Time running out on Jets
Playoff hopes hinge on struggling club turning things around as soon as possible
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/01/2022 (314 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Nate Schmidt wasn’t at all pleased with the outcome following a visit from a member of the NHL’s ruling class Tuesday night.
A quick check of the Winnipeg Jets’ place in the pecking order didn’t improve his mood.
“I did actually look at the standings… after the game. I usually look at it in 10-15 game intervals to see where you’re at. There’s a logjam there,” Schmidt said, following the club’s noon-hour practice Wednesday at Canada Life Centre.
Indeed, the Jets find themselves locked behind several teams in the chase for a wild-card spot in the Western Conference. A 5-3 defeat to the league front-runners, the Florida Panthers, dropped Winnipeg to 17-15-7, five points back of the Dallas Stars who currently occupy the final playoff spot.
Sure, the Jets still have 43 games to go, however, Calgary, San Jose and Edmonton are jammed up just ahead.
Schmidt, who makes himself available for long, thoughtful chats with the media, took a glass half-full approach but offered a heaping spoonful of pragmatism on his team’s lot in life.
“The good part is that we have a lot of games coming up, and usually when you get into a rhythm and these games start coming on, you find that you can start to rattle (off wins),” he said. “When you look at where we are, you’re not in and you have to string together games. It’s really what it comes down to.”
The Jets (17-15-7) play host to the Vancouver Canucks (18-19-5) on Thursday night. Game time is 7 p.m.
“You’ve got to win your home games. You’ve got to put yourself in position that when you do hit mid-March, that you’re not staring down the same five points. That’s a lot different than it is now. If you’re staring down 5-6 points, mid-March or in April, that’s a lot harder to make up. I think we do have time but as we all know, time can get away from you. The season starts to hit into overdrive when it hits the back half of the year.”
Winnipeg plays a pair of road games against the St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers before the all-star break hits. Then the going really gets tough as the team pays its final 40 games in 81 days.
There’s no recent evidence to suggest Winnipeg is poised to make any kind of a run.
The club is winless in its last five games and has just five victories in 15 battles since Dec. 7. During that span, head coach Paul Maurice vacated his post and was replaced by Dave Lowry.
On Tuesday night, the Jets did what they’ve done far too frequently, attempting to prevail on their offence alone while skipping out on defensive assignments
Against the weaponry of the Panthers, not a chance.
Schmidt said while blessed with a talented core of their own, the Jets soar into ominous clouds when they choose cutesy over sensible in their decision making.
“We have a group that is very skilled, and you don’t want to take that away from guys. I’ve played on some teams that aren’t as skilled and some that are, right? You want to be able to have that freedom. In saying that, there always has to be some parts, some give and take,” said the nine-year NHL veteran.
“If you’re able to make plays, then you have to make them, but then you got to be the first guy back if you don’t. Or a defenceman, if I’m going to swing at a guy and that’s my job to make that guy make a play and it goes through me and I don’t get a piece of it, well then that’s on me.”
The Jets surrendered an early goal to Florida forward Mason Marchment and chased the game from there.
Florida dominated off the rush, a concerning trend that was given ample attention in a high-tempo, 50-minute practice.
Tight gaps between blue-liners and the puck carrier. Dogged backchecking. Active sticks.
“Kind of since Dave took over, it’s been (focused) on our (defensive) zone but (Tuesday) we took a long look at defending the rush,” said high-scoring forward Kyle Connor. Like you say, that communication… between the (defence) and the forward, identifying if it’s a three-on-two and if our (defenceman has to) slide over or hold the middle and talk to that back-checker. So, that’s kind of what we worked on and that’s an area we need to improve on.”
One of the pleasant surprises during the club’s recent struggles has been the play of Dylan Samberg, who made his league debut Jan. 13 in Detroit in a 3-0 win over the host Red Wings.
The product of Saginaw, Minn., who turned just 24 on Monday, will be out “week to week” to recuperate from a nagging upper-body injury.
That paves the way for 2017 second-round draft pick Johnathan Kovacevic to skate out for his NHL debut against the Canucks.
He’s been probably (the Manitoba Moose) steadiest defenceman,” said Lowry. “He probably would have been up earlier, unfortunately for him he was in (COVID-19) protocol, and the other guys got an opportunity. He’s a big body, right-handed shot, defends well. We’re excited to see how his game translates to (the NHL) level.”
He could play alongside Ville Heinola on a pairing used in spots by the Manitoba Moose earlier in the American Hockey League season.
“It’ll all be managed in-game. We want to put these guys in positions where they are going to have success, much like we did when we played (Declan) Chisholm and Samberg in Detroit,” added Lowry. “We tried to put them in the right spots. Obviously, you have a couple veteran guys that aren’t available, so that might be a little tougher. So yes, familiarity might be good for them.”
Josh Morrissey remains in COVID-19 protocol, while Dylan DeMelo and Logan Stanley are on the injured reserve list.
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).