By: Adam Wazny | Wednesday, March 6
Goalie Ondrej Pavelec and the rest of the Winnipeg Jets could not stop the Florida Panthers on March 5, falling 4-1 to the home team in Sunrise, Florida. (J Pat Carter/Associated Press)
That slight expectation placed on the Winnipeg Jets, the one built on last week's modest uptick in wins and increased position in the standings, proved to be a tad premature.
And so it goes in Winnipeg.
What made Tuesday night's no-show in Sunrise, Florida, so disheartening was the familiar ring it had to it. Inside the humiliating 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers was a game of complete indifference and total ineptitude dressed in white jerseys.
To a man, the Jets were not ready to play, and that's as damning as it gets for a professional athlete.
Consider the circumstances heading into the evening. The Panthers -- the last place Panthers -- could barely find enough healthy bodies to ice a team. Eight regulars were out of the lineup due to injury, a list that includes three of the Panthers' Top 4 defenceman, their top two veteran forwards and the starting goaltender.
Knowing an opponent is short-handed to that extent is usually blood in the water for NHL clubs. For the Jets, though, it was an occasion for sympathy cards and flowers. 'Here Florida, take two points and call us in the morning. Get well soon."
While the Jets didn't show up Tuesday, the teams around them sure did. Wins by Carolina, Tampa Bay, Washington and both New York teams tightened up things in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference. Hey, don't look now, but the 11th place Jets (21 points, tied with the Lightning) are actually closer to the basement (the Panthers and Capitals both have 19 points) than they are to a playoff spot (the 8th place Rangers have 24 points).
An exercise in insanity
Just last week, the Jets were tied with the Hurricanes for top spot in the Southeast
Division. Now, they're six points back and stuck in neutral.
Dissecting Tuesday's loss is a familiar exercise in insanity; a broken record of what continually remains broken -- or lacking.
The lack of intensity in all three areas of the ice, the lack of offensive pressure and the lack of quality goaltending: all present, all accounted for. Winnipeg looked unprepared. Winnipeg looked disinterested. Winnipeg looked like it had too much sun.
But perhaps what was most disturbing was a lack of answers from the head coach afterwards -- a loss for words that left some watching at a loss for words for different reasons altogether.
There was Claude Noel speaking to the television cameras after the game, walking through his familiar post-game address, lamenting the lack of effort and wondering aloud why these same old issues still exist in his group.
"We never paid the price to win," Noel said.
Sadly, there's almost a resignation that this is the way it is. It's been over 100 total games with this nucleus and it's hard to argue -- considering the current 10-11-1 record and the fickle nature of this team -- that the Jets have made any real progress from the start of last season.
This has to be of great concern to the Winnipeg brass, no?
After winning five of six games, and rightfully ramping up the public belief, the Jets have lost two straight in miserable fashion. They've scored one goal in 120 minutes of hockey.
To say they haven't paid the price in those would be an understatement. And now, following another maddening defeat, questions of roster makeup, the continuing inconsistent play and the culture of acceptance start to come up again.
And so it goes in Winnipeg.
And once again, it comes back to the danger of expectation and the hidden disappointment underneath. Some view Tuesday's game as a missed opportunity for Winnipeg; a glorious, wasted opportunity to take advantage of a weaker team. Lesson learned, they hope.
Others wonder how they let themselves be fooled into thinking the Jets had it in them in the first place.
It won't happen again, they say, knowing full well it will.