WINNIPEG - It was another one of those close, but no cigar evenings for the Winnipeg Jets.
And based on the current predicament they find themselves in — scratching and clawing for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings — close simply isn’t going to cut it.
As the Jets opened a stretch of games during which they’ll play nine of the next 10 and 12 of the next 15 on home ice, they struggled to put the puck in the back of the net and fell 3-1 to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night before a capacity crowd of 15,004 at MTS Centre.
It was precisely the type of game the Jets need to win in order to stay in the race.
Instead, it will go down as another two points down the drain.
Two more they’ll have to try to make up somewhere else, perhaps on Thursday night in a road game against the Minnesota Wild.
“This is going to be a tough hill to climb,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel afterward. “To me, this is going to be a true test of the character. What do you have? You’re going to see it. You’ve got eight games in 14 days and you’re going to see what you’re made of.”
A bit issue for the Jets is a struggling power play — one that finished 0-for-3 on the night and generated very little.
“It really demoralized us again and that really seems to be the story of late,” said Noel. “We don’t even get set up and you can tell it doesn’t give our team any life. It’s to the point where we need to make some drastic moves or change some things.
“You’ve got to either re-juggle or re-shuffle the personnel. There’s some things you have to look at. It’s not working and we’re not executing. There’s a lot of things we’re not doing ... that’s the bothersome thing for me. Your best players aren’t even executing passes that are simple plays. Maybe we’ve just got to get new guys out there.”
The Jets actually had a strong first period and found a way to score first as Chris Thorburn buried a rebound at 17:50.
With the Jets playing shorthanded, defenceman Ron Hainsey attempted to clear the puck through the middle of the ice and somehow Matt Moulson managed to knock it out of the air and quickly blasted a slapshot past Ondrej Pavelec to knot the game at 1-1.
There was another one of those ominous signs late in the second period.
With the Jets actually putting some pressure on during a power play, defenceman Zach Bogosian blasted a one-timer from the left point that beat Evgeni Nabokov but couldn’t beat the iron as the shot rang off the crossbar.
“It is discouraging when you hit a couple of posts,” said Thorburn, noting that Evander Kane hit one of his own. “We’re just in a funk right now as far as offence. We’re plugging away and hopefully we’ll break out here.”
Early in the third period, Milan Jurcina made a perfect slap pass to the high slot and PA Parenteau came up with the nifty redirection at 1:36 — a shot to the bow that the Jets simply couldn’t recover from.
“That’s kind of the discouraging part, we’re all psyched up and coming out for a strong third — it was our biggest one of the season, our biggest period of the season and we gave up a quick goal,” said Thorburn. “We had time after that, power plays, we had our opportunities to even the score and we didn’t.”
The reaction by the Jets to the goal early in the third did not sit well with Noel.
“I felt we had no life — that’s what concerned me,” he said. “What is that, your belief system?”
There was some push-back by the Jets but not enough and Matt Martin salted it away with 52.7 seconds left in the third after Parenteau hit the post with the net empty.
With the loss, the Jets drop back to 26-26-6 and while they remain 10th in the East, the Islanders moved up to 11th place, pulled within two points of them with the victory and actually hold two games in hand.
Jets winger Tanner Glass recognizes the importance of the situation but wasn’t about to push the panic button.
“Obviously, you’d like to win that one. It’s a team right behind us in the standings and those were big points for us,” said Glass. “You need to stay even and focus on the next one now.”
That’s true but as Noel said, the Jets are about to find out exactly what they’re made of.