Jets drop below playoff line after fifth consecutive defeat

- April 4th, 2013

MONTREAL — The mirage that was the Winnipeg Jets holding down the third seed in the Eastern Conference as the Southeast Division leader has faded into oblivion.

Don’t get me wrong, the Jets were full marks for the stretch that saw them battle from below the playoff line and into a playoff spot. You remember the one, when the Jets went 10-3-1 during a 14-game period.

Since then, the Jets have gone 3-8 and are currently in the midst of a season-long five-game losing streak.

There’s no more need to talk about games in hand for the teams below them, at least not as much of one.

For the first time since Mar. 16, after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in a shootout, the Jets have slipped below the playoff line.

Back on the outside looking in.

The safety net has been removed and now the Jets must begin the process of digging themselves out of this hole.

Despite scoring the first goal for the first time in five contests on a beautiful pass from Grant Clitsome to Alex Burmistrov at 8:16 of the opening period, the Jets gave up the equalizer just over two minutes later and the Montreal Canadiens cruised to a 4-1 triumph before a passionate crowd of 21, 273 at the Bell Centre.

“I don’t think you can lose five straight games and expect that things aren’t going to change,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel, when asked what affect dropping below the line might have on his group. “It’s not like the players don’t know what’s going on. We know if we continue down this road, it isn’t good. That’s why there’s some urgency. We’re running out of games and we know that.”

Jets captain Andrew Ladd snapped a five-game pointless streak on the goal, leaving a drop pass for Grant Clitsome, who skated down the right side and hit the trailing Burmistrov for a tap-in.

“That was the easiest goal I’ve ever scored probably. That was a great pass,” said Burmistrov, who had not scored since Feb. 23 against the Philadelphia Flyers, a span of 17 that didn’t include four consecutive healthy scratches.

The crazy thing is that the Jets nearly made it 2-0 around the nine-minute mark as Blake Wheeler cruised in down the right side and rifled a shot that beat Peter Budaj but rattled off the crossbar.

Instead of extending the lead, Ron Hainsey took a tripping penalty and Michael Ryder pounced on a rebound after a shot by Brian Gionta for the first of two power play goals scored by the Canadiens.

Although the period ended 1-1, Ryder scored on a rebound at 2:03 of the second period after Hainsey and Clitsome got caught with another guy in front and Ryder potted his 15th of the season.

Then at 5:51, Gionta was credited for a power-play goal that hit him in front after a shot by Lars Eller.

As lucky as the bounce was for the Canadiens, the Jets seemed to be on the other end of the spectrum early in the third period with the Jets on the power play.

That’s when Toby Enstrom blasted a shot that went in off Wheeler but it was waved off immediately because the Jets forward was in the crease, tied up with defenceman Josh Gorges.

There was no penalty for goalie interference, but video evidence showed that it was Gorges and not Wheeler who prevented Peter Budaj from making the save, so the argument could be made that the goal should have counted.

“You can probably guess what he told me. He said I interfered with the goalie,” said Wheeler. “What can you say? You saw the replay. I never touched the goalie, I got out of his way and that’s just the way things seem to go. You try to get in those dirty areas and get rewarded and they wave it off.

“Gorges’ momentum went into me, I backed away and from there, the puck hit off me and went in the net. I don’t feel like I ever made contact with the goaltender. But it doesn’t matter anymore. The call was made and it is what it is.”

The goal would have obviously given the Jets a spark, but it’s wildly inaccurate to suggest the Jets played well enough to win this game.

“We were in it until the third when we had the disallowed goal,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “That was a big turning point. But at the same time, you have to find ways to get over that and keep momentum going somehow.”

They were mostly outclassed by a Canadiens team that to me, doesn’t look like a one-and-done candidate for a playoff upset.

Anything is possible, but the Canadiens have skill and have upgraded their grit level as well.

P.K. Subban is playing great on the back end and rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, who brought fans out of their seats with a ridiculous rush that was stopped by Ondrej Pavelec, have provided a spark.

Quite simply, they’re fun to watch and it will be interesting to see if they have what it takes to knock off one of the Boston Bruins or Pittsburgh Penguins.

That’s going to be a tough task for anyone, but the Canadiens have come an awful long way since last season, when they were near the bottom of the NHL standings.

But I digress.

The disallowed goal was compounded when rookie Alex Galchenyuk deposited a rebound at 7:43 to make it 4-1.

Game. Set. Match.

Dustin Byfuglien lost track of Galchenyuk front, standing right beside him but failing to take away his stick, and that inactivity caused Jets head coach Claude Noel to bench Byfuglien for the remainder of the game.

I asked Noel about it after and he was quite candid, noting that issue has plagued Byfuglien this season and that if he wasn’t going to change, then “don’t play.”

As for how the two-period experiment of moving Byfuglien up to right wing with Ladd and Bryan Little, Byfuglien managed only one shot on goal and didn’t create a whole lot.

It’s not surprising that the change didn’t go smoothly, but it’s clear Noel was disappointed Byfuglien didn’t accomplish much more at forward.

“I didn’t think he was very effective up front,” said Noel. “I didn’t think he had enough speed. I moved him back (to defence) and that went the way it went.”

As in, not well.

Byfuglien had a stretch where he was one of the Jets best players and while he’s endured some tough times during the stretch drive, he has time to get it turned around.

How he responds to the benching will be very interesting to monitor.

Perhaps it lights a fire that gets him back on track.

Sure, Noel runs the risk that Byfuglien won’t respond well but by sitting him down, it sends a strong message both to him and the other players on the team about accountability.

On an unrelated topic, I thought both Mike Santorelli and Aaron Gagnon had their moments.

Santorelli was noticeable, with his speed, and managed four shots on goal in 14:14 of ice time, even seeing some action on 4-on-4 play.

As for Gagnon, he took 15 shifts for nine minutes and had three shots on goal. He got a brief bump to the top unit and was minus-1 as he was on the ice on the goal where Byfuglien lost Galchenyuk in front.

The loss had major implications in the standings, especially after the Washington Capitals earned a 2-1 shootout victory over the New York Islanders. That moved the Caps into first in Southeast (38 points, but two games in hand and a higher winning percentage) and third in the East.

Meanwhile, the Jets dropped right to 10th (38 points) and are just one point up on the Flyers, who have been red-hot of late.

The out-of-town scoreboard watch won’t mean a thing if the Jets can’t get out of this funk.

“We’ve got to win games ourselves, that’s what it comes down to,” said Wheeler. “It doesn’t matter what everyone else does. If we keep losing games, we’re not going to make the playoffs. It would be too bad if we’re scoreboard watching, we’re in no position to be worrying about other teams right now.

“Maybe if we build our way back up and get ourselves into the Top-8, we can start taking peeks at the scoreboard. But we’re not there right now.”

Late in the third period, Jets winger Evander Kane dropped the gloves with physical blue-liner Alexei Emelin and at the beginning of the fight, there was an odd moment as Emelin’s helmet came off and was in Kane’s hand when he took his first swing.

In real time it looked odd, but in watching the replay, it would be hard to argue there was intent. It was more like Kane was throwing the helmet because if he wanted to hit Emelin with it, he easily could have.

Kane made no apologies afterward, noting it’s something that happens in fights.

Emelin and Kane have battled against one another during several meetings.

“It was the first time he had his cage off since I’ve played him,” said Kane. “He’s a guy who likes to take runs at you, so I thought I would test him out, I guess.”

There’s little doubt the department of safety will take a look, but I didn’t see any cause for a suspension but I didn’t have access to all the angles either.

The Jets are back in action on Saturday afternoon and don’t have much time to lick their wounds.

Friday’s schedule hasn’t been determined but the Jets are likely to have at least an optional skate, because there is no morning skate Saturday because of the matinee start time.

But Friday is sure to be an interesting day as Jacob Trouba will meet the media for the first time since signing his professional contract and defenceman Zach Redmond is expected to speak to reporters for the first time since his horrific skate-cut accident in Carolina that ended his rookie season prematurely.

Saturday marks the start of a six-game homestand that could ultimately determine whether or not the Jets can work themselves back into the playoff picture.

I’ll delve more into that subject in Saturday’s paper.

For now, bonne soir.

Columnist Paul Friesen is sitting in for me on the weekly Jets live blog at 2 pm CT.

Be sure to join him.

 

 

Categories: Hockey

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