Identity crisis plagues Jets
It’s gut-check time for the Winnipeg Jets.
Twenty-one games in to a shortened season and the Jets are facing every NHL club’s biggest fear: an identity crisis.
"The good teams rarely have bad nights," said Jets defenceman Mark Stuart following a 3-0 loss to the Washington Capitals in a rare Saturday matinee at the MTS Centre. "They may not get a few bounces but they play the same every night."
Right now the Winnipeg Jets are not one of those teams. Almost half way in to the seasons it’s become impossible to predict which Winnipeg Jets team will take the ice each night.
The good news: the season is far from over. The Jets are currently 10-10-1 on the year, just two points out of the final playoff spot in the East.
The bad: if the Jets don’t put together a consistent style of play that can be properly executed on a nightly basis, they’ll be looking from the outside in come end of April.
"The best teams and the teams that win are teams where everybody has a role and everybody plays their role to the best of their ability," opined Jets forward Evander Kane. "Those roles are very important to a hockey team and contribute to wins. You have to learn to embrace it and you have to want to perform at your best in the role that you're put in."
Cue the identity crisis. What kind of team are the Winnipeg Jets?
For starters, the Jets are not an offence-first team. They aren’t the Tampa Bay Lightening or the Chicago Blackhawks. Unlike these teams, scoring is an issue. The Jets average 2.62 goals-per-game, well off the pace of a post-season bound team.
It certainly doesn’t help that the power-play is a mess. The Jets currently sit 24th in the NHL on the man advantage, converting only 14.3 per cent of their opportunities. The most recent snapshot: one goal in the past 32 attempts.
That’s not to say they don’t have any scoring power. Evander Kane is blossoming in to an NHL superstar, captain Andrew Ladd is having a banner year and it’s hard to doubt scoring from Blake Wheeler as the season moves on. But if the Jets want success in the future, it won’t be able to rely on these guys for everything each game.
Instead, the Jets are best fit to play a blue-collar style of game with the roster they have: A physical, hard-working, take no prisoners style of play.
Success has come from timely scoring, a strong defensive core and stable goaltending. What the Jets must find now is chemistry between the third and fourth lines. Some games, the fourth line is non-existent. The Jets cannot afford to run a three-line team. That doesn’t work in the NHL.
It’s tough to get your head in a game when you’re not playing meaningful minutes. As a result, you play scared; worrying your next shift could be your last.
"When you're playing less than seven minutes, you can't afford to just blend in with the game cause you might not get another shift," said Jets fourth-liner Eric Tangradi. "You just got to make sure you provide energy and do things consistently."
Trust from your coach can go a long way. You see it on teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite having some of the best players on the planet, not a single guy on the team averages less than ten minutes per game.
The Jets on the other hand are becoming one-dimensional. Their top forwards who they look for to score goals are also being tasked to check and run down opposing teams top lines.
This identity must change and it’s no time like the present for a Jets team sitting south of the playoff line. "I think we have 16 games in the next 31 days coming up," noted Tangradi. "Some bodies are going to be worn down. So for all four lines to play, and play successful and defensive minutes; that's very important, especially going down the stretch when it gets real tough at the end of March and early April."
The Jets will hit the road for the next four games beginning with division rival Florida on Tuesday. They’ve been successful on the road so far this year, winning four of their last five away from the MTS Centre. The next home game is set for Tuesday, Mar. 12 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.