The Winnipeg Jets have played a horrible brand of hockey since the team returning from its league-mandated bye-week. Piggy-backing the All-Star weekend, every team player not named Josh Morrissey or Connor Hellebuyck went a span of 11 full days without playing a game of hockey.
With players scampering off to various beaches in and around the Caribbean for a week’s worth of sun, warmth, food and booze, the mood was certainly bright and bubbly upon their return to chilly Winterpeg.
Unfortunately, the success found before the All-Star break did not translate over as the calendar turned from January to February.
With a 32-19-1 record, the Jets sat just one point behind Dallas for first place in the Western Conference on January 31. And in the five weeks following, Winnipeg has won just four total games. Entering Wednesday’s contest with the Minnesota Wild the Jets had one win in their last seven games and two in their last 10.
Pierre-Luc Dubois is NOT on the ice for #NHLJets pre-game warmup.
David Gustafsson will take his place.
Logan Stanley returns to the lineup for the first time since Winnipeg lost in Edmonton last Friday. Dylan Samberg comes out and will be a scratch.
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) March 9, 2023
It was a rather lopsided affair, but the period-by-period scoring certainly wasn’t indicative of the scoring chances and shots on net in this one.
“It’s one of the best games we’ve played all year,” head coach Rick Bowness said post-game. “We dominated the game, 82 shot attempts, I don’t know if we’ve done that this year. Lots of scoring chances, Fleury was outstanding, a lot of loose pucks we couldn’t get our sticks to, but that’s one of the best games we’ve played all year. If we play like that, we’ll take it. Some nights you just don’t get any puck luck and right now we’re not getting any puck. But I’ll take that effort and the way we played against anybody all year.”
Winnipeg ended up losing the game 4-2, despite putting up 48 shots on net. Marcus Foligno had a goal and an assist, while Oskar Sundqvist and Jake Middleton each had two helpers as Marc-Andre Fleury and the Wild walked away with a huge two points on Wednesday night at Canada Life Centre.
“Yeah, it definitely sucks,” forward Kyle Connor added. “But that’s hockey. We’re going to have those nights. We got to keep the confidence high in this group. Putting up that many shots, that many grade As, you’re going to take that most nights.”
The game really didn’t start off any better than other recent battles for Winnipeg. Despite putting up an astounding 15 shots on net to Minnesota’s five, the Jets fell behind 1-0 through 20 minutes of play. With the Wild coming off a gruelling 1-0 shootout loss against Calgary on Tuesday night, the Jets were looking to capitalize, and do so early.
That wasn’t the case, however.
Foligno got things going for Minnesota on a seemingly innocent-looking shot from long range. Picking up a nice backhand pass from Sundqvist, Foligno walked into the Jets’ zone and wripped a heavy wrister past Connor Hellebuyck and off the crossbar and in, blocker side.
The goal came on just the third shot of the game for the Wild.
That isn’t saying much, as they only produced five in the entire period.
Minnesota did double its shot production in the middle stanza, though, as the team put up 10 shots in the frame. Of those shots were probably four or five good, quality chances.
Also in there were two flub jobs that somehow also found their way through Hellebuyck for two more goals.
Their second tally came just 7:06 into the period off a partial break from Freddy Gaudreau. His forward momentum forced Hellebuyck back deep into the goal and the puck fully crossed the line in plain sight of the official.
But exactly 30 seconds later, Logan Stanley got the home team on the board. Having been a healthy scratch more often than not lately, his insertion into the lineup got Winnipeg its first marker of the game. With newcomer Vladislav Namestnikov picking up the primary assist, Stanley collected a loose puck at the side of the net as he emerged from the goal line and fired the disc past a very busy Fleury, cutting Minnesota’s lead to one.
“It was a good play by Niky to drop it for me,” Stanley said. “Then it was good by Vladdy to get it on net. It was an easy one for me to put in.”
Less than a minute later, Ryan Hartman restored that two-goal lead on another dribbler. The Wild’s third goal of the game came just one shot after its second marker.
But in following the flip-flop script of the period, Winnipeg got one more to make it 3-2 heading into the third period. With some heavy net-front traffic, the Jets finally cashed in on a long-range attempt, with a Nate Schmidt floater hitting a body in front and landing on the stick of Nino Niederreiter. He corralled the loose puck and banked home his 21st of the season and 400th career point, sending the Jets into the intermission down just one goal with 20 minutes to play.
400th career point for Nino Niederreiter comes against one of his former clubs.
He is recognized on the jumbotron at @CanadaLifeCtr while fans produce yet another ‘Nino’ chant. pic.twitter.com/Ptl77ZBByY
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) March 9, 2023
Through 40, Winnipeg controlled the narrative, despite trailing on the scoreboard. The Jets owned 18 high-danger scoring chances to Minnesota’s five.
Neither team really did much in the third period, with Winnipeg opting to pull Hellebuyck with just over a minute to play. But Mark Schefiele gave the puck away to Mats Zuccarello, who dished it to a streaking Mason Shaw, who sealed it for the visitors with 38 seconds to go.
“You keep your head up, stick with it,” Connor added. “We have a lot of veterans in this room. We know that we play that game for a majority of the year, we take that over an 82-game schedule we’re going to score a lot of goals. So, we got to take that confidence and build on that going into this road trip here.”
After going 0/7 on the power play on Monday night against in their loss to San Jose, the Jets were up to their old tricks again on Wednesday, once again failing to score with the man advantage. They didn’t have seven opportunities in the game, but were unable to pot one on any of their three power plays.
Although out-duelled by Fleury, Hellebuyck made 19 stops on 22 shots and saw his record fall to 27-20-2 on the year. Fleury played exceptionally well, turning aside 46 of the 48 shots he faced, while seeing his record improve to 20-13-3.
“He made some good saves,” Stanley said of Fleury. “We had some good chances. He’s a great goalie.”
Having now concluded the three-game homestand, Winnipeg will hit the road for three tough games in Florida, Tampa Bay and Carolina in a four-day span. With games on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday, the Jets will then return home for a test against the cream of the crop Boston Bruins next Thursday. Saturday’s game against Florida will be available on Sportsnet, while the next three contests will be broadcast live on TSN.