It was a night of wasted opportunities at Canada Life Centre on Monday evening. And no, we’re not talking about the drop-dead brunette standing by her lonesome in the beer line during the opening act of the recent Dean Brody concert… Rather, it was the lack of scoring, power play success, fighting, and overall hockey skill in the 3-1 snooze-fest between the Winnipeg Jets and visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.
As a matter of fact, the most exciting part of the game was the play leading up to a two-minute Jake Guentzel goaltender interference penalty. Of course, Winnipeg did not score on the ensuing penalty, but at least fans of the team could say they watched as one of the Penguins’ top scorers barrelled directly through Connor Hellebuyck, resulting in a minor skirmish… fun, right?
“I didn’t like our game tonight,” Jets’ forward Kyle Connor said post-game. “I think we could have come out a lot better. A bit sloppy, missed passes, kind of circling and not staying under pucks. I mean, the last three or four games now, I don’t think we’ve really generated too much.”
With Sid the (not-so-young) Kid finally back and healthy in the Pittsburgh lineup, the Penguins made their return to Winnipeg for the first time since October of 2019. Although captain Crosby didn’t have much to do with the outcome on Monday, fans of black and yellow Pittsburgh sporting teams finally had something to cheer about following a difficult Sunday showing by the Steelers in Los Angeles.
Tristan Jarry entered Monday’s action on a two-game shutout streak, and with 151:06 of goal-free action, 26:09 away from tying the Penguins’ franchise record shutout streak, set by himself back in December of 2019.
“Personally, it doesn’t change a thing,” Connor added on facing a hot goaltender. “I’m not worried about how that goalie is playing. Playing my game, shooting the way I shoot. We didn’t really get to many good looks. We had 30-some-odd shots. It was pretty perimeter, I think. I had a breakaway, lost the puck. Other than that, I didn’t think we challenged him too hard. Made his night pretty easy, to be honest.”
It took the Jets just 10:27 to burst that bubble. And of all the offensive weapons on the squad, it was Dominic Toninato that got the home team on the board first. Picking up a blocked Neal Pionk point shot, the fourth-line winger fired his second of the season past Jarry, spoiling his bid at a new franchise record just 15 minutes short.
Toninato’s strike was the only goal of the opening frame, with the Jets more than doubling up the Penguins in the shot department, finishing the period up 11-5 in that regard. Both Jarry and Hellebuyck turned aside a number of Grade A scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes.
The Penguins got on the board in the middle stanza, by way of a Jason Zucker even strength tally. Sticking with the game’s theme of failing to capitalize on man advantages, the Penguins did not manage a goal with Andrew Copp in the box for what appeared to be a phantom high-stick, however, Zucker’s fourth of the season came moments after its expiration.
“I honestly haven’t seen it,” Copp said when asked about his penalty. “I think 14,000 people didn’t like it. I didn’t like it either. It looked like it was someone else’s stick.”
With the Jets maintaining a 2:1 shot lead through the halfway point of the frame, the visitors rallied to match Winnipeg’s output with 14 shots a piece in the period. Through 40 minutes of play, the Jets led 25-19.
It didn’t take long for Pittsburgh to get another marker, as Danton Heinen batted a loose puck rebound past Connor Hellebuyck just 3:33 into the final frame. A long-range Chad Ruhwedel point shot was handled poorly and the rebound came to the Penguins’ depth winger to jam it into the net. It was also at that point that the Penguins overtook the Jets on the shot chart.
Winnipeg got its best chance of the game eight minutes into the period, as Kyle Connor travelled the length of the ice on a breakaway, but seemingly lost the handle on the puck, before Jarry calmly turned the Jets’ leading scorer aside, keeping his team out in front.
“It’s just one of those situations, nine times out of 10, I’m not losing that there,” C0nnor said of the breakaway chance. “Just got to be a little sharper. Just lost it going to the backhand, tried to go backhand-forehand. He’s making that save if I’m losing that there.”
Despite a few offensive zone chances, Winnipeg could not score another on Jarry. In fact, it was Jarry that collected the next point. Picking up an assist on a Jake Guentzel empty-net marker, he found watched as his teammates sealed the deal, 3-1 in Manitoba.
“The shots are there, the zone time is there, but we are not heavy enough net-front,” coach Paul Maurice said of his team’s offence. “But we’re talking about a period, for me. Before we blow this thing up; we had a tough third period here. We were pretty good other than that.”
Connor Hellebuyck turned aside 32 of Pittsburgh’s 34 shots in the game, while Tristan Jarry made 30 stops, picking up his eighth win of the season. Winnipeg’s record fell to 9-5-4, while the Penguins improved to 8-6-4 on the year.
Now having concluded this miniature one-game homestand, the Jets will travel to Columbus before moving to Minnesota and Calgary on a three-game road trip that features all three games in a span of just four days. Taking on the Blue Jackets on Wednesday, Winnipeg will see the Wild and Flames on Friday and Saturday, respectively, before returning home to Canada Life Centre next Tuesday where the team begins a four-game stretch within the province. Wednesday’s away game can be viewed live on Sportsnet at 6:00 PM central.