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ST. PAUL – The Winnipeg Jets keep finding new ways to lower expectations, looking absolutely nothing like a Stanley Cup contender and every bit like a pretender that is quickly going to be one and done when the playoffs begin next week.
How else to explain Tuesday night’s pathetic performance in St. Paul, in which the Jets were lacking in every category that counts as they fell 5-1 to the Minnesota Wild?
In a season filled with a surprisingly-high number of stinkers, this one was as putrid as they come. And any progress made by Monday’s overtime win in Chicago was quickly erased by an inexplicable lack of effort and execution that probably had many observers holding their noses.
It was a costly loss on a number of fronts. First, they fall back into a tie with Nashville for top spot in the Central Division, after the Predators won in Buffalo. Each team has two games remaining. St. Louis is two points back with a game in hand, which they’ll play Wednesday night in Chicago.
Forget a division title and home-ice advantage, the Jets are in serious danger of tumbling down to third place and starting the post-season on the road. Not that it really matters, because if the team plays like they have lately – now 2-5-0 in the past seven – they’re going to quickly be eliminated regardless of where they finish and who they play.
Secondly, energy winger Brandon Tanev suffered a hand injury after being slashed by Eric Staal in the first period. He didn’t return to the game, and an extended absence would leave a huge hole in the lineup. Tanev leads the team in hits by a country mile, has put up a career-high 14 goals, buzzes all over the ice and essentially brings the “give a crap” factor that seemed to be sorely missing Tuesday.
There was no passion or pushback, as the Jets seemed content to just go through the motions and get out of town, empty-handed, just as quickly as they arrived in the early morning hours from the Windy City.
All in all, it was a night to forget. And yet, this team keeps failing to learn from similar no-shows. Remarkably, Winnipeg lost all five meetings with Minnesota in regular this season, despite the fact the Wild are going to finish well behind them in the standings and, quite possibly, out of the playoffs.
It’s quite the role reversal, considering the Jets easily disposed of the Wild in five games during their first-round playoff series last spring.
Goalie Eric Comrie took it on the chin in this one, playing his first NHL game of the season in order to give workhorse Connor Hellebuyck a rest. Comrie, the Manitoba Moose starter, gave up three goals on just nine shots in the opening frame.
The first of two straight by Zach Parise was a bizarre deflected puck that Comrie lost track of and sailed in over his head. The second was on a nice two-on-one, while the third of the frame, by Victor Rask, caught him cheating off his post and was one he needs to stop. Same for the fifth goal, late in the third period, which trickled right between his legs.
All told, Comrie was beaten five times on just 28 shots.
Sure, he looked overmatched. But it’s not like the Jets mustered much of an offensive attack to try and bail him out. Jacob Trouba scored the only goal of the game, late in the second period when it was already a 4-0 deficit. His pass attempt to Blake Wheeler in front of the Minnesota net, while shorthanded, banked in off Devan Dubnyk.
But there was no momentum to be gained, just more of the same for the rest of the game.
Coach Paul Maurice tried to spark his team by mixing up the lines a bit, moving Bryan Little up with Kevin Hayes and Patrik Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers down with Tanev and Adam Lowry. But those plans fell apart when Tanev got hurt early in the game, as the remaining 11 forwards were mixed-and-matched in various ways.
It didn’t work.
Nor did the power play, which went 0-for-2 on the night and didn’t generate any good looks at all. Trouba continues to be up with the top unit, which Maurice said before the game is because things have been going so well. Dustin Byfuglien, now three games into his return from an ankle injury, is stuck on the second unit which doesn’t see much ice.
A sequence on a second period man-advantage may have perfectly summed up the night. Mark Scheifele was given a perfect pass from Blake Wheeler in the slot, only to rip his shot right off the legs of teammate Kyle Connor. Seconds later, Wheeler tried to throw the puck back to Trouba on the point, only to miss him badly and sent it all the way back into their own end.
It was that kind of night, in a season with far too many of those kinds of nights
The road trip continues Thursday night in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche, and then curtain comes down on the regular-season Saturday night in Glendale against the Arizona Coyotes.
Time is quickly running out to turn things around.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.