The fear the minute rookie Mark Scheifele went down was whether the Jets could weather having such a hole appear in their lineup -- and so far, the answer has been a resounding "no."
Winless in three games without Scheifele, four straight losses if one includes the night the first-year standout suffered a knee injury, the Jets have struggled to find a lineup that works without the Kitchener native at centre.
Scheifele’s progression as an NHL top-six centre had become one of the stories of the year for the Jets and his injury could be key to the chapter describing their end.
The fact the Jets have been unable to win without Scheifele also underscores how thin the organization still is at the centre position.
With Scheifele healthy, the Jets were on the verge of icing a lineup that had Bryan Little and the rookie holding down the middle of the first two lines, Ollie Jokinen on the third line and Jim Slater in the middle on the fourth. Not the best in the NHL but better than middle of the pack.
The current configuration, with Little on the top line, Jokinen on the second, Slater on the third and a revolving door on the fourth has turned the Jets into a three-line team at best. Winning at this time of year against the league’s best teams which constantly roll four lines is tough enough but becomes near impossible when a team is short-handed such as Winnipeg is right now.
The Vancouver Canucks come in tonight reeling and amid talk of firing both the head coach and the GM. If ever a team was ripe it’s the Canucks.
The Jets have shown great emotion and played with desperation over the last four periods dating back to Sunday’s loss against Ottawa. The commitment is great but it needs to be matched by some execution.
A loss tonight would certainly signify the beginning of the end for these Jets as they already find themselves six points out of a playoff spot. Could a win be the start of another surge and potential push to the playoffs? Without Scheifele that seems to be a tall task for this lineup but pressing times such as these often reveal talents previously undiscovered.
For Jets fans, here’s hoping a remarkable discovery is about to unfold.