Canucks steamroll listless Jets

Miller nets hat-trick for visitors as losing streak stretches to six games

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The Winnipeg Jets say all the right things but won’t pay heed to their own game plan.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/01/2022 (303 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Jets say all the right things but won’t pay heed to their own game plan.

Commit to sound defence. Maintain a structure. Pay attention to details. Don’t cheat the game. Show some confidence. Those were just some of the like-minded messages issued by the local NHL squad — in response to Tuesday’s loosey-goosey effort and eventual defeat to the Florida Panthers — during post-game and day-after chats with reporters.

On Thursday night, the Jets failed to put words into action, suffering a contemptible 5-1 defeat to the Vancouver Canucks before another miniscule crowd of 250, owing to provincial health restrictions.

Vancouver Canucks’ Alex Chiasson jumps over Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Schmidt during the first period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Capping the crowd was a blessing. Why subject others to such a woeful performance, which extended Winnipeg’s winless streak to six games (0-4-2), the longest of the 2021-22 regular season.

And yet, expectedly, there was no blatant self-loathing afterward.

“Yeah, just need to be a little bit better everywhere,” said forward Blake Wheeler. “Those little things are adding up right now. We’re just a little bit late to everything right now and it’s hurting us.”

The captain bristled at the suggestion his team is fragile.

“I would say that this team has dealt with the most adversity of any team I’ve played on in 14 years,” Wheeler said. “So, I would actually, completely say the opposite about this group. Yeah, wins and losses aren’t going our way right now, but we’ve dealt with a lot… a lot. So, we can go through a list and those would be labeled excuses, and I’m not in real big hurry to start using excuses. But fragile is not a word I would use to describe this group. We’ve had to deal with a lot this year.”

It was Miller time for the Canucks, as centre J.T. Miller fired the second hat-trick of his career. The 10-year veteran has four goals and three assists in his last four outings. Meanwhile, goalie Spencer Martin, making his sixth NHL appearance, stopped 33 shots to post his first-ever triumph.

“It’s incredibly special and just even to get an opportunity to play, and having it go well and get a win, I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet, but hopefully we just keep building off it,” said Spencer. “It’s a really special day for me.”

Vancouver was superior on all fronts, including special teams. Head coach Bruce Boudreau’s power-play unit was deadly, needing only a combined 17 seconds of work to score on its only two chances.

“I think our PK has been going pretty good, but that struggled,” said Andrew Copp, Winnipeg’s only scorer. “I think there’s just a lot of different facets where we’re just a half step off. So, it’s gotta get cleaned up, we just got to play better.”

Vancouver Canucks’ Oliver Ekman-Larsson, J.T. Miller, Nils Hoglander and Luke Schenn celebrate Miller’s third goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the second period in Winnipeg on Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

While the Jets penalty killers were shell-shocked, the group’s power play misfired on three assignments. Case in point, Mark Scheifele was gifted a wide-open net on the team’s final chance but launched a shot high and wide.

It would have been a meaningless marker, anyway.

The Jets (17-16-7) are now barely over .500, with just a game to go before they hit the midway point of the season, and sit five points below the Calgary Flames and the playoff line in the Western Conference.

Four teams, including the Canucks (19-19-5), are sandwiched in between.

Put out missing persons’ reports on the Jets leaders up front. Scheifele, Wheeler, Paul Stastny and Kyle Connor were conspicuous by their ineffectiveness.

Interim head coach Dave Lowry was forgiving in his post-game assessment.

“I thought we made a couple mistakes. I thought we did a lot of really good things,” he said. “I know the score… they had two power-play goals, off of faceoffs. Pucks to the net. And they capitalized on their opportunities.”

Jets defenceman Johnny Kovacevic earned just over 10 minutes of ice time in his NHL debut

Winnipeg Jets’ Pierre-Luc Dubois looks to tip the puck past Vancouver Canucks goaltender Spencer Martin as J.T. Miller defends during the first period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

The Canucks broke the scoreless first-period on Miller’s power-play goal, just 10 seconds after Jets defenceman Ville Heinola took a cross-checking penalty with under seven minutes left in the opening period.

Copp showed off his baseball skills to even the game just two minutes later, bunting an airborne puck behind Martin for his 12th tally. Wheeler’s quick shot from the high slot was partially blocked but the puck caromed right into Copp’s wheelhouse.

Connor Hellebuyck, making his 13th consecutive start in the Jets net, was beaten cleanly on Miller’s second of the night at 5:25 of the second period on a low wrist shot from the left faceoff dot. Brock Boeser sent a cross-ice pass to Miller to earn his second primary assist.

Down by a goal, the hosts had back-to-back opportunities with the man advantage but couldn’t connect.

Three minutes after ex-Jets defenceman Tyler Myers’ penalty expired, Miller snapped in his third of the game, this time finding a crack between Hellebuyck’s pads, a drive the former Vezina Trophy winner should have turned aside.

Boeser got a goal of his own early in the third period, flipping in a rebound just seven seconds into their second power play. Miller drew an assist.

“Well I don’t think we stopped playing. Yeah, three goals is tough to come back from, but I thought our guys kept playing,” said Lowry. “I thought we had some opportunities in the third, I thought we had a couple really good looks on our power play. So I’m not going to say our group sagged.”

Hellebuyck could use an evening away from the crease.

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck saves a shot as Brenden Dillon defends against Vancouver Canucks’ Brock Boeser during the second period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

The 28-year-old netminder hasn’t cost the squad any games but hasn’t stolen one, either. His rebound control has been unreliable, and he’s put himself in a heap of trouble a number of times with erratic puck handling.

The Jets bench boss refused to lay the blame at the feet of his No.1 goalie.

“We are not pointing fingers at any individuals. This is a collaborative team effort,” he said. “This is a group that is going to continue to stick together; they are going to continue to work together. We are going to win hockey games here and we are going to do it by not pointing fingers.”

With just six minutes left, Neal Pionk took a shot off the foot and was in obvious distress. Unable to help defend a Canucks cycle, Pionk watched as Elias Pettersson ripped a shot to the top shelf.

Pionk remained on the bench but didn’t take another shift.

Adam Lowry, playing the 500th game of his career, tried to energize the squad with a third-period scrap with Luke Schenn, however, the Jets were content to follow the Canucks lead in a virtual no-hitter between Western Conference rivals.

“I don’t think it’s frustration. I think it’s disappointment. These guys are great pros, they take a lot of pride in their game,” said coach Lowry. “Obviously, as a group we’re disappointed in the results right now.”

The Jets hit the runway Friday afternoon for a pair of road tests prior to the NHL All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas.

Vancouver Canucks’ Tyler Myers blocks a shot in front of goaltender Spencer Martin as he defends against Winnipeg Jets’ Kristian Vesalainen during the second period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg plays the Central Division-rival Blues in St. Louis on Saturday at 2 p.m. and then kicks off the month of February in Philadelphia for a Tuesday night battle against the Flyers.

Connor is the lone Jet invited to T-Mobile Arena and joins Team Central for the skills competition Friday, Feb. 4 at 6:30 p.m. and the all-star tournament Saturday, Feb. 5, beginning at 2 p.m.

 

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

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).

History

Updated on Thursday, January 27, 2022 10:50 PM CST: Updates story to final version with quotes and matches print headline.

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