The even-strength offence is AWOL. The once-potent power play is putrid. The margin for error is razor-thin. And the collective confidence is badly shaken.
Such is the current sad state of the Winnipeg Jets, who came up empty for a seventh straight game Monday in an agonizing 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators. Defenceman Nikita Zaitsev stuck the latest dagger in their backs, blasting home the winner over goalie Laurent Brossoit with just 73 seconds left in regulation.
"It feels like we have to be perfect to win a game," said captain Blake Wheeler. "That’s how it’s going for us right now. They had a couple of even-strength scoring chances all game, and we lose the game. It’s kind of hard to describe."
Indeed, the Jets carried play for long stretches, and outshot the Senators by a 29-18 margin. But going 0-for-6 with the man advantage, and giving up a first-period shorthanded breakaway goal to Connor Brown, came back to bite them when a broken play in their own end quickly ended up in their net for the deciding tally.
"Every sport’s imperfect, but hockey is the most imperfect sport there is. Each player on both teams probably makes a mistake at some point on almost every shift, and right now we made a couple of them and we paid for them," said Wheeler.
"It’s just really important for our team to drown out the noise right now and look at that film and say that the only thing missing was the result."
That noise, coach Paul Maurice conceded, might include some suggesting he's no longer the right man for the job. But the veteran bench boss, now in his seventh full season in Winnipeg, said he isn't losing sleep over his own security.
"I’m not worried about it at all. And it has nothing to do with keeping it," said Maurice.
"The set of circumstances you’re in, you just don’t let it affect you. This is a tough situation. But don’t have any problem with the heat. I do this every day. I’m here every day. I know what’s going on. We’re trying to fix it. Guys played hard tonight. They’re playing hard, they’re competing, they’re sticking together. That’s the only path out of this. That’s the right path. So I’m not going to spend a minute worrying about that."
Winnipeg falls to 27-21-3, now in a third-place tie with the Montreal Canadiens in the North Division. Both teams have five games remaining, and are 10 points ahead of fifth-place Calgary which has six games left to play
"We’ve lost seven in a row and that’s just a fact. What we’re talking about here is not to let that be the story in the room and being able to keep your head composed and be able to come out and fight your way out of this," Maurice said of the current mindset.
"There are fans that love this team, but if you lose seven in a row, they’re not going to be very happy with that and why would you be. I can tell you that nobody here is happy about it. This is a tough situation because we came out tonight and played a hell of a game and again, didn’t have the result we needed."
There's a widespread belief in the hockey world that the Jets have one of the deepest forward groups in the NHL. But they sure haven't looked like it lately. Winnipeg has scored just 10 times in this seven-game slide, and the power play has gone just 1-for-19 in that stretch including Monday's ugly result.
"The first few they pressured us really well, they did a good job. We kind of switched up our look and we did everything but score, you know? I think when you’re on the power play long enough you realize there’s gonna be an opportunity here or there where they stop you, and I think the last couple for our unit was a case of just we didn’t score. That’s all there is to it," said Wheeler.
Kyle Connor, the team's leading goal scorer, doesn't have a point in the last five, and has gone a ghastly minus-nine with just five combined shots. Mark Scheifele has one goal and no assists in his last five. That's simply not good enough for two-thirds of the reunited top line, along with Wheeler. And there's no question the Jets are missing flashy winger Nikolaj Ehlers, who has missed the past four games with a shoulder injury and won't be back until the playoffs.
Winnipeg's only goal against Ottawa rookie Filip Gustavsson came at 9:46 of the third period, off the stick of Josh Morrissey. It was one of his career-high nine shots on goal, and it brought the Jets back to even terms after that.
But just when it looked like they'd at least get this to regulation, it blew up in their faces. The Jets have plenty of experience with late-game heartbreakers this year, including previous regulation defeats to Edmonton (one second), Ottawa (nine seconds) and Calgary (1:42) in the extremely late stages of third periods.
"Unfortunately we’ve been there a handful of times. I guess it doesn’t matter if you lose by three or lose with one in the last minute; it’s still a loss. But those one do sting a lot more, especially when we’re in a situation where we are right now," said Morrissey.
"So we’ve just got to try to find a way to stay confident as well and look at a lot of the good things we did here tonight and realize that we are a good hockey team and try to play with confidence. To me, that’s what the last few minutes of the game are always about: confidence. We should be a confident team, and we will keep that and keep it going in the right direction by sticking together."
Sure, the Jets will still make the playoffs barring a complete collapse -- Calgary has to win out, while Winnipeg's losing streak would have to hit double-digits -- but it will at least cost them a higher-seed, and perhaps home-ice advantage, for whatever that's worth. And their recent play isn't going to put a scare into first-round opponent Toronto or Edmonton.
The Jets have one final stop on this season-ending road trip to try and get things pointed in the right direction. They'll face the Flames on Wednesday night, then come home for the final four at Bell MTS Place starting on Saturday with a visit from the pesky Senators, who are now 20-27-5 including 6-1-1 in their last eight.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.