Sunrise, Fla. -- These Winnipeg Jets make it hard to believe in them.
Just when they get to .500 and appear to be on the cusp of something great, they creep back into a hole filled with darkness and doubt.
Winnipeg wants its hockey team to make the playoffs. The Jets talk about making the playoffs and doing the things needed to realize such a dream. But after performances such as Tuesday's disastrous 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, it's hard to think of those words as anything but hollow.
"We weren't very good at all. We lacked a lot of things. It was concerning to me. I didn't think we played hard enough. I didn't think we did the necessary things we needed to do to win the game. We didn't play with enough passion, enough heart. Our best players? I don't know if you could tell who they would be," said head coach Claude Noel.
Noel had warned about his team taking the Panthers lightly prior to the game. Florida had lost three straight and had been hit with wave after wave of bad news on the injury front totalling up to nine players out of the lineup. Tuesday evening, the Panthers used eight players who have spent time in the AHL this season.
The Jets should have pounced on the Panthers and put two points in the bank but in the words of goalie Ondrej Pavelec, they "just didn't show up."
Winnipeg is now 10-11-1 and down to 11th place in the conference. The playoff picture gets fuzzier for the Jets with every loss. Dropping games to teams below them in the standings can only lead to ruin.
"We never paid the price to win. That's clear to me. And we're not good enough to win easy," said Noel. "We didn't start the game very well. The first period wasn't very good. We didn't even draw a penalty. How do you go through a game and not draw a penalty? Usually that comes from your work ethic or your battle level. I think that explains exactly the game that we played. How that can be at this time is concerning for sure."
The Jets have flirted with .500 and the playoff line a number of times since moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta, but they always seem to fall off when it matters. Noel must have an answer for why this is, but he wasn't ready to share it on Tuesday night.
"What's happening is that it seems you can't get above the notch or .500? You have a chance to build on some things and then you fall short," said Noel. "What does that say about what you've got? Really, are we that good that we can be satisfied? Seriously? You can't be serious. When we take a step forward, we have to take a step back. It's really, really concerning."
Concerning for everyone involved. Coaches, players and maybe most of all, for fans.
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