Sometimes a lopsided loss can be a learning experience. And on Saturday evening, that was just what the doctor ordered for the Winnipeg Jets.
Wrapping up a two-game set with the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre, Winnipeg would have been better off giving up a 1-0 forfeit score than taking the brutal 7-1 loss handed out by the hometown Canadiens. But luckily for the Jets, the game may help the team better realize its place in advance of a three-game test with the division leading Toronto Maple Leafs this week.
Coming off a 4-3 overtime victory over the same Canadiens on Thursday evening, the Jets and Habs renewed acquaintances on Saturday evening on Hockey Night in Canada. Much like most of the all-Canadian matchups so far this season, the second matchup of the two-game set did not fail to disappoint in terms of entertainment value. That excitement, however, came at the expense of the Jets.
A slow moving opening period saw the game’s first goal with 4:31 left to play. Off a Jesperi Kotkaniemi dump in, the puck took a lucky bounce off the Zamboni gate and landed right on the stick of Josh Anderson. In returning to the lineup from an injury, the big Habs forward couldn’t have asked for an easier goal, quickly firing it into the Jets’ net, with goaltender Connor Hellebuyck still behind the net looking to collect the dump-in.
Through 40 minutes of play, the home team led both on the scoreboard and in the shots department, taking an 11-9 advantage into the second period. Hellebuyck did successfully defend a first period penalty kill, while also stopping Jonathan Drouin on a late-period breakaway.
“I know most Zamboni doors are not that smooth,” Hellebuyck said post-game. “The problem is an in-zone dump, and they had it for a couple seconds, and I wanted to try to break that up and help move the pace our way, and you don’t see those happen in zone too often. Those are usually dumps from like the red line or the puck has time to start wobbling. You know, it’s unfortunate that it went all the way into the slot right onto his tape.”
Montreal exploded for four goals in the second period, ultimately giving the home team a five-goal lead, while sending Hellebuyck to the showers early. Tyler Toffoli and Joel Armia continued with their goal-scoring prowess, while Phil Danault and Brendan Gallagher combined for two sweet passing plays, leading directly to Canadiens goals.
Toffoli got things going just 7:03 into the period. Capitalizing on a Tucker Poolman defensive zone turnover, Toffoli collected his 15th of the season on a perfectly-placed wrist shot, top blocker. Then with 8:59 to play, Gallagher collected a nice fake shot-pass from Danault, and put it five-hole past Hellebuyck. Gallagher got another one just three minutes later, once again scoring off a spinning Danault backhand pass.
That marker spelled the end of Hellebuyck’s night, who gave up four goals on 19 Montreal shots before being yanked for Laurent Brossoit. Unfortunately for the Jets, things didn’t appear to get much better following the change in between the pipes. The Habs scored on their first shot against Brossoit, with Armia putting it between the legs of the backup, finishing off a four-goal second period, to which Montreal a lead in shots, 21-17.
The Habs added another two goals in the third period, finishing the night with four goals on Hellebuyck and three on Brossoit. Paul Byron finished off a long Jake Evans dump-in that Brossoit misplayed 4:20 into the frame. Later, defenceman Jeff Petry fired a long-range wrist shot that went bar-down, giving Montreal a 7-0 lead.
“You’ve got to give them credit, they were a desperate team,” Wheeler said. “They’re trying to get on a roll here, and you know they made their opportunities count.”
Winnipeg did finally break Carey Price’s shutout with 8:46 remaining in the game. With Alexander Romanov in the box for tripping Mathieu Perreault, the Jets’ hottest goal scorer of late and the beneficiary of the penalty put his sixth goal of the season past Price. Perreault collected a Mark Scheifele rebound off a Neal Pionk power play feed, giving Winnipeg its only goal of the game, avoiding the team’s second shutout in four games.
Connor Hellebuyck turned aside 15 of Montreal’s 19 shots, taking the loss while falling to 11-7-1 on the season. Laurent Brossoit did not see a change in his record while allowing two goals on nine shots. Carey Price made 28 stops on Winnipeg’s 29 shots and earned his seventh victory of the season in the process.
“I felt great out there, I thought the guys were good in front of me,” Hellebuyck said. “So they had a good night, hats off to them. They took it to us tonight.”
Entering the game with wins in six of the team’s last seven games and having won four-straight road contests, Winnipeg saw its record fall to 15-8-1 on the season. In concluding the two-game series with Montreal, the Jets now travel to Toronto for a three-game set between the North Division’s two top teams.
Playing every second day, Winnipeg and Toronto will do battle on Tuesday and Thursday on TSN and then again on Saturday live on Hockey Night in Canada. Puck drop for all three games is set for 6:00 PM central.