Pens display dominance at home with 4-0 win over Jets

Pittsburgh wins eighth consecutive game, moves into tie with Caps

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PITTSBURGH — Did the Winnipeg Jets do something to anger the Hockey Gods? It sure looked that way Friday night as pretty much everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong in a 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that almost seemed inevitable from the first drop of the puck.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/01/2019 (1422 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

PITTSBURGH — Did the Winnipeg Jets do something to anger the Hockey Gods? It sure looked that way Friday night as pretty much everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong in a 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that almost seemed inevitable from the first drop of the puck.

Where should we start?

How about top-line winger Nikolaj Ehlers getting hurt on the first shift of the game after a collision with Pens captain Sidney Crosby and, after trying one abbreviated shift a few minutes later, being done for the night with an upper-body ailment? That put the remaining 11 forwards in a bit of chaos, with the line blender coming out early and often and no real offensive rhythm to be found.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray covers the puck before Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele can get his stick on it during the first period in Pittsburgh, Friday.

How about Pittsburgh’s first goal late in the opening period, which was a point shot from Olli Maatta that went right off the stick of Jets captain Blake Wheeler and directly into Winnipeg’s net? It was Maatta’s first goal in 69 games.

How about Pittsburgh’s second goal — just 33 seconds after Maatta scored — in which a deflected pass attempt jumped in the air and deflected off Matt Cullen’s shoulder and past a stunned Connor Hellebuyck? It’s just the fourth of the season for the 42-year-old, who is the oldest active player in the NHL.

Or how about Pittsburgh’s third goal, which actually looked like a save-of-the-year candidate from Hellebuyck, who flashed the leather and appeared to grab the puck out of mid-air on the goal-line late in the second period? Unfortunately for the Jets, the video never lies and review showed it crossed the line by a millimetre or two. Dominik Simon, with all of nine career goals, was the lucky shooter.

“What third goal? It wasn’t in. There’s no way,” an animated Hellebuyck said following the game at PPG Paints Arena. “I need to see the camera angle. I know they wouldn’t call it a goal if it wasn’t. But one camera angle shows it in and one doesn’t. From my view, I’ve been scored on like that. And I was above that. I don’t see it going in.”

Even the fourth goal was of the non-traditional variety, as Jets head coach Paul Maurice boldly pulled Hellebuyck with more than five minutes left in the game and facing a three-goal deficit, only to have Kris Letang score an empty-netter.

At the other end, Kyle Connor and Jacob Trouba both rang shots off the iron as the Jets were unable to get anything to go their way. Matt Murray was perfect on all 33 shots he faced to record his third shutout of the season.

“A little bit (of bad luck), but they also shut us out. So, you can’t win a hockey game when you score zero goals,” Wheeler said of being blanked for a third time this season. “The bounces went their way but I chalk that up to them maybe just being that half step quicker everywhere and we weren’t able to give it a go.”

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby looks for the puck in front of Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck during the second period.

Hellebuyck stopped 29 shots.

“You know what, the bounces are not going to go our way every night. I’m hoping that we’re getting some bad luck now so that when the playoffs come around we get the good luck. That’s what I’m going to continue building on,” said Hellebuyck.

On a team loaded with elite stars such as Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, it was lesser-lites who did all the damage as the Penguins won an eighth straight game and jumped into a tie for first place in the Metropolitan Division with the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

“They play a fast game. I think it starts in their own end, for sure. They break the puck out quick. They play a very quick game, short little passes, they support each other well. It’s one of the reasons they’ve had success the last five, six, seven years. They’re a good team over there. We know we can bring a better effort,” said Jets defenceman Tyler Myers.

Meanwhile, the Jets began their 2019 with a frustrating defeat, falling to 25-13-2 on the season.  Steel City has been the stuff of nightmares for this franchise, with the Penguins winning 18 straight home games against the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers dating back to 2007.

“They have a good team and they play well at home. It’s similar to what we do at home. It’s not real fun to come into our building right now and play us either. These guys have been real good for a real long time. You come into a building where a team plays well, they certainly have had a ton of success here. They have a lot of confidence in this building, so you’ve got to play a real good game to give yourself a chance,” said Wheeler.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck blocks a shot during the second period. Hellebuyck stopped 29 of the 32 shots he faced.

Winnipeg hadn’t played since a 4-3 victory on New Year’s Eve in Edmonton — their only win in the past four games — and they certainly looked to be out of step at times against a high-flying Penguins squad.

“I think they were faster than we were. That’s a fact. But they looked like they’ve looked recently on their streak. They looked quick, they had real good sticks, knocked a lot of stuff down, blocked a lot of shots. For us, that’s a tell-tale sign when we’re getting that big a number. When you’re getting into the twenties with shots blocked you’re wasting an awful lot of offensive opportunities to get things going,” said Maurice.

Maurice didn’t have a post-game update on Ehlers, saying he’ll be further evaluated today after the team returns to Winnipeg. They are already missing defenceman Dustin Byfuglien for at least a month with a lower-body injury.

Friday’s game marked the start of a busy stretch for the Jets in which they will play five times over eight days, and nine times in 16 days heading into their league-mandated bye week, followed by the all-star break later this month. They remain in top spot in the Central Division, one point ahead of the Nashville Predators with two games in hand.

The Jets return to action Sunday afternoon against the surging Dallas Stars, who are 4-0-1 in their past five games to pull within four points of the Jets. Puck drop is 4 p.m. at Bell MTS Place.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) Winnipeg Jets' Brendan Lemieux checks Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin off his skates during the second period in Pittsburgh, Friday.

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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Updated on Friday, January 4, 2019 10:36 PM CST: Full write through

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