SUNRISE, FLA. -- Analyze and argue the result and its deeper meaning until your mug turns a hundred shades of blue, if you wish.
And go ahead and study all the numbers and advanced stats until your head hurts.
But, in the end, doesn't the Winnipeg Jets' listless, lifeless effort in Thursday night's 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers -- three days after one of their best games of the season in New York against the Rangers -- just about perfectly describe the confounding club fans have come to love and curse since their return?
Yes, this consistently inconsistent squad, trying to build off Monday's brilliant effort at Madison Square Garden instead followed it up with an absolute stinker against a Panthers side that entered the game with the second-worst record in the NHL and exited looking like the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.
"The game wasn't very good. To me, it wasn't the score... it was the way we played," said head coach Claude Noel. "We didn't have that many good players. We didn't play very intelligently. For as good as we were in New York, the way that we played and the way that we did things, from the breakout on through the neutral zone, we played way different tonight. We had a hard time getting a lot of guys going and engaged in the game. It wasn't very good."
NO DAY AT THE BEACH
The Jets held an optional practice Tuesday after arriving in Florida and then a spirited full workout Wednesday. But when the puck dropped before an announced crowd of 10,966 they wandered around like zombies, chasing the Panthers and the game until the final horn.
And some of the Jets' best regulars were the worst in the game: Andrew Ladd, who did score one of the two goals, was a -4; Dustin Byfuglien was -3, while Toby Enstrom, James Wright and Bryan Little were all -2.
"We weren't prepared to play the game, just right off the bat," said Devin Setoguchi. "You have to give them credit, they played a good game through and through. That's no excuse. With one game in four days, you've got to be ready, especially with the rest you get. In this league, you don't get it very often.
"We're all professionals in here. Whether you're in your first year or your 10th year or whatever, you should be ready right from the start. Some guys were in it, some guys weren't. That's not going to cut it."
BROKEN RECORD TIME
A dandy question posed to Noel after the game: how do you break this one step forward, two steps back cycle?
"That's been the M-O for this team for some time," he said. "You try to figure out the why and how you get to this point, where you can't take steps forward. For us, the coaching staff knew that this was possibly the toughest game of the trip and we knew it could go like this. The disappointing part is the preparation you make and you do and then you play like that. I didn't think we played very intelligently, just some of the decisions we made. Right from deep in our zone, we just didn't play the same way.
"We get some success playing a certain way and the process is good and then we decide we want to play a different way. I can't give you the answer to why."
Winnipeg falls to 13-13-4 with the loss while the Panthers, who had lost three straight, improve to 8-16-5. The Jets are in Tampa Saturday to wrap up their longest trip of the season and, perhaps, a chance to salvage something from a trip in which they are now 3-2.
But the frustration level after this one -- especially in the wake of Monday's win over the Rangers -- reached a season high.
"Nobody likes to be .500," said Setoguchi. "Being mediocre in this league is not going to get you anywhere. It's not going to get you in the playoffs. We need to be better. Now we've got one game left to make it a 4-2 road trip."
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