Judging by twitter (don’t stop reading, please), Jets fans love to hate their team. Now I know that that’s not exclusive to them, but with Winnipeg folks, it seems more intense somehow. Take Saturday night. The twitter feed with Winnipeg in town to play the Kings went from angry to accepting to resigned. In the end, the Jets lost, and the roller coaster reactions of fans went right along with the action.

It started when the crowd in LA saw the Kings, on two separate occasions, have a guy all alone to the side of the net, Jets defense (forwards, etc.) nowhere to be seen. On the first, the Kings scored when Gaborik roofed a shot off a feed from the high right slot from Kopitar. He in turn had gained the puck by following Martinez into the corner behind the Jets’ net. On the second, Nick Shore didn’t score on his chance,

Twitter was abuzz, blaming not just the defense but the whole five-player structure for breaking down. #nhljets twitter, that is.

They needn’t have worried, because as soon as this goal and near-miss concluded, and we’re not even talking mid-period, the Kings opened the game up, trading chances. No big deal because nobody scored, but then they just stopped playing the kind of tight hockey they normally do.

In the second, the woes of the Jets turned into a goal in the form of a power play marker. It was Scheifele down low to Perreault, who put it out to Drew Stafford in the right slot. He whipped a wrister that Budaj had no chance on. But on twitter, Jets fans were suspicious. How could their team be doing this OK against the powerhouse Kings?

I’m thinking the opposite: why the inferiority complex, anyway?

That the Kings were in some kind of weird cruise mood was more evident still when, on a power play, they allowed the Jets a three-on-one shorthanded. By the end of this power play, which was the result of a Josh Morrissey trip at 15:25 of period two, they had garnered just one chance with the extra man. It was like it didn’t matter that they had squandered their early lead, their momentum, and their power play. They did manage a shot from the point and a rebound as the PP expired. The rebound was fired back as a backhand by Gaborik, and Hutchinson had to make a good save. But this was just a little bit of action in an otherwise lackluster effort compared to what LA normally raises.

That little burst of action was really too little too late to justify the Kings’ supposed superiority and the Jets’ weakness as a team. The Jets were in the game.  A win was possible. But the Winnipeggers didn’t seem to believe it. Take this as an example: fans hearkened back to three games ago, against Calgary, in a “Why can’t they play like they did then” kind of tweet.

Anyway, the Jets got another one about seven minutes through the third, and it looked like they could hold on to the win. But they’re essentially just not a good enough team, and the Kings, on their side, were doing just enough to keep it interesting. They tied the game with five minutes to go and ended up winning in OT. The Jets had evened them up in shots in the third period, getting 11, which the Kings also got. But they just didn’t have enough to push past the LA team for the win.

Their fans, in turn, were resigned, happy that their squad had gotten close. It was almost an “all is forgiven” moment for the supposed betrayal that their early poor play had occasioned. But maybe right at this moment, they missed it–this was exactly why they should have been angry, despairing even, because if “almost” is good enough, then that’s a problem.

The really scary thing is, the same attitude was evident from what a couple of players and their coach said after the game.

Goalie Hutchinson: “I thought we played pretty well. Our effort was there. We battled hard. LA’s a tough team to play, especially in their home rink. They have a lot of big bodies out there, and our team, ah, we really battled out there, and played really close to a full sixty minutes.”

Really close? He next cited how they blocked shots and played well in their own end, and said, “If we play that way with that effort, we’re going to be really successful down the stretch.”

This is exactly what should scare Winnipeg fans, because obviously, when it comes to the stretch run, teams are going to get better and try harder than prior. If the Jets can’t play a full game now, and aren’t good enough to hold off an LA team that was largely lazy except for brief bursts, then they have no chance when it counts.

The one accurate thing he said? It was a positive to battle back after giving up an early goal. But you’ve gotta keep battling, which they couldn’t quite do.

Drew Stafford said much the same: “Even without the point . . . the way we played, the effort we put in throughout our lineup [was good]. . . . The way we played tonight is going to get us a lot more wins than losses usually.”

“Usually” doesn’t count. You’d never hear a Kings’ player saying that. Not getting a point, let alone a win, as Stafford was speculating might have happened, is never acceptable in this hockey town. Effort might win you games, but it isn’t kept track of on scoresheets.

The coach was pretty much of the same mind: “Sometimes in back-to-backs it takes a little while [to get going] but after that, we played a hell of a game. I really liked a lot of what we did, and look to build and get stronger and stronger. We needed the third one to go to put a team like that out, but it was probably right at the end.”

Is this guy aware of what happened on the scoreboard? You can’t play “after that” and hope to win, and they didn’t.

Now, let’s admit that this Maurice pronouncement needs some deciphering, being partially spoken in code. Does he mean “look” in the future sense, or did he mean they “looked” good on the night? What was right at the end? That the Kings put the Jets away in OT, rather than the other way around? And why is that “right”? Is this a foreshadow of a better future?

I don’t think so. The Jets are a team with some ferocious athletes. Looking at the guys wandering through the room after the game showed me something—they are in amazing condition. No potbellies here (unlike in Anaheim, for instance). But there’s a skill gap in play here, and an attitude of “good enough,” which might only be redeemed if we translate that to “not yet.”

The Jets may be close to playing off for the Stanley Cup, but their fans, at this moment, are right to worry as much as they do. They won’t win until they believe that they can, and that day isn’t here yet. Good thing they’ve got twitter as a place to express these anxieties.

 

Note

Kings honored legend Jari Kurri, who ended his career with 601 goals. He played with the team for about five years, including the 1993 Stanley Cup loss.

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