There might have been two signs that the apocalypse was upon us on Tuesday night: Canad Inns Stadium was on fire and Dustin Byfuglien was playing forward. Both were only a part of small disasters. The stadium is being torn down anyway and the Jets lost 5-2 to the New York lslanders.
Tuesday night on Long Island, Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel had reached the end of his rope. He needed a goal so badly that he decided to ignore Byfuglien’s desire to never play forward again and try to do something that was good for the hockey team. In the third period, Byfuglien was moved to the right side on the third line and while he didn’t score, he did have a couple of decent chances and showed that he was a viable option up front.
Meanwhile, the Jets lost their fourth straight game, fell to 18-18-2 on the season and they are now only two points ahead of the Washington Capitals in the race for first in the Southeast Division. Alex Ovechkin had two goals and an assist and Nicklas Backstrom had four assists as the Caps beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-3. Carolina remains four points back of the Jets but the ‘Canes have three games in hand while Washington still has two.
The Jets are in trouble.
“It was a tough game for us,” said head coach Claude Noel to the post-game media scrum. “We were slow. All night, it looked like they had the puck and we were chasing it.
“But we had a chance. It was 2-2 and then we got a penalty in the third and that hurt us. When we got behind we decided to change up the lines to see if we could get something going. There was no cohesiveness whatever. Quite frankly I thought he (Byfuglien) played pretty well up there (at forward). Right now we’ll see how it goes. We gotta win games. It’s not a fun time. Players aren’t enjoying it, we’re not enjoying it. What kind of positives can you find when you’ve lost four straigt games?”
Defenseman Paul Postma scored both Winnipeg goals and that’s a sad commentary on the Jets this season. Postma has been benched for most of the last month and has played only 26 games. He’s a 24-year-old defenseman and yet he now has more goals than Antti Miettinen (2) and Kyle Wellwood (2), two guys who have been playing regularly at forward for the past month and a half. In Wellwood’s case, he’s barely missed a shift all season. The Jets have big problems up front and Postma’s numbers are evidence of that.
Meanwhile, Anders Lee, playing his first NHL game, Franz Nielsen, John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Colin McDonald scored for the Islanders. Moulson and Tavares each finished with a goal and an assist. Ondrej Pavelec made 34 saves for Winnipeg.
However, there were two big stories — other than the Jets loss — last night. Byfuglien played forward and defenseman Jacob Trouba, the Jets No. 1 selection in last year’s draft, has decided to leave the University of Michigan and join the Jets next week.
The Byfuglien story was the biggest. He should have been a forward months ago, maybe even last year, but finally, the midst of a four-game losing streak, Noel grew some stones.
“I grew up as a defenseman,” Byfuglien told TSN’s Sara Orlesky. “I’m not as comfortable up front but I’ll do what have to to help the team. I don’t know whether I’ll stay up there. We’ll see what happens. We have to find a way to turn this thing around and start winning games.”
Coach Noel would agree.
“We have to play better,” the coach said bluntly. “It’s not like we haven’t known that. We look like we’re a fatigued group right now. We’ve played the most games in the league and it looks like we’re worn out. Losing is emotionally draining. Players aren’t happy and neither are coaches and management. We gotta regroup. We gotta get some energy back and we have to focus on Montreal.”
Indeed. The Jets, who are still third overall in the East, will face Montreal on Thursday night at the Bell Centre: 6 p.m. on TSN Jets TV.