The Winnipeg Jets got a point in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday night. Should have easily had two. In fact, the 4-3 overtime loss they suffered at the hands of the Washington Capitals should never have reached overtime in the first place.
The Jets should have put that game should have been put to bed in the first period.
However, because the Jets have had a habit all season of turning average NHL goaltenders into Georges Vezina himself, they took a game they should have closed out early and forced themselves into a position where they had to score in the dying minutes to tie the affair and send it to OT.
“I liked the way we stayed with our game,” said Jets head coach Dave Lowry. “I thought we had a great start. We did a lot of things right. But look at the team you’re playing. They’ve got a bunch off world-class all-stars on their team and they’re not going to go away. They took the game over but I still thought we did a lot of really good things.
“We had an opportunity in the first and hit the post. If it’s 3-0, maybe it’s a different game.”
The Jets opened the scoring at 1:02 of the first period when Kyle Connor ripped a high shot over the shoulder of Washington netminder Vitek Vanecek. It was Connor’s 21st of the season and it came on the power play as Andrew Copp and Mark Scheifele drew the assists.
Winnipeg made it 2-0 just a minute and 18 seconds later when rookie Cole Perfetti took a gorgeous pass from Pierre-Luc Dubois and drilled a shot past Vanecek to score his first NHL goal. Dubois and Connor drew the assists as Winnipeg was in control of the game.
Over the next 10 minutes, the Jets dominated the game. Nikolaj Ehlers had a breakaway and was beaten by Vanecek. Copp had a breakaway from the Washington blueline and Vanecek foiled him, too. Meanwhile, Dubois and Scheifele both had open shots and open corners and both hit the post. In all, the Jets had eight prime scoring chances in the first period and converted only two.
What should have been a blowout remained a tight game that got even tighter when the Caps’ Alexander Ovechkin scored his 27th of the season at 16:58 of the first period and took over both the goal-scoring and points leads in the NHL. Garnet Hathaway drew the assist as the teams went too the break with the Jets leading 2-1.
Washington’s Dmitry Orlov scored the only goal of the second period to make it 2-2 after 40 minutes and then at 4:15 of the third, the Caps’ Aliaksei Protas flipped a shot from behind the net that it Nate Schmidt’s skate, deflected onto Connor Hellebuyck’s pad and trickled into the net to give Washington a 3-2 lead. The Jets couldn’t score on Vanecek, but they did get an own-goal on Hellebuyck.
At that point, the Jets started playing with some urgency and it finally paid off,. At 18:55, Dubois, who had been the best Jets player on the ice all night, took a beautiful, tight pass from Adam Lowry in the Washington crease and banged it past Vanecek to send the game to OT. It was Dubois’ 15th of the year as Lowry and Scheifele drew the assists.
Sadly, for Winnipeg, the overtime lasted only 26 seconds. The Jets lost the opening faceoff of OT, Washington controlled the puck into Winnipeg’s zone and Tom Wilson jammed it past Hellebuyck to end the game quickly. Winnipeg did not touch the puck in OT. Although the Jets got a point on the road and are now 17-12-6 on the season, it was a game they should never have lost.
Even worse, the Jets might have lost Nikolaj Ehlers for an extended period. Ehlers took an incredibly filthy knee-on-knee check from the Caps often filthy Dmitry Orlov as both officials — Reid Anderson and Jon McIsaac — missed the hit completely. Ehlers, not surprisingly, was incensed and coach Dave Lowry said Ehlers, “will likely miss more than one game.”
“I’m disappointed,” said Lowry. “When you lose a player you’re disappointed. If they’d seen it (the cheap shot) the same way I saw it, it would probably have been more than a minor penalty. I lose a world-class player … and will probably lose him for more than one game.”
Winnipeg outshot Washington 33-31. The Caps outhit the Jets 21-18 while the Jets won 54 per cent of the face-offs (but they failed to win the most important one in overtime). The Jets went one-for-four on the power play while the Caps were zero-for-two.
Dubois had the best line of the night: a goal, an assist and plus-one with four shots, three hits, a takeaway and a blocked shot in 21 minutes and 37 seconds of ice time.
The Jets play again on Thursday night in Nashville. Game time on TSN 3 is 7 p.m. CST.