WINNIPEG — When Winnipeg Jets head coach Rick Bowness criticized some players this week for lack of effort, veteran forward Nino Niederreiter agreed there have been “passengers” on the struggling team’s ride to the playoffs.
After the Jets were shut out 3-0 by the league-worst San Jose Sharks on Tuesday – the third time they’ve been blanked in their past seven games – Bowness's frustration spilled through his post-game comments.
“The inconsistencies of some of our players is hurting us,” Bowness said after the road loss. “If some of these guys think they’re giving us everything in their tank, they’re dreaming.”
Niederreiter, who has played 15 games since being traded to Winnipeg from Nashville last month, pointed to Bowness’s decades of NHL experience.
"He’s seen it all, done it all," Niederreiter said. "You believe when something comes out of his mouth. You know it’s the right thing.
"I couldn’t agree more with him. We’ve got to leave it all out there every single night, and each and every guy. I think that was a big reason why we’ve been slipping, too. We have too many passengers. We need more of the working habits and go from there."
The Jets last put up a three-game win streak just after the all-star break. In the 21 games since that modest run, they’ve only posted seven victories (7-12-2).
Their free fall has left them clinging to the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot with a 41-31-3 record, two points ahead of Calgary and three in front of Nashville. The Predators play in Pittsburgh Thursday night and went into the match with two games in hand on the idle Jets and Flames.
Winnipeg begins a crucial five-game homestand Friday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Niederreiter, who’s playing for the fifth club in his 12-year career, says there can be one game that turns things around and he hopes it’s around the corner.
"We have elite players and the league is a good league, so you’ve got to play with an elite mindset," he said.
"You’ve got to play with a competitive mindset every single night and you can’t take anything for granted, and I think that’s what’s been happening lately. We take too many things for granted."
Bowness told reporters after practice that he talked to the players he thought may not be emptying their tank every game. He understands they’re not going to have their A-game every night and now he is moving on after addressing it.
The 68-year-old was asked if the frustrating times have ever made him regret taking the job instead of retiring.
"Oh my god. Never. I love it. I still love it. That’s why I’m still here,” Bowness said. “I tell (my wife) Judy every day that the morning I wake up and I don’t want to go to the rink, then we know it’s time.
"I love this challenge right now. I love the challenge. I don’t want to be where we are, trust me. I would prefer to be back where we were, but I love the challenge that’s in front of us."
Bowness did some line juggling in practice, moving centre Mark Scheifele to right wing and putting centre Pierre-Luc Dubois in the middle with Kyle Connor on the left. Scheifele has two assists in his past nine games, while Connor has two goals in his past 18 games.
The coach said he moved Scheifele to wing to try to create some offence. Scheifele still leads the Jets with 38 goals in 75 games.
Vladislav Namestnikov, obtained in a trade with San Jose, was between left-winger Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler, who hasn’t scored in 21 games.
Niederreiter, who has one assist in his past seven games after going on a seven-game point streak, is on the third line with centre Adam Lowry and right-winger Mason Appleton.
Lowry was also asked about Bowness’s post-game comments.
"I think we all know we can give more and we expect more, so that starts (Friday),” Lowry said. "We've been in a slide and it’s been an extended slide, but our season is not over.
"We're still in a position where we kind of control our own destiny and it's an exciting opportunity for us. So, I think it's about getting out of this funk we’re in and kind of taking care of business so that we can get into the playoffs and then anything can happen from there."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press