December 6, 2019

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Opinion

Jets better than they look

At least... well... unless they really aren't

Calgary's Mark Giordano drills Winnipeg's Andrew Ladd in the first period.

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Calgary's Mark Giordano drills Winnipeg's Andrew Ladd in the first period.

My Twitter timeline and email inbox say the Winnipeg Jets are horrible. The season is over. All before the 10-game and two-week mark of the season.

Certainly a 1-4 record and Sunday's 4-1 pasting at the hands of the Calgary Flames are not indicators of this season being the one where the Jets bust through and earn a playoff berth. And there's been very little on the ice to convince these eyes that the Jets are anything but what their record says.

Has it already gone sideways? Five games in? Maybe. It will now take a four-game winning streak to climb above .500 and it won't happen on this homestand. With Carolina, Tampa Bay and Colorado still to come before the Jets hit the road next, the best this group will be able to call itself is .500 when they climb on the charter for Long Island and the now-incredible Islanders.

"You're trying to get things going the right way. Looking at your record isn't really productive," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who has one assist on the season. "You want to start simplifying and doing the little things properly and that will lead to results."

Ladd insists the Jets are better than a 1-4 team.

"We know there's a lot more in here and this is a time to help each other out and build your teammates up. To try and stay positive. But that doesn't mean you can't be pissed off at the results," he said. "It's OK. People can ask (if we're a bad team.) That's part of playing in the market we're in. We're going to be under a lot of scrutiny. That's part of being a pro, blocking that out and sticking together and knowing what we have in here and having confidence in that."

Sunday's game was a hot mess. The Jets were sharp through the first 20 minutes and went to the break leading 1-0 before they entirely lost focus, determination, confidence and direction.

The second period featured defensive breakdowns, poor goaltending and no structure. The last frame was little more than an exercise in stupidity as frustration got the better of the Jets.

If someone turned on the television and with no context in terms of this being early in the season, they would be left with the impression the Jets were an inferior team with little talent and less understanding of how to play winning hockey.

Are the Jets really this bad?

Jets coach Paul Maurice was biting his cheek during most of his post-game scrum while delivering straight, clear answers.

"(Our record) is reflective of how we've played. The record is accurate," said Maurice.

If Sunday's play and the team's record so far is indicative of what this roster is going to produce all season, it will be a long one. Long as in dinner sitting beside your stinky uncle. Long as in standing in front of a group of work superiors and realizing you're unzipped. Interminable.

But five games is a little quick to claim the Jets winners of the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, is it not? Can the Jets be better than they have been, or is it already over and done for this season and this group?

"The first period was about as good as we're going to look," said Maurice. "And then, it's that constant battle to have the confidence to keep doing what you're doing. The second period, you have to find that confidence to stay up and stay aggressive and we're struggling with that. "The second period is not what it's supposed to look like, and so it's on me."

Except it's not. This team isn't a bunch of kids any more. There is lots of NHL experience in that room. Their play resulted in Claude Noel getting fired, and after crowing about the message Maurice has been delivering, they're still making the same mistakes.

Give Ladd this. There is more talent among the Jets than their record shows. The issue here isn't skill. It's about the mentality. To be strong enough between the ears to do the right things. Not just for 20 minutes, but for five- and 10-game stretches.

This team is better than it's acting right now. But it has to grow up and make the change from flighty adolescence to rigid adulthood.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has refused to make changes, for a whole list of reasons, from financial to lack of opportunity, and finally faith. He's trusted this group and believed it would one day reward him. Cheveldayoff has talked about patience and he's walked his talk. Right now is too early to veer from that path.

But he has to be asking himself the hardest of questions right now. Two quick wins and the reflection in the mirror will be easier to take. A few more losses, however, and even the steady Chevy will have to begin to waver.

The Jets aren't this bad. Unless they really are. If that's the case, the GM will have to hold his players accountable. He'll have no other choice.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter@garylawless

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