BILLECK: Jets with no identity, passion amid season-long slippage

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It wasn’t so much a surprising confession as an honest one.

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Winnipeg Jets assistant captain Mark Scheifele was asked if his team, marred by a six-game losing streak, had an identity after the team’s practice at the Canada Life Center on Friday.

“Probably not,” he said.

You don’t need a doctorate in hockey observation to solve this problem.

The Jets have been playing hard through the rut they’re in and they’ve scored goals and killed penalties and got some timely saves.

At the same time, they played poorly, allowed goals too easily, struggled on the power play and saw less than brilliant goalkeepers.

No sound defense. No high-scoring offenses. Tasteless special teams.

Put them in a bowl, mix them and the result has the same consistency as public health messages from Manitoba during the pandemic.

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“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Scheifele said. “We’re trying to figure out what it is and… It’s coming from inside this room and we have to figure it out in this group of guys, so we have to lean on each other, we have to stick together and keep fighting for this.”

What “it” is remains to be seen.

The Jets are desperate for a win. After that, they will be desperate for many more.

This lack of identity and all the inconsistency of their game put them in a precarious position. If the Jets want to reach the playoff line with a point total that lands somewhere in the early to late 90s, they’ll need to win about 60 percent of their remaining games.

It’s a tall order for a team that hasn’t won lately, even though they have 42 games left.

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Considering less than a handful of teams have run this hot in the first half of the season, it seems increasingly impossible with each loss piling up. The St. Louis Blues, whom the Jets will have to beat on Saturday to avoid a seventh straight loss, showed a few years ago that anything is possible if you can catch lightning in a bottle.

At this point, it would take a seismic change for this to repeat itself.

Interim head coach Dave Lowry said education is needed when it comes to paying attention to detail and getting his players to buy in.

“A lot of it comes down to structure, video and day-to-day demands on expectations and how you have to play,” Lowry said. “That’s what the expectations are. We have a structure and there are details in the structure. When you get it right, everything seems to fall into place. When you have breakdowns, sometimes they are small errors and sometimes they are detail-oriented. »

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Lowry’s lyrics beg the question of why, with a core group that has been together for the duration of Winnipeg, does he need to preach about expectation and hard work.

Shouldn’t that already be woven into the fabric of this team and its leadership body?

“I would say never assume, never assume that someone is going to do something,” Lowry said. “You tell them what you’d like, you demand what you want, and then it’s up to everyone, whether they want it or they don’t. I will not question the work. I think these guys are committed to what we do. Like I said, we’re a frustrated bunch.

A frustrated group that saw the also-struggling Vancouver Canucks trample them in a 5-1 loss Thursday night.

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They seem lost.

For a team that has spoken words like pressure, urgency and desperation during this losing streak, there was nothing behind gates one, two or three in Winnipeg’s loss to the Canucks.

They were hunting another game early, found enough to tie the game only to see it slip into the ether again.

Even Connor Hellebuyck, who kicked and screamed this team into the playoffs the past two seasons, hasn’t been able to replicate that this season. The third goal, JT Miller’s third, was bad and broke Winnipeg’s number one in the second period. The deflation in the team was palpable in a building containing only 250 fans and that annoying crowd noise.

But what about the second goal? A three-on-three where the Jets lost the script and left Miller alone to pick his spot?

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As easy as it might be to pin him on Hellebuyck, it’s totally unfair for a goalkeeper who has shown up so many times in the past when those in front of him haven’t, stealing win after win. in the jaws of defeat.

No wonder Hellebuyck feels the pressure – he’s often on his own island, on his own.

Paul Stastny said it himself.

He’s played 13 straight, and Saturday will likely be No. 14. Any remarkable turnover will come through Hellebuyck, but he needs consistency in front of him.

“I think it’s doing the right thing for the right guy every shift, knowing where the guys are going to be, knowing what the guys are going to do with the puck,” Scheiefele said. “That’s how it usually starts. Start with that foundation in the D zone, knowing what the Ds are going to do behind the net, knowing where the forwards are going to be, where the center player is going to be, and knowing where everyone is going to be. That’s how you gain that trust with each other, and I think that needs to be talked about a bit more.

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Jets captain Blake Wheeler bristled at the thought that his team had become shaky.

Anyone in his position would. This is tantamount to suggesting that his team is soft, and calling a team soft is arguably the biggest insult you can throw at team sports.

Wheeler is very good at not making a bad situation worse.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that right now his team is flirting with the bottom.

This is not acceptable from a team that spends up to the cap, a team that added nearly $10 million to its blue line over the summer, and another that sees itself as a competitor. at the start of the season.

The only thing the Jets are arguing for right now is a higher percentage in Shane Wright’s draft.

[email protected]

Twitter: @scottbilleck

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