On Saturday, the Winnipeg Jets took on the Edmonton Oilers in the second of two contests from Rogers Place in Alberta. Looking for some retribution following a low-shooting, low-scoring 2-1 loss on Thursday to which the team couldn’t buy a goal, the Jets hoped to exact revenge on their fellow North Division foe.
Sticking with the same lineup on Saturday, the only change for head coach Paul Maurice was in goal, as Connor Hellebuyck drew back into the crease, after giving way to Laurent Brossoit back on Thursday. Entering the game with a near-perfect 8-0-1 record following a regulation loss, the Jets began Saturday’s matchup with two quick strikes, but failed to capitalize on anything further, ultimately falling to the Oilers 4-2.
“You know, 90 percent of this game is great,” Connor Hellebuyck said post-game. “And then a couple odd-man rushes against us costs us. But, I mean, that’s hockey. And it goes both ways. We make teams pay for that as well. Maybe we are just hitting a little bit of a lull. We’re going to rest up and we can’t let this affect us negatively. We’ve gotta get going, and we’ve gotta know that there’s a lot of hockey left to be played. We are going to need our ‘A’ games for the rest of the season.”
After combining for just three goals in the entire game Thursday, the two teams hit that mark in the first period on Saturday. The Winnipeg got things going in the opening frame with goals from Andrew Copp and Pierre-Luc Dubois. Edmonton responded with captain Connor McDavid’s 21st of the season in a period that featured a 12-11 shot differential, with the Jets leading the way.
Following a successful penalty kill, Winnipeg was able to capitalize on a power play of its own. Nikolaj Ehlers curled from the left point and fired a low shot towards Mike Smith. The puck initially hit Adam Larsson, before changing directions a second time off the upper-skate of Copp. It bounced into the Oilers’ net, fooling Smith just 40 seconds into the man advantage.
The Jets then added to their lead on yet another long-range redirection. With Dubois and Ehlers hanging around the front of the net, Josh Morrissey blasted a point shot that also found its way to the twine. Following video review, it was determined that Dubois was the final player to get his stick on the puck, helping put it past Smith and into the Edmonton net.
But just 1:34 later, Connor McDavid and the Oilers cut Winnipeg’s lead in half, with the league’s best player tying Toronto’s Auston Matthews for the league lead in goals with 2:56 to play. Collecting the puck with speed after circling from behind the Jets’ net, McDavid moved to the middle of the ice, opened Hellebuyck’s five-hole, fell to a knee and still managed to put it past the goaltender, extending his point streak to nine games.
A scoreless second period saw Smith get lucky with desperation saves on two occasions, helping keep the Oilers in the game. After giving up a puck behind the net to Kyle Connor, Smith dove back across the crease and robbed the Jets’ sniper of what appeared to be a sure goal with his glove.
“We had two or three really good chances in the second period to make it 3-1,” coach Maurice said. “We weren’t casual in that part of the game. We had some real good chances to make it 3-1 and couldn’t. He made a great save, two real good saves on some good plays to the net. You’re within one, and they’ve got lots of firepower there and they showed it.”
Then with just one second left in the frame, Blake Wheeler rung a hard wrist shot off the post, to which the rebound fell to Dylan DeMelo. Somehow, Smith managed to keep the puck from crossing the line on a strong play with his right pad. The teams entered the third period with Edmonton holding a slight shot lead 26-23. Winnipeg began the game with a 9-0-2 record when leading after 40 minutes of action, while Edmonton had just one victory in games trailing with 20 minutes to play.
Those stat-lines took all of 3:19 of the third period to put to the test. With the puck deep in the Jets’ zone and Connor McDavid in hot pursuit, Jesse Puljujarvi managed to get the disc back to defender Darnell Nurse. Edmonton’s big blueliner tee’d up a heavy blast that beat Hellebuyck top shelf, glove side.
Edmonton rallied from its gained momentum off the game-tying marker just six minutes later, as Leon Draisaitl gave the home team its first lead of the game with 10:24 to play. A poorly timed DeMelo pinch saw the Oilers’ two most potent forwards break up ice on a two-on-one. With McDavid carried the puck, he found Draisaitl cross-ice, who one-timed the pass past Hellebuyck, beating the Jets’ netminder short side low, putting Edmonton up 3-2 midway through the third.
“Yes, I had a good feeling that they were going to do that,” Hellebuyck said when asked if he anticipated the play on the game-winner. “And I thought from my details that I did everything right. Clearly not. Those are the saves that you dream of making. I practice that a ton, and unfortunately, they got it by me.”
With 1:20 to go, the Oilers’ Devin Shore put the cherry on the top with an empty-netter, handing Edmonton a 4-2 victory, and handing Winnipeg its first set of back-to-back regulation losses of the year.
“It’s the first time we’ve lost two in a row, so I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of panic,” Copp said. “These two games definitely didn’t go the way we wanted them to. All in all, I don’t think we played bad. Obviously, you’d like to put the puck in the net a little bit more. But I don’t believe there’s any panic. There’s a lot of belief in our room.”
Hellebuyck finished the night with 33 saves on 36 Edmonton shots, and saw his record fall to 13-9-2 on the season. With the win Smith’s record improved to 11-3-0 through his 14 games. The Oilers finished atop the shot chart 37-31. Winnipeg is now 18-11-2 on the season, while Edmonton improves to 21-13-0, pacing themselves with first-place Toronto (20-10-2).
The Jets now continue their season-long, seven-game road trip on Tuesday with the first of two-straight matchups with the Vancouver Canucks. Winnipeg will play the Canucks again on Wednesday, before flying to Calgary for three games in four days, beginning on Friday. The team returns home to Bell MTS Place on March 31 for a two-game set with the division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs.