Late goal sinks Jets

Plenty of bright spots in pre-season loss to Oilers


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The Winnipeg Jets vacated Rogers Place without a pre-season win Saturday night, however, few discouraging words should be expressed about the matchup with the Oilers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/10/2021 (545 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Jets vacated Rogers Place without a pre-season win Saturday night, however, few discouraging words should be expressed about the matchup with the Oilers.

Let’s get the nitpicking out of the way first.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins dashed a terrific Jets comeback with the game-winning goal at 18:04 of the third period to lift the host Oilers to a 4-3 triumph. 

A pair of Jets veterans made careless decisions on the play.

Blue-liner Neal Pionk was stripped of the puck in the neutral zone by centre Leon Draisaitl, who sent a beautiful backhand pass — cross-ice and between two players — to Nugent-Hopkins for an easy redirection. Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers had Nugent-Hopkins marked at the blue line but stopped skating and gifted him an easy path to the left post.

Eric Comrie had an up-and-down evening between the pipes for Winnipeg, stopping 23 shots in his second start of pre-season. It’s difficult to assess blame on a couple of tip-ins, although fighting to locate and block the puck through traffic has not been the 6-1, 175-pound goalie’s strong suit in brief stints at the NHL level.

Even he didn’t like Jesse Puljujarvi’s second goal of the night — coming on a slapper from well out — to lift the hosts to a 3-1 lead.

“The other ones were a little bit weird. The first two were strange deflections, but that’s the NHL game now, that’s what you gotta get used to, that’s what happens,” said Comrie. “The third one, yeah, I have to look back at it but I’m pretty sure it knuckled on me a little bit but I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong. That’s my fault. That’s my goal, that’s my shot. I’m going to work toward making that save every single time.”

Beyond that, the Jets had a sound night against their Connor McDavid-led opponents.

What went right? Top centre Mark Scheifele turned his game up a notch, igniting a third-period comeback with a pretty goal orchestrated entirely by Jets prospect Declan Chisholm. The 21-year-old defenceman is pegged to play big minutes for the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League this winter.

Just when everyone in the building expected him to blast a shot, Chisholm directed a slap pass onto the tape of the Jets all-star centre.

“(Chisholm) had a great game… great pass, great vision, moves the puck really well,” said Kyle Connor, who opened the scoring for the Jets early in first period. “It can be pretty nervous, looking around the room with not too many familiar faces, trying to learn the guys, learn about your teammates and play hockey as well, and I think he’s done a great job.”

Partnered with Nate Schmidt, Josh Morrissey also had a solid game, beating Edmonton goalie Mikko Koskinen, who stopped 31 shots, to tie the game less than two minutes after Scheifele’s goal.

“Resiliency in this group, you saw it last year, we don’t give up,” said Connor. “We’re always in the fight, no matter who’s on the ice. There was no quit in our group, no hesitation. We’re a pretty confident group, even though it’s pre-season. You want to look forward to that challenge, especially when (Edmonton) had a pretty veteran lineup.”

Indeed, the Oilers went with a roster that more closely resembled the eventual look of the Pacific Division squad for the 2021-22 season. Devin Shore also supplied a goal for the hosts.

A trio of players continue to impress for Winnipeg, intensifying a complex situation for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, head coach Paul Maurice and the rest of the hockey department.

Four jobs are available on the bottom-six forward group. Kristian Vesalainen, Dominic Toninato and Jansen Harkins appear to have the upper hand, while Riley Nash — who wasn’t dressed Saturday — looks like a lock to play nightly. But Evgeny Svechnikov is definitely in the conversation.

“(Svechnikov) is going to go (Sunday) and I’ll probably play him with (Pierre-Luc) Dubois and (Andrew) Copp to see what he can do with those two. You keep bumping yourself up the food chain, so to speak,” said Maurice. “And Harkins played with Lowry, so that’s what we’ll do now is just start to move them up a little it. I would think (Vancouver) is gonna have a fairly thick lineup, so we’ll see them against better players.”

Toninato, still on the ice at the end of a successful penalty kill, won a battle along the wall, forced the puck to the net and earned an assist on Connor’s game-opener, his second tally of the pre-season. Vesalainen made a slick pass to set up the Jets’ leading goal scorer (26) last season.

Harkins afforded himself well in another audition against Edmonton. He demonstrated some symmetry with Lowry, as they worked the puck down low to create a couple of good chances. Harkins, who had a three-point night against Edmonton on Friday, is crammed with confidence as he vies for full-time work. He took a heavy bump to chip the puck to Lowry, who helped set up Morrissey’s tying marker with just over six minutes left in the game.

The Jets played the third period with just five defenceman after Nelson Nogier, a stalwart with the Moose for five AHL seasons, suffered a lower-body injury late in the second and did not return.

Winnipeg is 1-1-1 in the pre-season and next visit Vancouver Sunday to face the Canucks at 6 p.m. (SN).

Demotions will come after the contest on the coast.

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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