Jets runway getting shorter
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With just seven games remaining in the regular season, and the Winnipeg Jets clinging to the final wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference, it’s officially make-or-break time for the local NHL club.
If that sentence sounds like a broken record, that’s probably because you’ve been paying attention to the Jets current run of dismal play and shoddy results. Like a car accident you can’t turn your gaze from, Winnipeg has been floundering on the ice in recent months, with just 13 wins in its last 32 games.
“We all just, ultimately, can’t be pointing fingers at who we’re playing with or feeling you’re not getting enough of this or enough of that,” Jets defenceman Brenden Dillon told the Free Press following practice Thursday. “We’ve all got to look in the mirror and be the best version of who you are.”
A team fighting for top spot in the Central Division just weeks ago, the Jets find themselves in a real fight for the final wild-card spot in the West. They hit rock bottom with a 3-0 road loss to the lowly San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, while the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators — the two clubs close behind, trailing the Jets by two and three points, respectively, with the Predators having two games in hand heading into Thursday’s action — both earning wins against playoff-bound teams.
Head coach Rick Bowness has tried several approaches to motivate his team, with little success. A lack of motivation and execution were defining traits of the Jets over the 2021-22 campaign, as the Jets missed the playoffs by 10 points.
With the Jets seemingly on the verge of missing the playoffs again, Bowness was asked if what was plaguing this team last season was starting to seep into this group.
Bowness, of course, wasn’t part of the team last year. He did, however, shortly after being hired in early July, spend a good part of the next couple months calling players to figure out what went so wrong.
“That’s tough to answer. All I do is I trust my eyes and I see what I see. What I don’t like, I address,” Bowness said. “I just trust my eyes, from what I see of the plays. To go back, I don’t do that. I deal with the present and right now the present is getting ready for Detroit.” Dillon was posed the same question about whether this season is starting to feel like last year. The Jets veteran defenceman joined the team last season, acquired in a trade with the Washington Capitals.
He said he can see how one might draw those conclusions and he certainly understands why. The only difference, he added, is the timing.
“There’s definitely going to be some comparisons. I feel like it was kind of this way for a lot of the season and this year it’s more of just trending the wrong way at the wrong time,” Dillon said. “This is just my second year here, but it’s pretty similar, if not almost identical, to last year. When things start to go south or we’re not getting the success we want, whether that’s points or scoring, it’s almost like we go the wrong way in the sense of trying to make it harder on ourselves, trying to make the homerun play or the perfect back-door play and that’s what got us in trouble last year.”
A big problem from last season was a lack of accountability, from not only the coaching staff but the players holding each other accountable, as well. The Jets even went as far as signing a pledge at the end of training camp this season, which included holding one another to account.
The pledge remains plastered to the wall in the locker room. What seems less apparent is whether it’s being followed.
“Listen, they don’t come to the rink with bad intentions. They come to the rink ready to play and ready to work. They do. Every day. So, some days – as humans – you’re off. You think you’re working hard and you’re pushing, but it’s not the same as the good days, when you really feel it and you can see the difference,” Bowness said. “The more you get to know your players, you can see when the good days are there and that’s the kind of standard you set for them. But you can also see when they’re working, but the standard is not the same. They just don’t feel the energy. They don’t feel it. When you see that — and again, I trust my eyes — then you talk to the player and you move on. You address it.”
Of the Jets’ remaining seven games in the regular season, the next five are at home, beginning with the Detroit Red Wings Friday night. Winnipeg has won just two of its last eight games at Canada Life Centre.
The remaining schedule certainly won’t be easy, with three games against playoff teams, including what will almost undoubtedly be a critical two-game road trip against the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota wild to close out the season. The Jets also have to play the Flames and Predators over the next week, games that could decide their fate.
“(A sense of) urgency is certainly important. We’ve kind of run out of the runway where we can take a game off or a few periods off. Every period is critical, but at the same time we can’t just look too far ahead, to look to the Calgary game or look to the Nashville game,” said Jets centre Adam Lowry. “We’ve got some important games coming up that and you can’t overlook an opponent. So, it’s gonna be important that we get on Detroit early in the game (Friday). They’re coming off or back-to-back and we got to use that to our advantage.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.