Stumbling Jets once again flying in the wrong direction

By: Adam Wazny | Saturday, March 23

Winnipeg Jets' Nik Antropov (80) can't knock the rebound past Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby (70) and Marcus Johansson (90) during third period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday, March 22, 2013. John Woods/The Canadian Press

For whatever reason -- whether it was merely an oversight or an omission to curb a sarcastic jeer from the crowd -- there was no 'last minute of the second period' announcement Friday night.

No one really cared. The game was over, anyway.

The Jets were embarrassed 6-1 by the Washington Capitals at MTS Centre. It was the second straight beat down at the hands of the Southeast Division rival in as many nights and much like the first loss (a 4-0 score Thursday) the Jets looked unprepared and lethargic against an inferior club that was well below them in the standings. 

Not anymore. Washington picked up four points in Winnipeg and pulled to within five of the Jets, with the Capitals still holding a game in hand. They showed up ready to play and with a purpose; the Jets didn't show up. Period.

And while it's true the Jets (16-14-2, 34 points) start Saturday still in first place in the division (two points up on Carolina) and still in the No. 3 hole in the Eastern Conference standings, one has to wonder just how long this lofty position can last if they don't figure things out soon. The games against the Capitals were supposed to show the rest of the league just how far Winnipeg has come as a team, how this group is no longer the pushover they were last year, and how its playoff bid is worthy of respect.

It was an opportunity to step on the throat of a lesser opponent. It was a chance to demonstrate to everyone the kind of team they want to be: ruthless and unforgiving. Instead, the Jets were out-scored 10-1 in the two games (13-1 if you count the Washington shutout in Winnipeg earlier this month) and looked like quite the sorry bunch in the process.

The star of the back-to-back Washington wins was goaltender Braden Holtby. He stopped nearly everything directed at his net (he made 50 saves over the two days and was clearly in the head of the Jets shooters). The lone shot to get by him actually deflected off one of his own defenceman's skate before finding the twine. His shutout streak in Winnipeg lasted 169:51 minutes, in case you were curious.

Friday's story on the Winnipeg side was the crowd, which turned sour during two Jets pathetic power play showings in the opening 10 minutes of the game. At one point in the second period -- shortly after Alex Ovechkin snapped a bullet to the top corner of the Winnipeg net to make it 4-0 visitors -- the atmosphere actually shifted from frustration to a flat-out mocking of the Jets. Dump-ins to the Washington zone that came upon Holtby were cheered as accomplishments and at one point, a section tried to get a 'Let's go Bombers' chant going.

So where do the Jets go from here? That's the big question.

This recent apathy will be a tricky malaise for head coach Claude Noel to navigate. He essentially fell on his sword following the Thursday loss, refusing to harp on his players for their lack of effort and lack of emotion. No doubt he was hoping those same players would return the favour and put forth a better showing Friday -- but that response never materialized. This great idea came in under confusing intentions and went out with barely a whisper, and now the same old Jet questions regarding maturity and inconsistencies are once again on everyone's mind.

Having only really played one good period in the last four games (they've lost three of those), things could really get away from the Jets if they don't find answers soon. Losing streaks at this time of year are not ideal. The schedule says Tampa Bay is in town Sunday night. Like the Capitals, the Lightning are another struggling Southeast enterprise and are well below the Jets in the standings.



Adam Wazny is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer who has covered sports in the city for over a decade. He has worked as a reporter for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, and now spends most of his time checking his Twitter. Did someone say Twitter? Find him here: @wazoowazny.

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