WINNIPEG, Manitoba — It may have been obvious, but Chris Thorburn nailed it on the head when asked what was missing for the Winnipeg Jets on a disastrous five-game road trip on which they failed to pick up even a single point.
“Wins,” said the burly Jets right winger. “That's probably the biggest thing. Wins.”
Thorburn squad hopes to reverse this nasty trend Sunday afternoon at the MTS Centre but they'll have to do it against the team that handed them the fifth loss of the streak on Friday night – a 5-1 drubbing by the Nashville Predators.
The Predators are one of the hottest teams around with a record of 8-2-2 in November, during which they've scored more than 40 goals. They currently sit in the first wild card spot in the Western Division with 23 points.
“We are playing a little better than we were at the start (of the season),” said coach Peter Laviolette. “There were a lot of guys who were getting looks and chances in the beginning and they weren't dropping for us and I think that happens. But right now, I think our guys are doing a good job defensively and because of that, good things are happening offensively and we're getting out of our end. We are making good decisions through the neutral zone that allow us to play in the offensive zone.”
Jets coach Paul Maurice was sufficiently displeased with his troops on Friday that he took the unusual step of benching his entire top line — center Mark Scheifele, left winger Patrik Laine and right winger Blake Wheeler — for most of the third period. Scheifele's slashing penalty 34 seconds into the third period with his team trailing 3-1 was the final straw.
Wheeler, who was named team captain in the off-season to replace the departed Andrew Ladd, took full responsibility for his play.
“When you're in the midst of a four-game losing streak, you look to your leaders to play out of it and that was not the game we needed from us,” Wheeler said. “It starts with me. I'm the leader of this team. I need to be better. We are going through a tough time like this, so I think there was probably a bit of a message there (with the benching). Probably the penalty was not exactly what we were looking for in the beginning of the third period.”
The Jets were as high as second in the Central Division a week-and-a-half ago but have since slipped out of the playoff picture.
Winnipeg won its previous two games at home — an impressive 4-0 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 15 and a 3-2 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings two days earlier.