The sign wasn’t necessarily meant for the Winnipeg Jets but it drew more than a few chuckles.
As the Jets filed on to the ice for practice Monday at the 44-year old University of Pennsylvania Class of 1923 Arena, they walked by a notice board listing the “Rink Rules.” Near the top of the list: “No Fast Skating.”
No fear of that considering how the Jets have been playing lately. The team, which at one point had a decent hold on a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, has fallen to 10th place and is showing few signs of climbing back into contention. The Jets are 3-8-1 in January with 50 points, five points out of a playoff position. That’s quite a change from December when Winnipeg went 10-3-1.
Heading into the all-star break, the Jets looked to be in disarray. The club lost its final two games before the break, 2-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes and 3-0 to the New York Rangers. Even worse, the team’s leading goal scorer, Evander Kane, suffered a concussion while top defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, forward Alexander Burmistrov and forward Tim Stapleton went down with injuries. None of them will be back Tuesday when the Jets resume the season with a game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center here.
So maybe it was fitting that the Jets practised Monday in an old arena that’s home to a multitude of college hockey teams as well as the Philthy Britches of the Philly Roller Girls roller derby league. Anything to jar the players back into focus.
“For us it’s pretty much a make or break month,” coach Claude Noel said after the team spent more than an hour on the ice. “We’ve got to be hanging around that [playoff]line and we’ve got to be hanging there pretty close.”
Citing the team’s lack of scoring, just 20 goals in the past 12 games, Noel added: “We have to get more production from some players. I think there are some players who are in their own droughts and I think that they have to step up and play a little bit better.”
Noel didn’t mention names, but scoring has been difficult for just about every Jets player lately. Kane has been the team’s top scorer, with 18 goals this season. That puts him 34th in the league. Overall, Winnipeg has scored 123 goals in total so far this season, putting the team in the bottom third of the league. Most of those goals have come in the first and second periods. Winnipeg has scored just 32 goals in the third, worst in the NHL.
Coming back from behind has also been a challenge. The Jets are 1-12-1 when trailing after the first period. When behind after two, Winnipeg is 0-17-3.
“This is a time for us now, we have to really find a way to win games and guys got to get on track and we’ve got to get going,” Noel said. “We have to produce. We have to get wins otherwise we get too far behind and we can’t catch up. We’ve already got five points to make up [and]we’ve played the second most games in our conference.”
The Jets play the next six of seven games on the road and the club could be without Kane for a while. He has already missed three games and Noel said he will be reassessed this week by doctors in Winnipeg. Kane is feeling better, the coach added, but “he’s probably a little ways away. We’ve got to get him working out.”
Byfuglien and Burmistrov could play later this week, Noel said. But Stapleton, who had been playing well lately, could be out for some time.
The players seemed relaxed, although many showed signs of rust from the all-star week layoff (no Jets participated in the all-star festivities).
“I think enough has been said and it’s time for us to dig ourselves out of this hole,” forward Andrew Ladd said. “And that comes with work.”