June 25, 2024

‘Am to be blamed’ that was the worst game i have ever for Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg Jets head coach Rick Bowness took a bit of a risk on Saturday night when he pulled the boogeyman out of the closet to tear his team a new one.

Calling his club’s embarrassing 5-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks the worst game he has seen them play in his two seasons behind the bench was no throwaway assessment after a tough night at the office.

You could make the argument that quote cut deeper than the words “disappointed” and “disgusted” — the adjectives he used the last time he was that irate following a game.

And while fans can brush the game off as an anomaly, especially after the Jets responded with a dominant 3-0 shutout win over the Washington Capitals on Monday, Bowness doesn’t have that luxury.

He knew after the Vancouver loss that his team had dropped to 3-7 since Christmas against opponents above the playoff line. He also knew the standards had dipped.

They have been on a steady decline since late January, when Winnipeg’s streak of 34 games allowing three goals or fewer came to an end in a 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins.

Halifax's Rick Bowness 4 wins away from elusive Stanley Cup victory | CBC  News

The odd-man rushes, the slot shots — they have been adding up at higher rates than before. A team that got to the position it’s in by protecting the house and keeping it to the outside had been forgetting to lock the doors recently. And through a lot of it, Bowness finessed his criticisms.

He has picked his spots this season with the media. He’s protected his team on nights where he could probably have torn another strip off of them. There was no tip-toeing around his team’s effort on Saturday. There wasn’t one. Bowness’s troops responded on Monday. There was no mutiny this time.

Instead, the team produced the effort missing against the Canucks. The Jets stormed out of the gate, suffocating the Capitals and taking a deserved 1-0 lead. And from there, they didn’t relent. “As the game went on, we just kept chipping away and imposing our style, as opposed to trying to play theirs,” captain Adam Lowry said post-game.

What made these Jets the dominant force through the first half of the season was their ability to force other teams into submission. That has faded since that Boston game, as has Winnipeg’s record. Consider they were 30-10-4 through those opening 44 games.

Since then, they’re just 11-8-1, or just above NHL .500, ranking middle of the pack at 16th — far from the chart-topping .727 points percentage they held prior. Why would Bowness be so upset with his team, enough to carve them in front of a few reporters in Vancouver?

Chief among them would be the fact his team hasn’t risen to the occasion when the game itself has tightened up. Bowness warned of this during Winnipeg’s impeccable first half of their season. The hockey would get harder. It has, and his team has struggled to get a handle on that.

For the most part, every team with a better record than the Jets since Jan. 22 currently sits in a playoff spot. And almost all of those teams have a better points percentage in that span after the Jets paced the league through their first 44 games.

Winnipeg has beaten just two teams sitting in a playoff spot since — their dominant 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks, and their improbably late rally in a 5-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. They have lost the other six games.

Drill deeper, and the reason Bowness chose to take out the carving knife on Saturday becomes clearer. Break-in attempts are up. His team gave up the sixth-fewest shot attempts against through their first 44 games but have since fallen to 12th. It’s a similar story in shots allowed, falling from sixth to 13th. Winnipeg’s ability to cut down on attempts in the first half led to better shot suppression. That has taken a dip.

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