The Colorado Avalanche took the Winnipeg Jets to the cleaners Wednesday night, taking a 2-0 lead after two periods and then pouring it on in the third for a 7-1 victory. The defeat marks the third loss in a row for the Jets, and they’re now 2-4-2 in their last eight games.
Everybody in Winnipeg seems a little on edge about this development. Adam Lowry and Mark Scheifele each scrapped with Avalanche defender Nikita Zadorov during the third. And after the game, captain Blake Wheeler ripped his team’s performance:
“It looked like we kind of gave up, so that’s disappointing,” he said. “Throughout everything in the time here, even the years we didn’t make the playoffs, we had teams that competed, never gave up... even with nothing to play for. We had a group that played hard. We didn’t do that tonight.”
Lowry was more direct in the postgame:
We were fucking awful. We were terrible. It’s unacceptable. That’s all I’ve got.
We knew they’d be hungry, they’re fighting for a playoff spot. I guess we’re fat and comfortable with where we’re at, because the effort wasn’t there from top to bottom.
We’ve just got to look at ourselves and know that nothing is given in this league. We’re not that fucking good.
For a team that looked like the favorites to win the Western Conference just a few weeks ago, this is a scary drop. It’s not by any means fatal, but some of Winnipeg’s stats are a little concerning. Last season, when the Jets had the second-best record in the league, they were mediocre at creating their own chances, and they haven’t much improved in that area. In 5-on-5 play, the team averaged 25.89 scoring chances per game last season, which ranked 19th in the NHL. This year, they’re 18th, with 25.18 per game. Taking the long view of the season, the Jets don’t have a particular problem with scoring goals off relatively few chances, but with Patrik Laine having potted just one goal since 2019 began, there’s a need for offense beyond the first line of Wheeler, Scheifele, and Kyle Connor. The Jets should think about making a move for any of the Ottawa forwards who are currently up for grabs before Monday’s trade deadline.
But defense, too, is an issue that needs some fixing. The Jets allow the fourth-most shots of anyone in the league at 33.7 per game. That’s because ice-time leader Dustin Byfuglien has dealt with injuries, while the younger defensemen haven’t been able to entirely pick up the slack. Behind the blueliners, 25-year-old goalie Connor Hellebuyck is seeing a perhaps unsurprising regression from a breakout 2017-18. He’s faced an absurd number of shots in some of his starts—53 in a 5-2 loss to Montreal two weeks ago, and 46 on Wednesday night. But after finishing fourth in goals saved above average last season, Hellebuyck’s all the way down to 30th this year, with a save percentage drop from .924 to .909.
These are small issues for now, and the Jets are still quite good. They’re still holding on to first place in the Central, despite their recent struggles. But if their goal is to oust their peers in the West and make the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in their history, they should fix these deficiencies as soon as possible. They have 22 games to do so.