Of all the adjectives and phrases I’ve read on social media to describe the Winnipeg Jets’ play of late, a text I got from a good friend who is an avid fan was my favourite. “The Jets are playing like hot garbage lately” made me laugh out loud in an empty room. He’s not wrong. The Jets are currently not playing to the system head coach Rick Bowness has implemented but instead have reverted to the bad habits they fell into under former coach Paul Maurice.
After defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pennsylvania on Jan. 13, in what some analysts called their best and most complete win of the season, something is afoot in the Manitoba capital. They snuck by the Arizona Coyotes in their next game in a 2-1 home victory in a game they should have dominated.
Jets Have Taken a Turn for the Worse
Since then, the Jets have gone 2-5 in their last seven games, and of those five losses, four came against teams below the playoff line. They lost to the Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, Buffalo Sabres, and most recently, a 4-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. This came after winning eight of nine games and briefly taking first place in the Western Conference.
Something is wrong in Winnipeg, and Bowness knows it, as he stated after the loss at home to the Flyers.
Right now, you’re seeing what we’re seeing, as soon as there is a little adversity – we handled it well early in the year – we’re not handling it well right now. The difference makers, you can’t even find them out there. Until we make that commitment again to play as a team and we want to win, this is what you get.
– Rick Bowness, following the Jets’ 4-0 loss to the Flyers
The Jets are mired in a seven-game slide where they simply haven’t played well and have gotten the results they should expect. An eastern road trip where they went 2-3, followed by two straight losses at home where the team was booed by frustrated fans who have come to expect fast-paced victories on home ice.
The Jets Seem to be Reverting to Paul Maurice’s System
The issue for the Jets’ fanbase is that they’ve seen this behaviour before. They look like a team that doesn’t play as a unit but as a group of individuals. The “Rick Bowness Blueprint” for the team has disappeared. A team that got to the top of the Central Division and Western Conference by playing a fast-paced forechecking game forcing the opponent to make mistakes and capitalizing on them. A team looking to play a 200-foot game focusing on defensive responsibility and turning that into offensive pressure and scoring chances.
Since the Penguins’ game, which they dominated, the Jets have reverted to the play they became accustomed to under Paul Maurice. It can best be described as a system where the best players look to simply outscore the opposition while depending on Connor Hellebuyck to stop enough pucks to guarantee a victory.
Right now we’re going through a spell that as soon as the adversity kicks in, we’re going on our own program. Which was the problem all of last year…We thought we had corrected it, now we have to correct it again, and we will.
– Rick Bowness, (from “Jets go from bad to worse: Losses are getting uglier”, Winnipeg Free Press, 28/01/2023)
The Jets have plenty of skill, but this season, for the first time in a long time, they have been using it collectively to work the system Bowness and his staff have fought hard to install. The results are in the standings.
Those waving the flags of positivity will say it’s only seven games. The problem is that this represents almost 10 percent of the regular season and is a large enough sample size to cause concern. The Jets are now three points behind the Dallas Stars in the Central Division. More concerning, they are five points ahead of the Minnesota Wild and six ahead of the Colorado Avalanche, and both of those teams have three games in hand over the Jets. Instead of looking ahead to the Stars, the Jets need to be wary of what is in the rear-view mirror.
The Jets Can Recover From This Setback
With 31 games left in the season, it looks like now is the time Bowness will earn his salary. He needs to get his stars to turn their game around and do it quickly. As he stated in the post-game presser following the loss to the Flyers when asked if the Jets were able to gain a spark after a second-period timeout and some line shuffling, “We’re disappointed that we didn’t see it from the guys that we needed it from. The difference makers weren’t there tonight, is the best way to put it.”
The Jets take on the St. Louis Blues on Monday (Jan. 31) in their final game before the All-Star Break and an 11-day break before their next game (from ‘Jets host the Blues on losing streak’, Caledonian Record, 1/29/23). The Jets will need to have their stars look inside themselves and decide if they can be the “difference makers” Bowness is searching for. The break will also give the front office time to reflect on what they need to obtain before the March 3 trade deadline.
The Jets need more help on the roster if they are going to make a deep run in the playoffs. The name Jonathan Toews has come up in speculation. The Winnipeg native would bring some stability and experience to a team skilled enough to win but seems to lack the mental fortitude to get the job done.
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