Many, many weeks ago, Wednesday evening in Columbus was supposed to be a very special night for offensive stars Blake Wheeler, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic.
Why? Well, for starters, it was supposed to be captain Wheeler’s 1,000th career NHL game. But that went out the window when the veteran forward came down with a case of COVID last month. Should Wheeler play in each of his next four games, that milestone contest will take place at home on Sunday, December 5 against Toronto.
For Laine, it was supposed to be his first game against Winnipeg as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. That also didn’t work out, as the young forward is midway through his five-week recovery from an oblique injury suffered in early November.
Dubois, who excitedly anticipated a return to the city of the team that selected him third overall in 2016, was booed every moment he came near the puck, as well as during his ‘welcome home’ jumbotron feature. He finished the night a dismal -2, while putting up two shots on goal in the 3-0 shutout loss to the Blue Jackets.
Roslovic – an afterthought in the Laine/Dubois swap – also didn’t do much for his hometown team, skating in 11 minutes of icetime, while failing to record a single shot on goal for Columbus.
It was another frustrating night for Winnipeg, which put up its fourth-straight loss. Icing the same lineup that had handily shut down the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 just eight days prior, the Jets were unable to beat netminder Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped all 36 shots he faced as Winnipeg dropped its first stop of a three-game road trip.
“I wasn’t overly concerned about our offensive game, believe it or not, but we’re going to have to find different ways to get pucks to the net,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said. “Tonight was the first time I thought we were looking for offense at the expense of our defense. That’s the only time I’ve been concerned about it.”
Giving up the first goal of the game on a Josh Morrissey offensive zone turnover in the first period, Winnipeg remained down by one through 40 minutes of play. But with Riley Nash in the box for cross checking, offensive defenceman Zach Werenski got his fifth of the season, scoring on the power play to extend the home team’s lead. Andrew Peeke put it out of reach with an empty-net marker late in the game.
Once again, the Jets’ special teams let them down. Now having scored just once in its last 21 power play opportunities, Winnipeg also continues to struggle finding offence five-on-five. The penalty kill remains the same issue it has been since the first game of the season. Currently sitting at 9-6-4 through 19 games, the Jets are tied with St. Louis for second in the division, but the streaking Colorado Avalanche are quickly nipping at their heels.
Winnipeg now travels to Minnesota for an American Thanksgiving Friday matchup with the Central Division Wild. Facing off at 2:30 PM central, the team will then back its bags and head to Calgary for another road test against the red-hot Flames on Saturday night. Friday’s game will be broadcast live on TSN, while Saturday’s late-night battle with the Flames will be carried on Sportsnet.