WINNIPEG -- When it comes to the Winnipeg Jets’ margin of error for making the Stanley Cup playoffs, their list of woulda-shouldas is getting a little too long for some fans’ comfort.
Tuesday marked another painful addition to the collection of wasted chances as the New York Islanders came into the MTS Centre and were outshot but did the only thing that counted — scored one more than the home team.
The Islanders’ 3-1 victory, empty-net goal included, before 15,004 encouraging but disappointed fans left the Jets still four points off the eighth-place line in the NHL's Eastern Conference, currently held by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But at the other end of the standings, with the Jets stuck on 58 points for the second straight night, the Islanders have now crept to within two points of that total and have played two fewer games.
"We let New York get closer to us and we let Toronto pull ahead," said Chris Thorburn, who had the Jets’ only goal. "We can’t afford it right now. We need wins and we need them right now."
It was P.A. Parenteau’s redirection of a Milan Jurcina slap-pass at 1:36 of the third period that decided the outcome.
The teams had been deadlocked 1-1 through 40 minutes.
The Jets were presented with a pair of third-period power plays while they were in catch-up mode, but didn’t do much with either.
And therein rested the most troubling aspect of the night for Jets coach Claude Noel.
"The power play really demoralized us again and really seems to the be the story of late," Noel said, his team now having lost four of the last six. "You can tell it doesn’t give our team any life. It’s gotten to the point where you have to make some drastic moves or change some things."
The Jets were zero for three in their first three power plays in three games against the Islanders this season.
Tuesday also marked the return to slim offence for the Jets. They have now scored one or less goals in 21 games this season.
"Of course I would be more happy if we scored some more goals, but you have to deal with it," said Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec. "You have to be patient and hopefully it’s going to change."
The Jets put 38 shots on Islanders goalie Evegni Nabokov, some of which he didn’t see, but it didn't matter without enough finish to capitalize on such pressure.
The nail-biter of a game started out with offensive pressure both ways.
Each team’s top line generated chances, but the goalies held fast until late in the frame.
It was the Jets’ checking-assignment crew, the GST line, that worked the Islanders' top unit of John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo into an uncomfortable position, giving the home team the first goal.
Jim Slater, Tanner Glass and Thorburn worked a classic cycle for a good part of the shift until Slater was in a good enough position to take a shot.
On a rebound kicked straight into the slot by Nabokov, Thorburn beat defenceman Steve Staois for position and chipped the puck back into the top corner for his third goal of the season.
After Moulson tied the game early in the second, it was the Jets who had the final three power-play chances.
The Jets failed on their first chance, late in the second, though they came close when Zach Bogosian rattled a shot off the crossbar and out of play late in the advantage.
JETCETERA: The Jets play Thursday in Minnesota, then start an eight-game homestand on Friday against Boston... The Islanders have 11 home games and 15 road games left after Tuesday’s win.
WINNIPEG - They have held place by treading water over the last few weeks and now it’s time for the Winnipeg Jets to begin swimming toward a playoff spot.
Staring at a road-heavy start to 2012, the Jets have spoken openly about keeping in the Eastern Conference/Southeast Division playoff picture until mid February when a pile of home games could ultimately determine how 2011-12 is remembered. That time is now as the Jets play host to the New York Islanders Tuesday night for the start of nine of their next 10 games at MTS Centre.
"This is a must-win for us," said centre Bryan Little. "It’s getting to that point in the season where these are the types of games we need and the type of teams we need to beat. We had some good success in December (10-3-1) and we seem to have a whole new energy when we come home. Hopefully we can take advantage of that."
The Jets begin the next stretch at 26-25-6, 10th in the Eastern Conference – four back of eighth-place Toronto – and seven behind the Florida Panthers, who lead the Southeast Division and have two games in hand.
"We know where we stand and we know this is a time when we can produce and play well," said head coach Claude Noel. "There are no easy games, especially at this time of year where it’s tough to get points and everybody’s battling. We’ll focus on the one, but this next pocket of games I think it’s pretty obvious it is important.
"We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to defend better, we’ve got to play with way more control and the details of our game have got to be way better."
Noel has tinkered with his lines, leaving the top unit of Little-Blake Wheeler-Andrew Ladd and the Tanner Glass-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn units intact, but moving Alex Burmistrov into the middle between Evander Kane and Kyle Wellwood and dropping Nik Antropov onto a line with Tim Stapleton and Antti Miettinen.
The Burmistrov move is an attempt to tap into his offensive skill set while playing him at his natural position.
"He hasn’t played in the middle for awhile but I think he sees himself as a centre," said Noel. "I’d like to see Burmistrov play a more straight-line game and he knows that. I’d like him to think more attack… he plays a sideways game too much. That’s one thing and then I’m just hoping that line can find some chemistry in the way they play and create some offence for us."
One lineup note of interest to fans: Islander defenceman Travis Hamonic, the pride of St. Malo, did not accompany the team to Winnipeg. He suffered a broken nose Saturday night after taking a deflected puck to the face.