Winnipeg’s Joel Hofer, playing in his second straight game with the St. Louis Blues, shut out the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night.
As a result, the Jets find themselves giving the Calgary Flames every possible opportunity to overtake them for that last Wild Card spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
Thanks to Hofer’s brilliant play, the Blues beat the Jets 3-0 in front of a jubilant home crowd in St. Louis. It was the second game of a two-game road trip for Winnipeg and while the Jets outshot St. Louis 34-17, they were either beaten by a better goaltender or have fallen into the same malaise that kept them out of the playoffs last season — they have just collapsed offensively.
Lucky to win 3-2 in overtime in Nashville on Saturday, despite outshooting the Preds 34-20, the Jets had even more offensive-zone control on Sunday night and were shut out. This is a team that currently spends $37.5 million of an $80 million payroll on six supposedly high-scoring forwards and for the last month-and-a-half hasn’t received much in return. The Jets have gone 7-10-2 since the first of February and have dropped from a tie for first in the Central to eighth in the conference, just four points ahead of the Flames in the race for that final playoff spot.
With 11 games remaining, the Jets are now 39-29-3. The Flames are 31-24-15 and have a game in hand.
“We came out of the gate great (tonight),” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “We had our forecheck going and we hit the crossbar on a tip. We were jamming the net and doing everything we talked about and then they go down and score. We didn’t handle that very well from that point. When we had some opportunities, we didn’t capitalize on them.”
Once again, the Jets gave up an early goal and fall behind for the fifth straight game and for the ninth time in the last 10.
Kasperi Kapanen, who scored at the 4:04 mark of the first period, had a goal and an assist for the Blues (31-33-5), who have now won two straight and four of their last six. Nathan Walker scored in the second period for St. Louis while Jakub Vrana scored in the third. Connor Hellebuyck made only 14 saves in the Winnipeg net.
However, the night belonged to Hofer. After he beat the Capitals 5-2 in Washington on Saturday afternoon, he came back home on Sunday and was superb for the Blues.
The 6-foot-5, 180-pound, 22-year-old, grew up playing for the Assiniboine Park Rangers. Any 15, he left Winnipeg and played Prep School hockey for the Pursuit of Excellence (now the RINK Hockey Academy-Kelowna) in Kelowna, B.C.
After two years in B.C., he jumped to the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League and then, after being drafted by the Blues in the fourth round (107th overall) by the Blues in 2018, he was traded to the Portland Winter Hawks.
He played for Team Canada at the 2020 World Junior Championship and went 5-0-0 with a .946 save percentage as he led Canada to the gold medal.
He was the No. 1 goalie with the American Hockey League’s Springfield Thunderbirds when he was called up to replace Jordan Binnington who was suspended for two games last week. On Saturday and Sunday, Hofer got his shot and has gone 2-0-0 with a 0.50 goals against average and a .956 save percentage. He might have won a permanent job.
He didn’t need to be spectacular against the Jets who fired many of their 34 shots right at the Blue Note on his jersey, but he was steady and smart and by always being in position, the Jets didn’t have much to shoot at.
“Any time you lose a game at this time of year, it’s a lost opportunity,” said Jets D-man Nate Schmidt. “The go-to for our group right now, we have to find a way. We have to get results right now.”
The Jets will get another shot on Tuesday night at Canada Life Centre, this time against the Arizona Coyotes. Opening face-off is lated for 7:10 p.m. With 11 games left on the regular-season schedule, every game is a must win.