UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Winnipeg Jets losing streak has reached a season-worst four games, thanks to a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the New York Islanders on Tuesday before a crowd of 11, 819 at Nassau Coliseum.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this one.
The Jets were beaten soundly by an upstart Islanders team that propelled itself above the playoff line and into sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference in the process.
To me, the fast-skating Isles look like a playoff team, but will need to battle during their final 11 games to remain above the playoff line. The Rangers are two points back, but hold two games in hand and made a move Tuesday to pick up gritty winger Ryane Clowe.
Speaking of staying above the playoff line, the Jets picked about the worst possible time for a slide and for those of you keeping score at home, the margin for error is becoming narrower for this group.
The loss leaves the Jets at 18-18-2 and coupled with a win by the Washington Capitals over the Carolina Hurricanes, leaves Alex Ovechkin and company just two points behind the Jets while holding two games in hand.
For a fifth consecutive game, the Jets big line was held off the score sheet, which prompted head coach Claude Noel to make a drastic move, shuffling Dustin Byfuglien from defence to right wing with Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd.
Byfuglien played forward as the net-front presence on power plays earlier in the season, but this was Byfuglien’s first look at forward 5-on-5 since the Jets relocated from Atlanta.
During the third period, my unofficial tally had him taking seven shifts for 6:25 of ice time (though his last shift had him on the point with Zach Bogosian with the Jets net empty in favour of an extra attacker).
Noel finds himself in a bit of a quandary. He doesn’t have enough players chipping in offensively right now and the Jets goals-for/goals-against differential is now -22 on the season.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that needs to change during the final 10 games or the Jets can kiss their playoff chances good-bye.
I’ve said all along, I’m not one of the people who agree with the theory that the Jets will be best served with Byfuglien up front.
It’s not that he can’t do it, he showed in 2010 during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup run that he can, and you could argue that Byfuglien could be the Jets’ most dangerous power forward.
However, I see him having a higher value on the back end, where he can get his shot through and provide offence from the blue line (and wandering in on occasion). The past two games, Byfuglien has been better, since battling through a tough stretch.
For right now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Byfuglien stay up front, at least on a trial basis.
Noel doesn’t have many other options to explore, so as long as Byfuglien is okay with the move (even on an interim basis), it’s worth another look.
Byfuglien’s made it clear he’d rather play defence, but he told reporters in a scrum that he’s willing to do whatever it takes for the greater good of the team.
The Jets made two changes on their blue-line, inserting Mark Stuart for Grant Clitsome (left eye injury) and Paul Postma for Derek Meech (healthy scratch).
Stuart, who missed the past six games after a collision with Ovechkin), played just over 17 minutes and was even.
Postma, meanwhile, provided both goals for the Jets (his second and third of the season) — and first since Feb. 1, a span of 17 games.
Postma showed good hands on both goals, converting the first after a strong burst to the net and low show to the blocker side by Eric Tangradi.
Then on the second, Postma tapped in a perfect pass from Chris Thorburn, who picked up his first assist of the campaign and first point since Jan. 21, a span of 29 games.
Tangradi picked up a helper on the second goal as well, given him two on the evening in what was easily his best game since joining the Jets.
Postma did a great job offensively, but was on the ice for two goals against as well. As I’ve said numerous times, with a young offensive D-men, mistakes and growing pains are a fact of life for Postma. But with the stakes being so high right now, it’s a tough time to be doling out on-the-job training.
The Jets lost centre Nik Antropov during the third period to a lower-body and he did not return.
Noel didn’t have much of an update on Antropov, but if he’s going to be on the shelf for any length of time, it’s possible the Jets could recall centre Aaron Gagnon, who was named AHL player of the month on Tuesday after putting up nine goals and 18 points during an 11-game point streak for the St. John’s IceCaps.
Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline is fast approaching and it will be interesting to see what the Jets do before 2 p.m. CT hits.
Even without making a trade, it was an interesting day off the ice for the Jets as well.
Before the pre-game warm-up, E.J. Hradek of the NHL Network sent out a tweet suggesting Jets 2012 first rounder Jacob Trouba had decided to turn pro and by the second intermission, the Jets had sent out a press release confirming the two sides had come to terms, though Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said later they were still “papering” the actual contract, which will be a standard, three-year, entry-level deal.
Cheveldayoff met the media after to discuss the move and what it means for both Trouba and the franchise. We’ll delve more into this subject tomorrow, as a 2:50 CT wake-up call beckons so I can get to Montreal for the NHL trade deadline.
Trouba expressed some excitement via Twitter and is expected to arrive in Winnipeg during the coming days. He’s also expected to be available to the media on a conference call, perhaps as early as Wednesday.
Trouba hasn’t skated much since the Wolverines season ended a couple weekends ago and there’s not a lot of practice time left in Jets season, so it will be interesting to see how many games the blue-liner might get into during the stretch drive.
If he appears in six of the final 10 games, Trouba would burn the first year of his entry-level deal.
Here’s the edited transcript of the post-game thoughts of Cheveldayoff:
“The decision to leave college is something the player has to make on his own. We’re very thankful that Jacob and his family made the decision that they did to turn pro. I would sincerely like to thank the University of Michigan for all that they’ve done. Coach Red Berenson has done just a fantastic job of development of the young man. I’ve watched him play many, many times this year and I just can’t say enough about the program and how good the people are there. We’re very excited for the Jets organization to have the opportunity to sign him.
Does this move signify a shift in general premise that the Jets don’t want to rush players to the NHL?
“The mantra is all players develop at different times. Certainly, the pro side of the development process has begun now for Jacob. We’ll see how it all plays out.
“At this point there’s no expectations. We’ve talked to Jacob and his representatives and talked internally that this is more to get him acclimated to the pro ranks. There’s really no expectations and no obligations and no one should expect anything in those regards. At the end of the day, this is a player who played college and has not had the opportunity to come into a pro training camp. He is 19 years old and it is still about development.
What does Trouba bring to the table?
“His exploits in the World Junior Championships and what he’s done at the college level are well documented. But again, he’s a 19 year old player who now has the opportunity bring his game to the pro ranks. He’s a big guy that is very physical, he can skate and shoot the puck and we’re just anxious to have the opportunity for our coaches to begin to make their evaluations and assessments within the organization.”
Any impact on approach to trade deadline?
“I’m really treating it as a side deal. This is more about the development of Jacob Trouba more so than it is about a big trade deadline move for the Winnipeg Jets. We’re in the heat of a very tight battle right now — a lot tighter than we hoped it would be, but that’s something just being around for him, seeing the importance, seeing each of you on a daily basis and how important the business side and the pro side of the game and the different nuances that are involved.
“It’s not about the immediate, it’s about the future with him. This is about the development process and all players will develop differently. This situation here… there are no expectations being placed on him. There are no expectations placed on anybody in this regard. We’ll see how it goes.
“Certainly you’d like to have gone into the final day of the trade deadline not on this side of it. It’s a 48-game season and you can’t pick and choose when the highs and the lows happen. We still have opportunity in front of us and the opportunity is still there for us to take. We have some meaningful games against the teams we are in a battle with and those happen after the deadline. We’re going to go into the final day tomorrow as we have been going in for all the days prior and look at anything that is presented to us and see what direction we go.”
Have four consecutive losses brought a greater sense of urgency to make moves?
“I wake up every morning with a sense of urgency. You can’t force something to happen. We’re all looking for that magic deal that works for both sides to fall into your lap. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.”