players, for everybody involved. It’s not like we’re sitting here having a great time. It’s emotionally draining is what it is. It takes its toll and the players aren’t happy. Neither are the coaches, neither is management."