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Comrie, Sabres Stick it to Jets in Lopsided Home Defeat

Photos by Scott Stroh and James Carey Lauder

Comrie, Sabres Stick it to Jets in Lopsided Home Defeat

Home sweet home, right? Not so much on Thursday night in Winnipeg.

After a gruelling stretch of eight of nine games on the road – including five-straight in opponents’ barns – the Winnipeg Jets returned home to Canada Life Centre for a test with hot-and-cold Buffalo Sabres.

On Thursday night, they were hot – red hot.

The Sabres, that is.

The Jets? Well, it would be safe to say they looked a little sheepish.

“I would say our compete, consistent compete has not been where it’s been,” Jets head coach Rick Bowness said post-game. “So that’s part work ethic and again, we’re just making the game too hard on ourselves and it’s too easy for the opposition.”

Breakout forward Tage Thompson had a goal and an assist, while Jeff Skinner had two helpers as their Sabres marched to a rather lopsided 3-2 victory in Winnipeg’s first home game since a 2-1 win over Arizona back on January 15.

“Of course I can’t sit here and say it’s all our fault,” Nikolaj Ehlers said. “They’re good at tracking back and creating turnovers. We keep trying to fit pucks into the middle instead of chipping it and using our speed. It’s a mix but you know, it’s something we’ve talked about a lot and something that’s got to change.”

Thursday’s game marked goaltender Eric Comrie’s return to Winnipeg after signing with the Sabres this past offseason. He served as Ukko Pekka Luukkonen’s backup when the Jets met up with the Sabres in Buffalo earlier this month, so this was his first test against his former mates.

Entering the game at 4-8-0 in 12 starts this season, Comrie managed to pull off a memorable performance in his first start back in Manitoba for the nine-year member of the Jets/Moose franchise.

“When the guys play like that in front of you it’s a pretty easy night,” Comrie said. “That was the best Ive seen us play all year. That was incredible.”

Thursday’s contest didn’t go over especially well for the Manitoba Moose’s all-time games played and wins leader, despite a lack of Jets offensive firepower in the early going.

Buffalo pulled out to a 13-6 shot lead through 20 minutes, but was unable to beat Connor Hellebuyck in the opening frame. With only 14 seconds of power play time on their hands, the Sabres also successfully killed off two Jets man advantages before the horn sounded.

Additionally, the Sabres won 14 of 16 faceoffs in the period.

The middle stanza began with more of the same from the seemingly worn out Jets. Coming off a stretch that saw eight of nine games on the road and a span of five-straight away from home, Winnipeg certainly welcomed the familiar confines of Canada Life Centre. But the team just couldn’t get going.

Mix ups on three-on-ones, loose pucks that pass between the sticks of offending players… things were not clicking as the game continued to wear on.

Making matters worse was rugged centreman Adam Lowry leaving midway through the second period with what appeared to be an upper-body injury following a hit from behind by Rasmus Dahlin.

And of course, moments later, Dahlin set up defence partner Owen Power for the game’s opening goal – likely during a period of time to which he would have been in the box serving a penalty on the dangerous check on Lowry. Luckily, the toughest of Jets’ forwards returned just over five minutes after the check that sent him down the tunnel.

But the damage had already been done, and the Jets were playing catch up from that point onward.

Then with 5:45 remaining, the dominant Sabres got their second of the game, with All-Star forward Tage Thompson hammering home his 34th of the season on a pretty three-on-one passing play with Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch.

An animated Rick Bowness shuffled his top-six forwards midway through the period, with Kyle Connor being reunited with Blake Wheeler and Mark Schiefele, while Cole Perfetti was put on a line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nikolaj Ehlers in an attempt to spark some offence. And that’s how thing stayed for the duration.

After putting up six shots in the opening frame, the Jets managed just five in the middle 20 minutes, falling behind 28-11. In fact, Winnipeg did not register a shot in the final 15:46 of the frame.

No, it was not a pretty sight in the venue as the team hobbled off to the room down 2-0 for some serious whipping.

The Jets managed to pick up their first shot in 16:53 of game time just 1:07 into the third period, but it was far too little, too late.

With Nate Schmidt in the box for what was a referee-initiated penalty review for roughing, Victor Olofsson needed just 54 seconds of power play time to finish off Winnipeg, putting his 23rd of the season past Hellebuyck and sealing the deal on a solid road win by the Sabres.

“I don’t know, I’m not sure,” Schmidt said of the roughing call. “I didn’t even think there was a call on the ice. I looked around and I didn’t see any hands up. I looked around and truly didn’t know what happened. The puck was in his feet so I just tried to back into him, so in case he wasn’t looking down or anything at it, but just next thing I knew he was on the ground. I didn’t even know what kind of happened. I was on my way to the box so I didn’t get an explanation, but I think Bones did.”

“That’s what Gord explained to me, that they called a major so that they could review it,” Bowness said. “That’s what they did. They called a five minute elbow and then they reviewed it, then they could reduce it. But they had to call a major so that they could look at it and see exactly what happened.”

With the boo birds appearing late in the second period, the jeers grew louder as the third period rolled on – something rather uncommon at Canada Life Centre lately.

Schmidt made amends with a power play goal himself, scoring with 4:46 to play with Connor Hellebuyck on the bench for the extra attacker on what was already a five-on-four man advantage.

Then it was Pierre-Luc Dubois who hammered home a loose puck rebound on another empty net effort with 41.4 seconds remaining in the game, bringing the score to just one. Despite the mini offensive onslaught, the Jets’ comeback bid fell just short with the Sabres holding on for the 3-2 win. Final shots were 36-21.

The Jets did manage 10 shots in the third period, a slight upgrade from periods of six of five in the first and second, respectively.

The loss was Winnipeg’s fourth in its last six games and fourth in five games for Connor Hellebuyck. His team now sits at 31-18-1 on the year.

“Obviously it’s not great,” Ehlers said of his team’s recent up-and-down play. “But I believe in this team. I believe we’re a great team. We’ve got the tools, we’ve got everything to get it right. It’s just the mindset… But we need to make it more simple for ourselves and help each other out. We know that and we’re going to change that for Saturday.”

Hellebuyck finished the night with 33 saves on 36 shots and saw his record fall to 23-14-1 on the year. Despite the loss, he did hold his mates right in a game to which no one else really showed up to play. His former backup Eric Comrie made 19 stops on 21 Winnipeg shots and improved his record to 5-8-0.

Next up for the Jets is the second match of the three-game homestand, as another familiar squad – the Philadelphia Flyers – roll into town for a Saturday evening matchup. Puck drop is set for 6:00 PM central time. The game can be viewed live on Sportsnet.

Carter Brooks - Associate Editor of Game On Magazine - is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, MB. On top of reading and writing, his favourite pastimes include camping, car-modification projects and coaching hockey. Carter can be reached at or on Twitter at @GameOnHockey.

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