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Jets’ latest loss should be viewed as a collective failure

| December 15, 2021, 10:26 AM

December 15, 2021, 10:26 AM

WINNIPEG — Nate Schmidt saw the question coming and was quick to cut it off at the pass.

The veteran defenceman might be a relatively new member of the Winnipeg Jets, but he’s been around the block enough to know how to handle queries about a coach and his potential job security.

When it comes to the blame game, Schmidt wasn’t about to point the finger at the coaching staff after the Jets came up with one of the poorest performances of the campaign in a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.

On this night, there were far too many passengers and not nearly enough drivers.

The intensity was mostly lacking and the level of urgency wasn’t close to being high enough.

However, this wasn’t about a group of guys intentionally not showing up or quitting on the men behind the bench.

“It’s on the players,” said Schmidt. “It’s 100 per cent on us, being ready for the game, being prepared and having the giddy-up, the jump to go the whole game.”

The reason the topic was broached was related to Jets head coach Paul Maurice blaming himself for not having his group ready to go against the Carolina Hurricanes last week in a disappointing 4-2 loss.

While admirable of Maurice to try and fall on his sword, based on the words offered himself and what came out of the mouths of his players leading into the game with the Hurricanes, it was abundantly clear the Jets knew exactly what to expect from their opponent.

They simply didn’t respond with the necessary level of speed or aggressiveness in all three zones and it led to a loss that was far more lopsided than the score suggested.

It’s far easier to explain losing to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

Maurice — who does not make a habit of calling out his players publicly — was trying to provide some shelter for his group following that game.

Although his frustration was evident on Tuesday night, when he spoke for less than three minutes despite a barrage of questions that were fired his way, Maurice wasn’t about to unload on his star players for not delivering in a game the Jets absolutely needed to have.

He preferred to focus on the collective need to play faster and harder while raising the engagement level.

When asked to expand on how the Jets could do that, Maurice was succinct, choosing his words carefully.

“Just attention to detail,” said Maurice. “Focus.”

Maurice isn’t immune to criticism in this game either and deployment was a key area to investigate.

In a contest where centre Pierre-Luc Dubois was the Jets’ best player, chipping in a goal and an assist, he had just over 19 minutes of action while Mark Scheifele eclipsed 25 minutes.

Scheifele has done plenty in his career to warrant top-line minutes, but for this one-two punch down the middle to fully blossom, the Jets need to find a way to minimize that disparity in ice time between the two players.

By doing that, it should help both players individually — not to mention the lines that they play on.

Dubois is up to 14 goals and 25 points in 28 games this season and this isn’t just about the numbers he’s been able to put up.

It’s about taking ownership and relishing the enhanced responsibility he’s been given during this impressive bounce-back season.

When Dubois has more on his plate, he’s found a way to thrive and that’s part of the reason Maurice can afford to lean on him a bit more.

Special teams continue to be a primary source of consternation for the Jets coaching staff, as the 31st-ranked penalty-killing unit gave up a power-play goal that opened the scoring and the power play finished the contest zero-for-three.

Of course, the players need to execute on special teams but the coaches also must find solutions.

When the topic naturally shifted to the theme of those valuable lost points against teams near the bottom of the standings, Maurice got a bit defensive, saying he didn’t get the sense the Jets played down to the level of the opponents in any of those prior matchups.

This isn’t about taking an opponent for granted and it isn’t a matter of not respecting those teams either.

The Jets haven’t played well enough to fall into a false sense of security and any hint of complacency went out the window during a five-game losing skid and dropping six games in a seven-game stretch.

In a vacuum, the occasional egg is going to be laid over the course of 82 games.

That’s a simple, if uncomfortable, fact of life for most teams.

But the evidence is mounting for the Jets here.

In addition to Tuesday’s loss to the Sabres (who snapped a seven-game winless skid and had only one win in the previous 12 games and are currently 28th overall), the Jets have fallen to the Arizona Coyotes (32nd overall) and the New York Islanders (29th overall), and have taken only one of a possible four points against the Vancouver Canucks (23rd overall after a recent bump under new coach Bruce Boudreau).

“A coach used to tell me it’s always easy to get up for big games, it’s not the easiest to get up for the (other) games… but at the same time, it’s the National Hockey League, every team can beat any team,” said Schmidt. “I just think that we have to come in, off a road trip or not, come home and be better than we were, myself included.”

Looking within is a sign of leadership and accountability.

At a time when the Jets are going to be without captain Blake Wheeler for an extended period of time because of a suspected right knee injury that won’t require surgery, that’s exactly what is going to be needed from players throughout the lineup.

Stepping up means different things to different players, whether that’s chipping in offensively, providing a strong defensive effort or helping out in the leadership department.

Sure, the Jets have found a way to come up with some impressive performances against some upper-echelon teams, but those lost points can be crushing, especially when you consider how tight the race is expected to be in the Central Division and Western Conference this season.

“In our division, obviously Minnesota is off to a pretty good start here, but it’s pretty jam-packed. That’s going to be the theme throughout the whole regular season,” said Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo. “There’s a lot of good teams in our division and I think


it’s going to go right down to the wire, jostling for positions and seeds and things of that nature.

“I think our best games are coming. We’re not even close to our potential of how we can play as a team, so there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Picking up points and winning some games here will go a long way to achieving what we want to achieve.”

The Jets can try and lower the angst level by putting forth better efforts this weekend with games on Friday against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals and on Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Blues.

There are four more games scheduled before the Christmas break arrives and the Jets can’t afford another extended losing streak.

For a team that entered the season with an upgraded roster and heightened expectations, being below the playoff line at this point is unacceptable.

This group needs to play to its identity on a more consistent basis and until that happens, the questions will remain and there will be plenty of blame to spread around.

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