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KEN WIEBE: Jets searching for identity: Late swoon is cause for concern

COLORADO — Will the real Winnipeg Jets please stand up.

On the heels of a 5-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild that was an exclamation point in a late-season swoon that has seen the Jets drop five of the past seven games, a players-only meeting was abruptly called and lasted 23 minutes.

Captain Blake Wheeler and head coach Paul Maurice agreed the open dialogue and taking ownership of the situation — even this late in the regular season — was an important step.

Admitting there’s a problem is often the first step in fixing the problem, or something along those lines.

But as Wheeler pointed out, the discussion itself is the easy part and the response is ultimately what the Jets will be judged on.

As the Jets get set for the final two games of the regular season — beginning with Thursday’s match-up against the Colorado Avalanche — there is one thing above all others that needs to be addressed.

For whatever reason, the Jets have strayed from their identity and if they don’t get their collective swagger back soon, they could be in big trouble.

As it stands right now, teams around the Western Conference and specifically in the Central Division, are looking at the Jets as a team they wouldn’t mind facing in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Unlike the group that advanced to the Western Conference final last spring and recorded the first nine playoff wins in franchise history, this edition of the Jets is limping toward the finish line.

They’re searching for a spark.

Getting Dustin Byfuglien back in the lineup after he’s missed nearly half a season has helped and the return of Josh Morrissey, likely for Game 1, should only bolster the back end.

But what the Jets really need to do is remember what they look like when they’re at their best — a fast team that is hard to play against.

Not just with the physical element, but with how hard they are on the puck and in pursuit on the forecheck.

Right now, the Jets haven’t found that extra gear, at least not since a convincing 5-0 victory over the Nashville Predators on March 23.

That effort appeared to represent a significant step forward, a sign the Jets might be ready to turn the corner and crank things up down the stretch.

Instead, that strong showing has mostly been the exception and not a regular part of the routine.

There has been a noticeable step backward for a team that came into the season looking to take the next step after gaining some valuable experience last spring.

They’ve misplaced their identity, which is something the Jets worked incredibly hard to establish since Maurice arrived on the scene in January of 2014.

Even with a second consecutive 100-point season still on the table and first place in the Central still a distinct possibility, the Jets spot in the standings has mostly masked some of the issues.

A potent power play, especially on home ice, often made up for whatever worries that could arise from up-and-down play at five-on-five.

For much of the season, the weight of expectations didn’t appear to be holding the Jets back and it might not be right now either.

Something is off and it’s been a bit difficult to pinpoint, outside of the obvious — which is the Jets are a bit looser defensively this season and are giving up more quality scoring chances.

Every season is different, but one of the calling cards for the Jets a year ago was that they played a style of game that was easy to recognize.

That structure led to results and was on display as recently as two weeks ago, but has seemingly vanished into thin air.

Consistency is another hallmark that is mostly missing in action, even if there are sporadic signs of it.

Last season the Jets didn’t lose three games in a row until the final playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights — when they dropped four straight after winning the opener.

Now they’ve lost five of seven after winning four straight.

There have been numerous times this season when players have spoken out and expressed calm, saying they know the level the Jets are capable of and they also know what it takes to reach that level.

The time to show it is upon them.

As has been written in this space before, the Jets window to win only opened last spring, but that window is most likely the widest with Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor still on entry-level contracts.

The Jets have time to sort things out and that’s why calling a team meeting after Game 80 was an important step taken by the leadership core.

Turning those words into action is the only thing that matters for the Jets.

The stakes are about to get higher and if the Jets don’t respond in the coming days and weeks, they could soon turn their attention to dealing with the fallout of a missed opportunity.

And that’s a place the Jets have no interest in visiting.

Down to the wire

Possibilities still plentiful for Jets

DENVER — As difficult as it may be to believe, given their recent struggles, the Winnipeg Jets remain in control of their own destiny when it comes to jockeying for position in the Central Division.

With two games left to play in the regular season, the Jets have company at the top, but they currently hold the tie-breaker over both the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues.

By winning out — or simply matching what the Predators and Blues do over the course of those final two games, the Jets could still finish first.

If the late swoon continues, the Jets might end up in third place, which would mean starting the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs on the road — either in Nashville or St. Louis.

The Jets close out the campaign with road games against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday and the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday.

The Predators have a pair of home games against the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks, while the Blues host the Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers.

kwiebe@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/WiebeSunSports

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