Avs bury short-handed Jets 7-1

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DENVER — To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. And the Winnipeg Jets were served up a pointed reminder Thursday of just how far they have to go if they wish to reach hockey’s promised land.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/01/2022 (219 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

DENVER — To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. And the Winnipeg Jets were served up a pointed reminder Thursday of just how far they have to go if they wish to reach hockey’s promised land.

A lopsided 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche snaps a three-game winning streak for the visitors, who had an opportunity to jump into a playoff spot with a victory. Instead, they fall to 16-12-5 and remain one point out of the final Western Conference wildcard spot.

“They’re good, they’re fast, their D are in the rush. We didn’t bring it, we weren’t prepared. And it showed on the scoresheet,” said centre Mark Scheifele.

Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog celebrates his goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the second period Thursday in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

There’s plenty of runway left for the Jets, of course, with 49 regular-season games on the docket. And there’s no shame in losing to a really good team, especially one that is basically unbeatable in their own backyard. But consider the bar now raised for a Winnipeg team that had no answers on this night for Colorado, particularly their top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog.

The talented trio combined for five goals and 12 points as Colorado improved to 20-8-2. They have now won a ridiculous 10 straight games at Ball Arena and have the best winning percentage in the West.

“I think they’re one of the best lines in the league. All three of them are elite, they’re elite at different things and they complement each other extremely well,” said Jets forward Adam Lowry.

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey) Winnipeg Jets forward Cole Perfetti is pressured by Colorado Avalanche defenceman Bowen Byram during the first period.

“They’ve played together for so long, and with an active back-end like Colorado has, it seems like they come at you with four or five guys, they get some zone time and they always seem to know where each other is and are able to create those chances when it seems like they don’t have a lot. It’s one of those things now where we need to find a way to limit those chances. We’re going to play those guys a few more times and you want to be successful. In the Central Division, you’re probably going to have to go through Colorado. An important way to beat them is to shut those guys down.”

The Jets were coming off consecutive victories over St. Louis (4-2 on Dec. 19), Vegas (5-4 in overtime last Sunday) and Arizona (3-1 on Tuesday), and wanted to end this road trip on a high note given that they now faced a weeklong break until they play again due to pandemic-related postponements.

The task got a bit tougher with some unfortunate news a few hours before puck drop. Defenceman Dylan DeMelo, who was on the top pair the last three games with Josh Morrissey, tested positive for COVID-19. So did winger Jansen Harkins, who has been skating on the second line in recent games with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor. And veteran forward Paul Stastny, who’s been on an effective top line with Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers, was also unable to play due to a lower-body injury.

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey) Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper makes a save against the Winnipeg Jets during the second period.

That’s three significant pieces, on top of already missing captain Blake Wheeler and promising young forward David Gustafsson to injuries. The Jets dressed a forward group that included two players skating in their third career NHL games (Cole Perfetti and C.J. Suess), another guy playing in his fourth (Kristian Reichel) and two other players in Kristian Vesalainen and Evgeny Svechnikov with less than a full season on their big-league resumes.

In other words, this was a team thin on experience, especially up front. Which means you might want to take the outcome with a bit of a grain of salt considering the less-than-ideal circumstances.

“It’s just the world we live in now. You’ve got to deal with it, you’ve got to have guys step up and make a difference out there. That’s just the way she goes,” Scheifele said of suddenly being shorthanded. 

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey) Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele shoots against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period.

The night started off a lot better than it ended for the Jets. Scheifele opened the scoring just 2:56 into the game, hammering a rebound past Darcy Kuemper for his ninth goal of the year. Winnipeg was on the power play, and Neal Pionk’s point shot was tipped by Andrew Copp to set it all up.

Winnipeg was more than holding its own against a legitimate heavyweight through most of the first period, but the tide seemed to turn after Eric Johnson’s blue-line blast was tipped by Kadri with just under four minutes to play. Kadri was engaged in a spirited battle with Jets defenceman Neal Pionk in front of Connor Hellebuyck at the time.

It’s the type of play interim Winnipeg coach Dave Lowry has been preaching to his troops over the last couple weeks, of getting to the so-called dirty areas and getting rewarded with net-front chaos. Kadri is among the best in the business at being such a shift disturber, and it once again paid off.

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey) Winnipeg Jets left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois knocks Colorado Avalanche right wing Logan O'Connor into the bench during the second period.

Still, this was very much a toss-up heading into intermission.

“We did a lot of really good things. We executed on the power play, we managed the game, we had some good chances. There was a lot to like about it, coming out of 20 minutes even,” said the bench boss 

But the Avalanche, as all really good teams are prone to do, found another gear in the middle frame. And the Jets were powerless to stop them.

Landeskog made it 2-1 early in the second, sweeping a loose puck across the goal-line. Hellebuyck had stopped Rantanen’s initial shot but couldn’t completely corral it. Dubois was in the box at the time, having crushed Kadri with a hit a few seconds earlier that was deemed interference.

“They got that power play goal, and then they just kind of took it from there,” Scheifele said. “They just kind of capitalized on their chances. They made us pay if we turned it over. They have a pretty deadly offensive zone structure. You get a team going like that, first period I think we locked it down a little bit more, but then we got away from it a little bit.”

Rantanen made it 3-1 near the midway mark with a crafty crease-crasher, beating Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt to another puck up for grabs and then burying it. The wheels completely came off a few minutes later when Landeskog struck again, this time with MacKinnon as his set-up man.

Lowry got the line blender out as the game went on, trying to find a spark. And while the Jets did earn three third-period power plays, Kuemper held down the fort. Meanwhile, his teammates kept pumping in the goals.

MacKinnon, who apparently didn’t like seeing his linemates lighting the lamp without him, made it 5-1. Landeskog then cost a few hundred fans their hats with his third of the night. And Bowen Byram finished it off with a power-play one-timer with just 11 seconds left in the game.

“I think we see them quite a bit on the highlight reel, just how elite those guys are, and sometimes it gets lost until you get back onto the ice with them,” said Adam Lowry.

“They have such a deep team, they have such a great back-end and they’re so mobile, and that (top) line is so elite. They’re definitely one of the best in the division, if not the best team. Like I said, the likelihood to get out of the division is you’re going to have to beat Colorado at some point.”

This was the first meeting between the Central Division rivals in more than two years, and the first of four head-to-head dates this season. There was plenty of spice, especially as the score got out of hand. Ehlers nearly got into a fight with J.T. Compher near the end of the game, while Suess came flying into a melee after Perfetti got rocked with a clean hit.

No doubt the Jets will hope their lineup is in a bit better shape the next time they face-off. They’ll now have plenty of time to think about this one before they play again next Thursday in Detroit.

“It sucks to be going out like that,” said Scheifele. “We’ve got six days of practice here before our next one. Hopefully we can get some guys healthy and off the COVID protocol. Hopefully we can work on some things here over the next six days, we’ve got lots of time. Lots of time to work on some stuff and fix some stuff, so we’ve got to take advantage of it.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca 

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 Thursday, January 6, 2022 10:55 PM CST: Adds photos

Updated on Thursday, January 6, 2022 11:20 PM CST: Adds post-game quotes

Updated on Thursday, January 6, 2022 11:35 PM CST: Fixes typo

Updated on Friday, January 7, 2022 9:27 AM CST: Fixes typo

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