The Winnipeg Jets are in a slump. You hate to see it, but it’s true. And the reason for the slump is very easy to see. The Jets can’t score.
The Winnipegs have taken 120 shots in the last three games and scored a grand total of four goals. With that, the Jets have suffered three straight losses: a 2-1 shootout loss to Edmonton, a 3-2 regulation-time loss in Vancouver and Monday night’s 3-1 regulation loss to Pittsburgh. A team that travelled west last week (after going 5-1-1 in a seven-game homestand) that was 9-3-3, is now 9-5-4 and the last three games have been very hard to watch.
On Monday night, the Jets had just returned from a two-game Western road trip in which they lost two games — 2-1 in a shootout and 3-2 in regulation — despite getting 86 shots (47 and 39) in those two outings. That’s three goals on 86 shots. The Jets completely dominated both Edmonton and Vancouver in their own buildings and their reward was one stinking point.
But that’s what happens when a team full of goal scorers stops scoring.
“The shots are there, the zone time is there, but we are not heavy enough net-front,” head coach Paul Maurice said post-game on Monday. “I’m not drooping our entire offensive game is missing, parts of it is better than it’s ever been, but pucks are just not going in the net.’
The NHL Jets, with all these multi-millionaire goal scorers, are having trouble finding the net, although they finally did get a goal from the fourth-line on Monday. And a sniper’s goal, no less. A great writer under the bar by Dominic Toninato against a goalie on a two-game shutout streak. Coach Paul Maurice should have rewarded him and moved him up to the first line.
Still, despite having trouble finding the net, the Jets led 1-0 after 20 minutes. Granted, they outshot Pittsburgh 11-5 (although two Pittsburgh shots were actually wide and one would have been 20-feet wide had goalie Connor Hellebuyck not gloved it). Winnipeg owned the opening period and should have scored three or four. But there is no team in the NHL right now that can make an opposing goalie look more like Georges Vezina in his prime than these Winnipeg Jets.
How bad was it? Well, with 21 seconds left in the period, the Jets were awarded a power play (on an interference call that was so obvious, a picture of it should accompany Rule 56 in the Official NHL Rule Book) and the result was nothing short of a circus. The Jets might have had a shot in the first 21 seconds except Nate Schmidt fired the puck so wide of the net that we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say, that’s what he was trying to do.
“We are just struggling a little bit around the net,” Maurice added. “But there would be a bunch of things that we would say we could do better around the net too.”
When the teams came back from the break, the Jets had 1:40 to make something happen and maybe even put the game away on the man advantage and instead they looked completely disoriented . They weren’t disorganized. There was organzation. They simply looked confused.
The Pens immortal Teddy Blueger had the best scoring chance during the Jets power play after Blake Wheeler gave the puck away for the third time in a minute and a half. Blueger went in alone on Connor Hellebuyck and hit the post. the Jets, meanwhile, got one shot on goal. Not a great chance, but at least it was a shot.
A few minutes after that, the Penguins 32nd-ranked power play faced the Jets 31st-ranked penalty killing unit. That red-hot penalty kill prevailed, but not without Hellebuyck making one of the great saves of the seas0n off of Jake Guentzel.
In fact, Hellebuyck made two or three highlight reel saves to keep the Jets in front.
Pittsburgh eventually tied the game at 14:29 of the second period when Jason Zucker beat Hellebuyck with a wide open shot in front.
Moments later Guentzel stormed the net and ran over Hellebuyck. He got a two-minute minor. NHL officiating isn’t as atrocious as NBA or NFL officiating, but it’s pretty awful. Then again, when there really aren’t any actual rules, the NHL version of ice hockey is a near-impossible game to call.
The Jets ensuing power play was outstanding, but this team just can’t buy a goal. It’s actually stunning how many great chances they get and yet they just can’t put the puck in the net. On the power play, Pierre-Luc Dubois had two glorious chances right in front and shot wide both times. It’s hard to understand.
Each team had 14 shots in the second period — 25-19 Jets through two periods. Interestingly, all the Jets’ big goal scorers had averaged between 13 and 15 minutes of ice time through 40 minutes. The guy with the Jets only goal had played five minutes.
Eventually, Pittsburgh took over the game. You could actually see the frustration on the faces of the Jets from as high up as the press box. They were lost.
The Penguins took the lead at 3:33 of the third period when Danton Heinen banged home a rebound. From the point on, the Jets were just a mess.
(1) Kyle Connor had a clear-cut breakaway from his own blue line and lost control of the puck right in front of Pens netminder Tristan Jarry.
(2) With six minutes left, Evgeny Shvechnikov made a solid play in the Pittsburgh end, the puck wound up on Connor’s stick and he shot it over the net. His frustration and, yes disbelief, was written all over his face.
(3) With the Pens leading 2-1, the Jets pulled Hellebuyck to go with a sixth attacker and not 10 seconds later Guentzel scored an empty netter to empty the building.
(4) In the third period, the Penguins outshot the Jets 17-6. It’s like Winnipeg’s big shooters didn’t even try to shoot.
The Jets simply can’t score. That’s it, that’s all. But with all of these high-priced goal scorers that’s not a good thing. Especially when Toninato, the only guy who DID score, played a grand total of six minutes and 43 seconds.
Right now, the best Jets fans can hope for is that this is just a phase. If it’s not, this could get really ugly.