Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel does not like to make excuses. You either win games or lose them based on your efforts on the ice in each particular outing. You either win or you don’t and that’s that.
However, the Winnipeg Jets team that lost 2-0 to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night played as hard as it could and as well as it could against the best team in the Pacific Division, but without its two biggest and, most would argue, its best defensemen, Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien, the Jets were no match for a Sharks club that came into the game with a record of 23-11-5 (the Jets have lost 11 on the road this season). They are now 3-0-3 in their last six games away from the HP Pavilion in San Jose.
Outshot 37-24 and, for the most part, outplayed from start to finish (the Sharks played an almost perfect road game), the Jets got a solid effort from goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who continues to play well in his home rink. They got as much checking as they could expect up front against a much bigger team and the undermanned Jets defense moved the pick as well as it could. Until the Sharks scored their second goal of the night, the Jets were never out of the game.
But Winnipeg proved something on Thursday night:
(1) This team is thin. We knew it from the start of the season, but it was never more evident than it was last night. Without Byfuglien and Bogosian, the Jets were overmatched in their own end, didn’t move the puck as quickly as they normally do and didn’t have the offensive spark that they do when the two big guys are in the lineup.
(2) The Jets do not have enough scoring. They don’t even have primary scoring, let alone secondary scoring. The Jets leading scorer, Blake Wheeler, is 61st in NHL scoring with nine goals and 23 assists.
(3) This team isn’t tough enough or big enough. Forget the fact that the defense makes too many mistakes. The forwards don’t get to the net very often against bigger teams and when a big team attacks like the Boston Bruins did on Tuesday night, the Jets have no one (without Byfuglien in the lineup) who will stand up to bigger opposition.
This is a team that has done better than expected this season, but now, as we get into January and the good teams start to gear it up for a playoff run, the Jets are starting to learn that they have to elevate their game — sadly, they don’t appear to have the personnel to get it done.
"It wasn’t the effort we wanted coming off the road," said Jets checker Jim Slater. "We didn’t have enough shots, certainly not enough good ones. They have big strong guys in front of their net and we weren’t able to get to the rebounds in front of their net. We just din’t get to the net. We had 20-plus shots but none of them were very dangerous.
"We haven’t been very good in January. We have to figure it out. We’re still close to a playoff spot. We have some important games ahead of us and Saturday (against New Jersey) is going to be a huge game for us. We have to get something going here and get back on the right track."
If they get their injured players back, they might be able to get back on track, but if Byfuglien and Bogosian are out much longer, Thursday night’s outcome might become the norm.
"We couldn’t penetrate anything toward the net," said Noel. "When you’re at home, when you don’t score, it’s a pretty tough task. Their team is a big team and I think what happens a lot of time is try to do a lot things against the team that you can’t be successful with. Our guys got off the game plan and that was the result. We’ve hit a bump in the road here and we have some tough games ahead.
"The strength of our team lies in the group. You have to stick to the game plan. I’m not blaming the guys for abandoning the game plan, but for me the job is to deal with the morale of the team. This team doesn’t feel good about itself right now. This team has to get over the hump and re-energize itself. It’s my responsibility to get that done. We’ll look at the tape early in the morning and get back to work.
"We missed Byfuglien and Bogosian, but if you have to play with what you have. We have to get it done with other people. It’s that simple."