January 23, 2019

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Record: 31 – 15 – 2

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Winnipeg Jets (31 – 15 – 2)

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Questions abound as Jets seek turnaround

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/11/2015 (1163 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Remember when the hockey world was proclaiming the Winnipeg Jets had taken that proverbial next step and were morphing into a power in the NHL’s Western Conference? When it seemed like they could run with anyone in the league’s toughest neighbourhood, the Central Division?

Back then, we were all fascinated by the contributions of the kids. The goaltending was as steady as a metronome. Head coach Paul Maurice was rolling four lines and his defensive blueprint, while still a work in progress, was being hailed as the rock-solid foundation for the juggernaut being meticulously pieced together by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and company.

And, during it all, headlines such as “Gaining altitude” and “Jets soaring” had this town gleefully rubbing its hands together at the possibilities next spring could bring.

Ah, yes, the good old days of... October?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/11/2015 (1163 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Remember when the hockey world was proclaiming the Winnipeg Jets had taken that proverbial next step and were morphing into a power in the NHL’s Western Conference? When it seemed like they could run with anyone in the league’s toughest neighbourhood, the Central Division?

Back then, we were all fascinated by the contributions of the kids. The goaltending was as steady as a metronome. Head coach Paul Maurice was rolling four lines and his defensive blueprint, while still a work in progress, was being hailed as the rock-solid foundation for the juggernaut being meticulously pieced together by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and company.

St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and center David Backes, center, celebrate after Backes scored during second period action on Monday.

CHRIS LEE / ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and center David Backes, center, celebrate after Backes scored during second period action on Monday.

And, during it all, headlines such as "Gaining altitude" and "Jets soaring" had this town gleefully rubbing its hands together at the possibilities next spring could bring.

Ah, yes, the good old days of... October?

On Halloween night, the Jets exited Columbus with a 3-2 victory that pushed their record to 7-3-1. Winter was coming all right and Jets Nation couldn’t wait.

Oh, there were some red flags — the ongoing procession to the penalty box, the quantity and quality of shots against — but they were all glossed over as the Jets began to get comfy running with the elite in the conference.

So it’s hard not to ask this question, as the Jets returned home from their recent jaunt through the division: who are these imposters decked out in double blue and white?

Go ahead and point to the positives in Monday’s 3-2 loss in St. Louis, especially as a response to Saturday’s absolutely embarrassing 7-0 Music City massacre in Nashville. But there’s no sugar-coating what happened on their recent run through the Central and their play this month that has the Jets on a six-game winless streak.

The power play, now in a one-for-29 free fall, generated just three shots in 10 minutes with the extra man against the Blues. Since stopping 45 of 46 shots in a win over Chicago at the end of October, Michael Hutchinson has been yanked from two of his last five appearances and has posted a save percentage of .857. Ondrej Pavelec, meanwhile, is winless in his last thee starts with a save percentage of .849.

It’s wrong just to point the fingers of blame at the power play and goaltenders — and that’s what has made the recent meltdown so perplexing. While everyone had a hand in the 7-3-1 start to the season, there are also 20-plus sets of fingerprints all over the current collapse.

Recent scoring has been limited to Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien as production from Mark Scheifele, Mathieu Perreault, Andrew Ladd, Nikolaj Ehlers, Adam Lowry and Drew Stafford has fizzled. And the defensive corps... the odd-man chances and breakaways surrendered over the last week alone have to be frightening for a team once hailed for being so stout in that department in the run to the playoffs last spring.

Yet, for all that, the most glaring and astonishing decline for this bunch is in its collective resiliency and confidence. Where last season’s rash of injuries — particularly to the blue-line — galvanized that crew, this team has been lost to find that same resolve. It’s been obvious in the starts — the Jets have scored the opening goal in just four of 19 games — and in the finishes, as a rally fell short in St. Louis, just as it did recently in Dallas and Minnesota.

Travel is undoubtedly a factor, with the Jets in a stretch where they play 11 of 15 on the road. But as they start a three-game homestand Wednesday against Vancouver, their record at the MTS Centre (3-3-1) will hardly have the Canucks quivering in their skates.

It is here the Jets desperately need to get things right ASAP, as losing will only fuel more rumours about the two size-large elephants in the room — the presumably ongoing contract talks with pending unrestricted free agents Ladd and Byfuglien (topics that get conveniently swept under the rug when a team is cruising).

Interestingly, prior to heading out on their last road trip, the discussion both inside and outside the dressing room was about the Jets finding and playing their "defining game."

It’s a curious pursuit, for an NHL team is defined by its body of work, not one 60-minute stretch. And right now, the Jets are exactly what their record says they are: a sub-.500 club with more issues than Justin Bieber; a club that spoiled a 7-3-1 October with a 1-6-1 run in its last eight.

Who are these guys? Who saw this coming?

Good questions, but the more pressing concern right now is: how do they stop the bleeding?

 

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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