Jets in slump together

Players know it is up to them to end scoring drought

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Collectively, the Winnipeg Jets were exempt from practice Tuesday, a regularly scheduled day off, but the vast majority also took advantage of the 'optional' disclaimer Wednesday and steered clear of the Iceplex.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/12/2021 (257 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Collectively, the Winnipeg Jets were exempt from practice Tuesday, a regularly scheduled day off, but the vast majority also took advantage of the ‘optional’ disclaimer Wednesday and steered clear of the Iceplex.

Now, outsiders might question head coach Paul Maurice’s prerogative to gift his players a 48-hour respite from the rink, particularly considering the squad’s lack of productivity the last two weeks.

Winnipeg’s scoring tap has been cranked righty-tighty and the NHL team has earned just three points during a dismal 1-5-1 stretch since a 2-1 shootout loss to the host Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 18. Overall, the squad (10-8-4) is sixth in the Central Division and has dropped below the playoff line in the Western Conference.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Andrew Copp says he and his teammates know what they have to do to get back on the scoresheet and into the win column.

The Jets return to battle Friday when the New Jersey Devils come town. Game time is 7 p.m.

Might some time for rest and recovery be an antidote for the yips?

“I don’t know if there’s ever a cure-all. It’s different for every guy,” said forward Andrew Copp, one of a handful of skaters at the Iceplex. “For me, I still feel like I’m on the younger side of things and there were things to go out and work on, so I was able to do that and get (in the gym) as well. Sometimes, you just need one of those days where you don’t have coaches hovering around, no mandated drills, that are obviously good for the team, but for your own individual development you need to do other things. It was nice to have the freedom to just kind of control the day.

“Some guys maybe are a little more banged up and needed two days, or mentally they’re a little more drained, or maybe they’ve got kids and they’ve got things to do today. So, there’s a lot that goes into it.”

The Jets’ most recent display of dysfunctional weaponry occurred Monday at Canada Life Centre when the awful Arizona Coyotes — whose team slogan at the quarter mark of the 2021-22 season might as well be, ‘Have it your way!’ — generated just 15 shots but somehow fled the scene with a 1-0 victory.

Arizona goalie Karel Vejmelka earned a 46-save shutout, a high volume of shots, indeed, from the hosts. But a big chunk of those came from low-danger spots in the offensive zone, while far more obvious opportunities either missed the mark entirely or were blocked by the Coyotes.

Winnipeg’s power-play unit continued to sputter, failing to produce on six chances with the man advantage against the Coyotes, which was running the league’s second-worst penalty kill (68.2 per cent) prior to a perfect night against the Jets.

Copp said he left the downtown arena with competing emotions.

“There’s kind of a line to wrestle with there, where we had a pretty good game, we outshot them… dominated stretches of the game, so you want to take some solace in that and not beat yourself up too much,” said the 27-year-old product of Ann Arbor, Mich., in his seventh NHL season, all with Winnipeg. “By the same token, we gotta find a way to put the puck in the net. We gotta find a way to create more and to finish on chances we get, create more chances and sharpen up the power play.

“You wanna ride that line of not overly down on yourself where confidence starts to wane, but you do understand the things we need to get better at and work at during practice over the next couple of days to try and improve on those things we need to work on.”

On its last road trip, the Jets played in three different time zones. They were blanked 3-0 by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 24 and roughed up 7-1 by the Minnesota Wild two nights later, before showing some moxie in a 4-2 come-from-behind win over the Calgary Flames on Nov. 27.

Veteran blue-liner Brenden Dillon said a return to the ice just 24 hours after the debacle in St. Paul, Minn., helped rinse some of the stink off.

“The best thing mentally for us after the game in Minnesota — when you don’t get a win and you know you can play better — was the fact you know you play the next night in Calgary. We get a big win there in Calgary and then we can’t wait until the next one, which happened to be Monday (against Arizona), said Dillon. “I feel we played better than a 1-0 loss, I feel like we deserved better than that, but I’m sure there’ll be games this year when we don’t play well and we do get a win, or where (goalie Connor Hellebuyck) gets us a ‘W’ on a night we didn’t deserve one.

“We know we had more than enough chances between the power play and even five-on-five. We’re generating shots and we’re getting rebounds, but we all know that we can raise our level to get something across the goal line somehow.”

The dearth of scoring over the club’s last 12 meetings (4-6-2) is staggering.

Resident sniper Kyle Connor has six goals in that span, a veritable machine compared to his Jets cohorts. Pierre-Luc Dubois had seven tallies through 10 games to begin the season but has just four in the last dozen, while Nikolaj Ehlers has scored three goals in the same stretch.

The next few paragraphs contain statistics some readers might find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.

While Adam Lowry’s employment isn’t dependent on scoring, two goals in 22 games is overly concerning. Mark Scheifele has suited up for 16 games and has a measly two goals, including one in three-on-three overtime. 

Blake Wheeler has yet to light the lamp in 17 outings. In fact, Wheeler’s protracted scoring funk goes back to the 2021 postseason when he was shut out in the team’s last five playoffs matchups.

The captain, scheduled to play the 1,000th game of his terrific NHL career Sunday against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs, has endured other scoring droughts during his 10-plus seasons in Winnipeg. He didn’t score until Game 19 of the inaugural 2011-12 season in the Manitoba capital and went through 14-game and 15-game slumps in 2013-14 and 2017-18, respectively.

Dillon said the blame lies at the feet of the group as a whole.

“We understand the struggles to score right now. We’re getting some looks, some opportunities, but with hockey you have to earn your chances to put the puck in. Every goalie in this league — it doesn’t matter if it’s the 32nd-place team or the first-place team — they’re good goalies,” he said. “The biggest thing is simplifying for us, not trying to look for the perfect shot or the perfect opportunity.

“We’ve talked about getting more of a net presence because we do seem to get pucks from different angles but we have to take away the goalie’s eyes. That’s something we can improve on.”

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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Updated on Wednesday, December 1, 2021 9:12 PM CST: updates statistics

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