It’s not about how you start, but how you finish. On Monday, the red-hot Winnipeg Jets fell victim to the North Division’s last place Ottawa Senators, giving up four unanswered goals in a 4-2 defeat.
“When they tied the game they looked different after,” Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice said of the Senators post-game. “They had a little more energy, a little more jump. We just never did. We had some shifts with momentum. I don’t think you’ll find they had the puck in our end very much, but they didn’t need to right? I’d like to tell you more about that team. They’ve played hard every night we’ve played against them. That’s a fact.”
Following a slightly underwhelming 2021 trade deadline, the Winnipeg Jets travelled to Ottawa for the first of two-straight matchups between the North Division rivals. Having earlier acquired defenceman Victor Mete on Monday, the Senators’ newest blueliner made the drive from Montreal and suited up in his first game as a member of the Ottawa organization. Winnipeg’s lone addition Jordie Benn began serving his modified seven-day quarantine on Monday evening.
Entering game three of a five-game-in-eight-day road trip, the Jets began their battle with Ottawa in similar to fashion to that of how they concluded their 5-0 shutout victory over Montreal on Saturday. Scoring the game’s first two goals Winnipeg jumped out ahead before the game was even half a period old. But a strong push by Ottawa saw the two teams head into the first intermission all knotted up at twos.
Winnipeg and its third-ranked power play got things going with Senators’ defenceman Artem Zub in the box for hooking just 4:08 into the game. After three unsuccessful one-timer attempts, Kyle Connor finally hammered his ninth power play goal of the season past Anton Forsberg, high, glove side. Josh Morrissey and Mark Scheifele drew assists on Connor’s team-leading 19th goal of the season.
Then, not to be outdone, Nikolaj Ehlers carried the puck into the Ottawa zone, waited for a perfect screen and ripped his 18th of the season into the net, low, glove side. Scoring just three minutes after Connor’s game-opener, Winnipeg appeared to be on pace for another high-scoring blowout. But Ottawa had other ideas.
With Neal Pionk in the box for tripping Ryan Dzingel on a net drive, it was the Senators’ turn to strike on the man advantage. With winger Brady Tkachuk screening Connor Hellebuyck, Ottawa rookie Josh Norris fired a puck on net that redirected off the stingy winger and into the net for his 13th marker of the season.
Then, with just 1:22 to go in the opening frame, Connor Brown scored on a wrist shot that blew through Hellebuyck’s glove, giving the Senators’ forward goals in eight-straight game – an Ottawa franchise record. Coming off a high-scoring 6-5 loss to Toronto on Saturday, Ottawa showed its ability to score, putting up two goals on seven shots in the frame.
Through 20 minutes, the Jets and Sens remained tied 2-2, while also staying even the shot chart after one period of play.
Despite having three separate power play opportunities in the frame, Winnipeg was unable to restore its lead in the middle stanza. Putting up 14 shots in the frame, the Jets failed to capitalize on a few quality chances. The best opportunity came on a power play goalmouth scramble behind Forsberg, with Paul Stastny just putting the puck along the goal line and out of the crease.
“Obviously you want to capitalize on all of them,” Scheifele said of his team’s lack of success on the man advantage. “We still had our chances. We had chances to put them home but Forsberg made some big saves. It’s definitely huge. You’ve got to take advantage when you can to put teams away. We’ve got to regroup from this one and be ready for the next one.”
The Senators did not muster up much in terms of shots in the second period, however, the club had two breakaways to which Hellebuyck turned both Connor Brown and Alex Formenton away. Neither player was able to fully execute their planned move as the puck jumped off Brown’s stick last second, while Formenton was slashed by Ehlers just before attempting his shot. Through 40 minutes, Winnipeg led the shot chart 21-14.
“You never want to give up breakaways,” Scheifele added. “They’ve got guys that make you pay. They’ve got some speed up front. It’s just a matter of making the simple plays over and over and not trying to do too much and go from there.”
After failing to capitalize on yet another man advantage, the Jets saw the Senators pull ahead 3-2 with 9:50 left to play in the third period. Putting up a combined 14 power play shots on five man advantages throughout the game to that point, Winnipeg watched as a bouncing Thomas Chabot centre-ice dump in proved to be too much for Hellebuyck to handle.
“Sometimes,” Hellebuyck said when asked if bouncing puck are harder to stop. “But in that case I gotta have that, so that one’s on me.”
Although stopping the bouncing puck, the Jets’ netminder was unable to trap it in his glove, allowing the rebound to sit free atop the crease. Logan Stanley allowed Evgenii Dadonov to beat him to the loose puck, before seeing the Senators’ forward collect his 12th of the year on the team’s 20th shot of the night, giving Ottawa its first lead of the game.
The Senators then added an insurance tally by way of Brady Tkachuk’s 14th of the season with 3:48 to go. Stripping the puck in his own defensive zone, Tkachuk drove to the Jets’ net on a long-distance breakaway and beat Hellebuyck high, glove side, giving Ottawa the 4-2 win.
“I’m a little mad at myself. A couple of bad mistakes, not good enough,” Hellebuyck said in assessing his performance. “It’s been a good week and the guys have been playing hard in front of me. We’re a very united front, so I’m very pleased the way this room has grown together. I’m still going to be mad at myself because that’s how I get better. I need to be better than I was tonight, and this is part of the process.”
Hellebuyck stopped just 20 of Ottawa’s 24 shots on the night, while seeing his record fall to 20-11-3 with the loss on Monday. His counterpart Anton Forsberg turned aside 24 of Winnipeg’s 26 shots, who saw his record improve to 2-3-1 on the season. With the loss, Winnipeg’s record now sits at 25-14-3 through 42 games, giving the team 53 points and a .629 points percentage.
“We have the best goaltender in the world,” Kyle Connor said of his fellow statesman Hellebuyck. “He’s been outstanding. I’m sure he wants every single goal back because he’s just that type of player that pushes himself and competes that hard. I don’t think his confidence will waver. He’s that guy who will bounce back and he will be even greater next game.”
Monday’s game began a three-game-in-four-day stretch for Winnipeg, which will play the Senators again on Wednesday, before travelling to Toronto for a rare one-game set against the Maple Leafs on Thursday. Both games will be available on TSN at 6:00 PM central. The Jets then return home for a six-game homestand beginning on Saturday which will feature competition with both the Edmonton Oilers and the Leafs.