It is hard to watch your team implode, but that’s exactly what happened yesterday afternoon in Buffalo, New York. The Winnipeg Jets dominated the Sabres for two periods and came into the third loose and smiling aided by a two-goal lead over a very lackluster Buffalo team.
The twitter and Facebook feeds erupted when the Sabres’ Jake McCabe obliterated Jeg-phenom Patrik Laine in a clean-by-brutal mid-ice hit. Laine stayed down for several minutes, but appears to be ok. But that wasn’t the start of the end for the Jets. The end started minutes before with a two-goal, 26-second burst by Buffalo. Then Laine went down, and only four minutes later the Sabres took a 4-3 lead that would stand for the remainder of the game.
The Jets mostly clearly dominated the first two periods. But there some disconcerting signs early that many fans may have missed. To start the game, Connor Hellebuyck let two huge rebounds away on his first two shots that almost resulted in goals, then a weak goal by O’Reilly (poor position play by Hellebuyck) with less than 30 seconds left in the first let the Sabres walk to the dressing room with an undeserving 1-1 tie. Scheifele wasn’t playing well at that point. During the first minute of the second period, Scheifele lost an important faceoff, then seconds later gave up the puck for a Buffalo break that luckily did not amount to anything. Byfuglien again had trouble clearing pucks which led to him taking a penalty on O’Reilly late in the second.
The Jets were making some poor plays with little notice because they were significantly outplaying the Sabres. But when the floodgates gave way less than five minutes into the third, the Jets reverted to a desperate, barely-coordinated collection of AHL players. A different team replaced the first Jets team that showed up that day.
As many fans posted on Facebook, it was hard to watch. Hard because we’ve seen this footage before. The late period goal. The weak shot in the back of the net. The giveaways. After the game, Paul Maurice said this: “You got to chew on this one for a while because we played so darn well and we were pretty dominant, up until we get the three consecutive penalties at the end of the second our game was about as good as it can be. So you have to build on that, but it’s going to be tough to let that one go.”
Paul, not much to chew on here. But this type of play has become a trend under your system. Stop giving Byfuglien so much ice time. That penalty on O’Reilly was stupid, and it came after he made a bad play for which he was trying to overcompensate. The penalty didn’t cause damage, but the Jets were shorthanded for over five minutes in the last half of the second period due to three bad penalties by Winnipeg.
If things weren’t bad enough, there was the Laine thing. He was hit about as hard as a player can be hit. And yes—it was completely legit. If Dustin Byfuglien had delivered that hit on Kane or Foligno, trust me—it would have been all over the papers today and Jets would have been cheering. So let’s cut the double standard here: Great hit on an unsuspecting Patrik Laine. He’ll be okay, but there may be a concussion protocol to follow that could take him out of the lineup. As with typical NHL injuries, we won’t really know the extent of it for a few days.
On the bright side, Drew Stafford looked great in a return to Buffalo, as did Joel Armia. Ehlers is looking like he could be the game changer on the Jets. When he gets moving, he throws off the defensive corps of the opposition. That will pay huge dividends from the Jets in the future.
For now, the Jets are licking their wounds from a physically tough game, as well as living with the reality that they can’t win three in a row. Compare that to Columbus who just stopped at 16.
The other day I posted my grading list of the Jets. To no surprise, and no harm, some people commented that it was too harsh on the Jets. They said the players were much better than I afforded them. Well, right now the Jets sit at 27th in a league of 31 teams, once games in hand are taken into account. You can’t grade players very high if they are in the cellar of the NHL. The Winnipeg Jets have significant talent; probably more potential talent than any other team in the league. But this is the NHL. What matters is the two points at the end of a game, and how close or far you are from a wild card playoff spot. The Jets are still within striking distance, but every game they lose—especially those that they should win—puts another nail in the coffin.
With the exception of a few really good games here and there, this is not a good hockey team, with not very good goalies. Some things need to change.