The offensive well has run dry and the search for answers is in overdrive.
By dropping six of the past seven games, the Winnipeg Jets’ season appears to be at — or at the very least nearing — a crossroads as they get set to welcome the New Jersey Devils on Friday as a four-game homestand continues.
With three days between games after Monday’s 1-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, Jets head coach Paul Maurice gave his players the day off on Tuesday and many of those players exercised the option on Wednesday as well, feeling rest was the most important thing to help get things turned around.
Getting recharged is important, but now it’s about delivering results because the status quo isn’t going to cut it.
For a team with lofty expectations going into the season, falling below the playoff line in the Western Conference standings is simply not acceptable.
Nobody expected this to be a cakewalk for the Jets in the return to the Central Division, but this is a team whose personnel was upgraded in the off-season and one that was sitting in first place just a few weeks ago — before this latest swoon began.
At the heart of the issue for the Jets right now is an inability to produce offence on a consistent basis.
How bad has it been?
Well, the Jets have scored only nine goals in the past seven games.
During that span, they’ve been held to one goal or fewer five times and been blanked twice.
Going back a little further, the Jets have been shut out three times in the past 12 games.
This isn’t a team with a pop-gun offence.
Sure, they’ve run into a couple of hot goalies during the stretch but they’ve seemed to get away from doing the things that helped them get off to a 9-3-3 start — which was even more impressive when you consider the Jets dropped three games (0-2-1) to open the campaign.
Many of the big guns simply aren’t producing at the levels folks have come to expect from them — or what they expect of themselves.
Jets captain Blake Wheeler has zero goals in 17 games and Mark Scheifele has two goals in 16 games and just one assist in his past five games.
Nikolaj Ehlers has no points in five games and hasn’t been his explosive self.
Andrew Copp has one goal in his past 15 games and it was an empty-netter, though he’s still third in team scoring and generating at close to a point-per-game pace.
Even Kyle Connor, who leads the team with 14 goals, has scored in only one of the past seven games — though he scored twice in that one, including the game-winner as the Jets rallied for a 4-2 comeback win over the Calgary Flames.
Not only has the primary scoring mostly dried up, but the secondary scoring has been hard to come by as well.
A sputtering power play has also contributed to the offensive issues, as the Jets are struggling through a 2-for-34 stretch with the man advantage.
A power play that was ranked third in the NHL has slipped to 22nd (16.9 per cent) and is coming off an 0-for-6 night against the Coyotes that included just over eight minutes of fruitless power play time in the third period alone.
At a time when the Jets needed the power play to come through to try and get a winnable game to overtime, it ended up firing blanks instead.
There have been personnel tweaks to the units and other wrinkles tossed in, but ultimately the Jets are going to need to find a way to move the puck more quickly and generate some better opportunities.
When it comes to offence at even strength, it’s not a matter of zone time or shot volume, it’s all about the quality.
And for the Jets to get more quality looks, they need to do a better job of getting to the inside and generating more shots with traffic.
Perhaps it will take another turn of the blender to find new some line combinations or maybe even going back to some others that worked earlier this season, but right now it’s clear that the Jets need to find a way to get back to basics.
Offence should be the least of the Jets’ problems, but here we are.
With the exception of the 7-1 blowout loss to the Minnesota Wild (where all seven goals allowed were at even strength), the Jets have been much improved defensively at five-on-five.
But during this dry spell, they’ve wasted a valuable opportunity to avoid tumbling down the standings.
Connor Hellebuyck is the November Player of the Month fuelled by @freshii!
Helle was among the league's best this month with a save percentage of 0️⃣.9️⃣3️⃣4️⃣ and a goals against average of 2️⃣.0️⃣0️⃣!
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) December 1, 2021
In 10 of his past 11 starts, Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck has allowed two goals or fewer, but the run support has been so limited that the team has only recorded four victories during that span.
Considering how well Hellebuyck has played, those were valuable points that were lost.
After going 6-6-2 in November and with just three of a possible 14 points recorded over the past seven games, the Jets have slipped to a tie for 10th place in points percentage in the Western Conference.
While there is ample time to get things turned around, the words of Wheeler on Monday were well-timed and appropriate.
“When you go through tough times, that’s when you find out what you’re made of,” said Wheeler.
Well, it’s time for the Jets to do just that.
Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for Sportsnet.ca and is a regular contributor to CJOB.
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