It was a bomb detonated at the very foundation of everything the Jets have tried to accomplish in this occasionally exciting, sometimes head-scratching, and often trying, inaugural season.
It hadn’t been easy, and the process took a while, but the Jets had built their record on the solid base used by most successful NHL organizations: one constructed of defence.
Young players who’ve read all about how much speed and offensive potential they have don’t always take kindly to having harnesses placed on them.
Like horses, they, naturally, want to run wild.
But after champing at the bit for a time, the looks in the eyes of the young Jets had calmed. They’d come to realize that to win, they had to play a different game. A less fun game.
A game spent more doing the farm’s dirty work than riding free through the open fields.
Gradually, they climbed into contention in the NHL East, winning games by a goal, if they were to win them at all. By scores like 3-2, 2-1 or even 1-0.
By making functional plays, not flashy ones.
Being smart instead of sexy.
By giving the other guys nothing, and not trying to make something out of the same.
Then came Pittsburgh, and the across-the-board abandonment of everything they’d learned.
This wasn’t Philadelphia in October, when the wide-eyed thoroughbreds were just getting out of the barn.
This was February, the next-to-last full month of the regular season, when habits should be so entrenched they take on the second nature of, say, taking a breath.
How do you explain that?
“It’s hard,” acknowledged forward Blake Wheeler in the aftermath, his heart on his sleeve, as always. “Because we’ve been so good defensively. And we haven’t been able to score goals, also. All of a sudden we score five goals and give up eight.
“It’s frustrating and it’s a mystery. Especially on the road, where we’ve been grinding it out, taking crowds out of it, making it as boring as possible, trying to beat teams 1-0 or 2-1, whatever we’ve got to do.”
But Wheeler stopped short of calling it a significant step back.
“It’s not. We know how we can play and how we can win. Hopefully you can just chalk it up to in an 82-game season, nights are going to go this way.”
Back on the beleaguered Jets blue line, a similar optimistic refrain.
“Let’s not forget we won two of the last three games,” Zach Bogosian said.
That’s true, and you can probably guess how the Jets did that. By one-goal victories, 2-1 over Toronto and 3-2, in a shootout, over Washington.
In each of the Jets’ last four wins, they managed just two goals in regulation.
Even in their previous four losses, they’d never given up more than three.
Then, in one afternoon, eight.
“I wouldn’t expect us to have similar problems going forward,” Ron Hainsey said.
This team’s modest history would suggest it can file the bad stuff, quickly.
The last really bad Jets outing, a 3-0 loss in Montreal, they followed with the 2-1 win over Toronto.
Before that, a 5-1 loss in New Jersey, then a 4-1 smothering of Buffalo.
Both bounce-backs came at home.
This one will have to, as well.
“We’re going to see,” head coach Claude Noel said, looking ahead to the New York Islanders. “We’re going to see where we go from here. Because Tuesday is going to be an indication of where our heads are going to be at.”
And whether the foundation he’s built is still intact.