In January 2014, the Winnipeg Jets lost five in a row. The losing streak cost the team a coach and likely their playoff chances.
This season the Jets, under head coach Paul Maurice, are sitting in the first of two Wild Card berths, thanks, in part, to their solid performance in early January. Their 2015 record leading up to the All Star break was a dominant 7-2-1. After the break, however, the Jets’ were undisciplined, team defense faltered and it cost them. As a result, the team is heading into February on a three game losing streak.
Fans, still smarting from last year’s missed opportunities, are uneasy with the losses, and expecting Maurice to address the problem before the winning streak extends any further. The truth is, this is a crucial time of year for any team, but more so for a team in the Division-less Wild Card spots.
The Jets, with 60 points, are three points ahead of the Calgary Flames, who are in the 2nd Wild Card berth. The Flames and Vancouver Canucks, also with 57 points, are in a heated playoff battle along with other talented teams who are one winning streak from gaining ground.
Winnipeg has the benefit of a cushion, but it would be a disaster to extend their losing streak and risk ceding their point advantage or even their playoff spot to any one of the L.A. Kings (54 points), Dallas Stars (53) or Colorado Avalanche (53).
On the positive side, the Jets haven’t lost three in a row since the beginning of the season (when they lost four in October), which make the team’s current plight anything but dire. Still, the media has pointed to the team’s once top-ranked penalty kill which fell to 16th over the weekend. Part of the struggle is a lack of discipline. The Jets have been shorthanded considerably more often than any other team in the NHL.
Furthermore, the defense has lapsed. In each of the recent losses, the Jets have allowed five goals; that’s 15 goals against in 3 games. Head coach Paul Maurice tried to stop the bleeding by riding one goaltender, Michael Hutchinson, rather than running his usual rotation, but it hasn’t helped.
At least Maurice isn’t ready to hit the panic button, but he also acknowledged that the team needs to end this skid:
“I want to be careful about trying to sell the positives all the time,” Maurice told reporters. “We’ve lost three in a row, so we have to deal with that. We haven’t played particularly well.”
The Jets enter a crucial week with back to back road games against the Calgary Flames tonight and the Vancouver Canucks tomorrow; teams that, while not in their division, can still threaten the Jets’ playoff chances. The Flames have a game in hand, making Monday night’s contest all the more important.
Saturday’s loss to the Dallas Stars was the beginning of a seven game stretch against Western Conference teams for the Jets, including games against the Colorado Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild at the MTS Centre, both of which are vying for their own chance at the Wild Card berths.
If there was ever a time to start winning, it would be now.
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