Coming off a 4-3 overtime victory late Wednesday evening over the visiting Montreal Canadiens, the Winnipeg Jets flew to Alberta for a Thursday night battle with the Edmonton Oilers. Unfortunately for the Jets, the leaders on the offence did not show up to play, with the team’s fourth line contributing the only goal of the game for Winnipeg, as the team lost 2-1 on the road.
“Obviously, we’re paid to produce,” Mark Scheifele said of his line’s play post-game. “All of our lines had some chances. We wish we would have had more or capitalized on them when we had the chance. That’s the way it goes sometimes. You can’t get them every night, so we have to regroup and be ready for the next one.”
Having split the previous four matchups this season, the two teams both entered Thursday’s contest coming off wins, as the Oilers also picked up a victory Wednesday evening over provincial rival Calgary. But according to head coach Paul Maurice, if the game had occurred a day later, it might have been a different result.
“I think if this game was played tomorrow night we’d be back to lots of big chances at both ends of the ice,” Maurice said of the low-event game. “I think both teams beat the hell out of the puck tonight. Were pretty good systematically, they battled hard, everybody worked real hard. But if you’re going to run in the schedule that both teams are running and you put them back to back on travel, there’s not going to be a lot of silkiness to what gets done out there.”
Beginning the fifth game of the season between the Jets and Oilers, both teams sat at 38 total points, in a tie for second place. Knowing well that the winner would move into a tie with the dormant first place Toronto Maple Leafs, it was projected to be a fiery affair. Adding to the mix is the fact that any game featuring the league’s point leader Connor McDavid always provides some extra jump.
And true to form, McDavid got things going for the Oilers in the goal-scoring department. Following a low-shooting, scoreless opening period, Edmonton’s captain bulged the twine just 3:53 into the middle frame. Jumping off the bench, McDavid collected a Darnell Nurse dump-in, picked up the puck and drove to the net, before putting it past Laurent Brossoit rather easily for the game’s opening tally.
It took until the 12:43 mark for Winnipeg to respond. And that response came from the team’s fourth line. With Trevor Lewis starting the play, Nate Thompson carried the puck into the offensive zone, and waited for a Mathieu Perreault net drive, before placing a low shot on net. Perreault got a stick on it, redirecting the puck five-hole past Mikko Koskinen, knotting the game up at twos.
“It started in the D zone actually,” Perreault said of his marker. “Lewie got a good stick defensively to knock the puck down and transition. I just gave it to Tommy on the wing and I was just trying to drive and push their D back and he wristed it on net and I was able to get my stick on it. So it was kind of a basic kick it out, drive the net and good things happen.”
But 38 seconds later, McDavid struck again. Finding himself on a two-on-one with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins thanks to a neutral zone pinch by defenceman Derek Forbort, the speedster opted to keep and put the puck past Brossoit for his 20th of the season, becoming the fastest Oiler to reach 20 goals since Mark Messier in 1989.
“It’s pretty obvious you don’t want to give him any time and space,” Brossoit said of McDavid. “When he does have it, he’s a pure goal scorer. He picked a good shot, a good spot. He’s got a deceptive release. I mean, you can complement him all you want, it’s almost unnecessary. We all know it.”
Winnipeg came close to tying the game once again on a strong Nikolaj Ehlers passing play, but Kyle Connor found his fifth post of the season, and the visitors remained down by one goal heading into the third period. Through 40 minutes, the Jets did maintain an 18-15 shot lead in the game.
Entering the final stanza, Winnipeg needed a strong showing from its defence corps, while relying on its proven come-from-behind forward group to find another goal or two in the frame. But with both teams owning strong winning records in the second game of back-to-backs this season (Edmonton 4-1, Winnipeg 3-1), a win certainly wouldn’t come gift-wrapped.
After a first period that saw just 10 total shots between the two teams, the Jets and Oilers combined for just seven shots through the first 14 minutes of the period, before a late-game scramble led to a another handful of opportunities for Winnipeg. With the Jets pulling in hopes of a late-period comeback, the closest thing to a goal that the team would see was a disallowed empty-net marker by Nugent-Hopkins, who was deemed to be offside following a coach’s challenge by Jets’ bench boss Paul Maurice.
With a number of last-second efforts, the best chances for Winnipeg saw pucks skirt off sticks and bobbled passes outside the Oilers’ crease. The Jets’ best opportunity came off a Paul Stastny wrist shot that found the crossbar.
Brossoit finished the night with 19 saves on 21 Edmonton shots, and saw his record fall to 5-2-0 on he season. With the win Koskinen’s record improved to 9-10-0 through his 19 games. The shots ended up at 26-21 for the Jets.
“He’s been fantastic,” Scheifele said of Brossoit’s play. “Every game he comes in and gives us a chance to win, makes the big saves to keep us in it. You saw that in the third. We have two very, very reliable goaltenders, and that’s huge for our team.”
Winnipeg is now 18-10-2 through 29 games this season, while Edmonton is 20-13-0 in 33 games played. Now tied with first-place Toronto (19-9-2) the Oilers will look to pull ahead when these two teams fulfill the second game of a back-to-back on Saturday evening.
Winnipeg with next battle Edmonton in two days in the late game of Hockey Night in Canada. With a 9:00 PM central puckdrop, viewers can catch the game live on CBC or Sportsnet. The team will then face off against both the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks as it closes out the season-long seven-game road trip.