It was the perfect start but a disappointing finish on Saturday evening in San Jose. Following their season-opening loss to the Anaheim Ducks in California on Wednesday, the Winnipeg Jets travelled five-and-a-half hours north up the west coast to the South Bay Area for a clash against the Sharks.
Serving as San Jose’s season-opener, the hometown team did not disappoint its fans, despite falling behind 2-0 off the get-go against an angry Jets team that had already suffered loss just a few nights ago. Rallying back for a 4-3 win, the Sharks put a dent in Winnipeg’s attempt on a strong road start to the season.
“We’ve got to get a hell of a lot quicker,” head coach Paul Maurice said post-game. “The foundation of what we do has to be fast on both sides of the puck, regardless of routes and schemes and things like that with the puck.”
Pierre-Luc Dubois opened the scoring for Winnipeg just minutes into the first period, scoring on a rebound at the 4:20 mark with assists going to newcomer Brenden Dillon and Neal Pionk. Outshooting the Sharks 10-6 in the opening frame, the Jets’ offence appeared to have picked up where it left off in Anaheim, while goaltender Connor Hellebuyck seemingly rediscovered his game after a couple dodgy goals on Wednesday.
The second period saw penalty killing forward Andrew Copp notch his first tally of the season midway through a Pionk high-sticking call. Scoring shorthanded on a great setup play from Adam Lowry, Copp gave Winnipeg a 2-0 lead just 21 minutes into the contest.
But it was all downhill from there.
Two minutes later, veteran Andrew Cogliano grabbed his first of the season, also while shorthanded, cutting the Jets’ lead to just one goal. Racing down the ice, he ripped a shot high blocker side past Hellebuyck and into the net.
Having seen Cogliano’s goal while rookie William Eklund was in the box for San Jose, Winnipeg defenceman Logan Stanley opted to attempt to shift the momentum back to the Jets’ side with a fight following an Adam Lowry boarding call. Although Winnipeg did not allow a power play goal on the ensuing two-minute minor, it did on a Josh Morrissey holding the stick call later in the frame.
“It’s tough, right, you play on the power play, you think we need to score a goal to get going,” Copp said. “You think you’re going to win a race. And then it’s kind of going the other way… It feels like with the crowds it’s like a playoff game every time. Which is obviously great after not having them for a full season. It’s obviously great to have them back and the intensity is definitely up these first two games.”
With Morrissey heading to the box for his minor infraction on Tomas Hertl at 12 minutes of the middle stanza, the Sharks needed just 1:18 of power play time for rookie forward Jesper Weatherby to find his first career tally. With assists going to power play specialist Erik Karlsson and Kevin Labanc, the first-year pro also beat Hellebuyck cleanly, this time high glove-side, tying the game at twos, to which it stood through 40 minutes of play.
“We got slow in the middle of the game,” Maurice added. “In the beginning I felt like we moved the puck easily.”
Dubois began the third period with an elbowing call, which led to San Jose’s go-ahead marker. With just 13 seconds remaining in his infraction, Dubois watched as Hertl found the twine on a William Eklund rebound for his first of the season 3:25 into the final frame. Rudolfs Balcers scored a minute-and-a-half later, essentially putting the cherry on the top of a Sharks home win.
“We lost momentum after the Sharks’ first goal and it kind of went from there,” Dubois said. “I think that’s where, in the second period, we kind of got spread out. Forwards got spread out from the defensemen, making it hard to make plays.”
Jansen Harkins made it a one-goal game with 6:32 remaining in the third, but it was too little, too late for a Winnipeg team that now sees itself sitting at 0-2-0 to start the season after coming in with expectations soaring sky-high.
Getting off to a strong start in the shot department, the Jets saw San Jose take over in the second period, before building upon its lead in a strong third period display. Hellebuyck managed to stop just 27 of 31 pucks directed his way, while Sharks’ netminder Adin Hill made 20 saves on 23 shots.
The Jets will now look to turn things around in their final test of the season-opening three-game Western Conference road trip when they take on the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday evening at Xcel Energy Center. Puck drop is set for 7:00 PM central, while the game will be available to view on TSN.