It would be polite to say the Winnipeg Jets are in a slump. However, I do wonder what term might be most appropriate for what the Jets are really going through.
Fact is, without Adam Lowry and Nikolaj Ehlers up front and with a slow, tired defensive unit trying desperately to keep up, the Jets are in the midst of a malaise that looks like the bottom has actually fallen out on the season.
And try as he might, Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Connor Hellebuyck can’t save them.
Friday night at Place Bell in Montreal, the Jets built a 3-1 second-period lead on the hometown Montreal Canadiens and then sat back and watched the Habs score four straight goals and leave the building with a 5-3 victory.
It might have been Winnipeg’s worst finish of the year as the Jets fell to 27-20-3 and for the first time in months find themselves playing the kind of hockey that could cost them a playoff berth. Thanks to six straight losses, the Jets are now just 10 points ahead of the fifth-place Calgary Flames. The Jets have six games remaining in the COVID-shortened season while the Flames have seven.
“When you get into a tough situation like this, there aren’t a whole lot of things that are easy for you,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice in the post-game Zoom session. “You have to put yourself in that mental place where you’re going to have good things happen. You can’t go out on the ice always thinking the worst and be afraid rot make the play and make mistakes. There effort’s there, the fight is there, they’re trying to do the right thing but it’s just not rolling for you. You have to keep the faith in what you’re doing and how hard you’re working.”
For a while on Friday it appeared as if the Jets were going to snap out of this nightmare. In fact, the Canadiens didn’t take the lead until the 15:10 mark of the third period.
Winnipeg’s Paul Stastny opened the scoring at 18:25 of the first period as Dylan DeMelo and Blake Wheeler drew the assists. It was Stastny’s 13th goal of the season.
With the Jets leading 1-0 after the first 20 minutes, Trevor Lewis made it 2-0 with his fourth of the year at 2:20 of the second. Jansen Harkins set it up and picked up his first assist of the campaign.
Nick Suzuki scored his 11th of the year, unassisted, at 4:58 of the second to pull Montreal within one, but then Lewis scored his second of the game, also unassisted, at 11:47 to put the Jets ahead 3-1.
But that was it for Winnipeg. Arttur Lehkonen scored for Montreal at 13:44 to make it 3-2 and then former Jet Joel Armia tied it at 18:14 on the power play to draw the Habs even at three heading to the third.
The Canadiens scored the winning goal on the power play at 15:10 of the final period as Suzuki scored his second of the night and 12th of the year from Jeff Petry and Corey Perry. Montreal added an empty netter by Tyler Toffoli at 18:37 as the Habs improved to 22-18-9 and pulled to within four points of the third-place Jets in the North Division.
Suzuki finished with two goals and an assist while Toffoli had a goal and an assist as Montreal outshot Winnipeg 35-22. Connor Hellebuyck was tremendous in the Jets’ net and deserved a better fate. Montreal’s Jake Allen didn’t have much work after the midway point of the second period.
Montreal was two-for-three on the power play while the Jets were zero-for-two. Each team had 27 hits.
“You get to 3-1 and you’re feeling pretty good about you’re game and there is a positive feeling on the bench so that if one thing goes bad on you, you’ll be able to hold on,” said Maurice. “So when you come out in the third, you’re dejected by it (that Montreal has tied the game). That’s a tough one. That’s a tough one for sure.”
The Jets play again open Monday night in Ottawa. Game time is 6 p.m. CDT on TSN3.