Jets fall flat in 5-2 loss to Islanders


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ELMONT, N.Y — Winnipeg Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt said Thursday morning this three-game road trip “will tell us a lot about where we’re at.” With two contests now in the books, it’s safe to say we already had our answer before the puck dropped on back-to-back nights in Newark and New York.

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This article was published 11/03/2022 (272 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ELMONT, N.Y — Winnipeg Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt said Thursday morning this three-game road trip “will tell us a lot about where we’re at.” With two contests now in the books, it’s safe to say we already had our answer before the puck dropped on back-to-back nights in Newark and New York.

The Jets are deservedly outside the playoff picture, a pretender much more than a contender likely to remain that way down the regular-season stretch because they simply can’t string together a run of solid play, or a streak of any duration. Case in point, a golden opportunity Friday night to win three consecutive for the first time in more than two months, and pull within three points of the final Western Conference postseason spot.

And how did they respond? With more of the same and another in a growing list of shoddy performances, resulting in a perplexing 5-2 loss to an Islanders team that is already looking ahead to next season. This group, as currently assembled, is clearly not ready for prime time.

New York Islanders’ Brock Nelson tries to keep the puck from Winnipeg Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt during the first period. (AP Photo/Jim McIsaac)

Winnipeg falls to 26-23-10. New York improves to 23-24-8.

Connor Hellebuyck was stapled to the bench in Thursday’s 2-1 victory over New Jersey, a game in which backup Eric Comrie stole the show with 33 saves, many of them stellar. Interim coach Dave Lowry hoped an extra day of rest for his No. 1 netminder might help the cause, given how much Hellebuyck was struggled lately.

It didn’t work.

Hellebuyck was beaten for at least four goals for his sixth straight outing, a miserable stretch in which the red light has gone off 26 times behind him. But he certainly didn’t get much help in front of him, with the big, heavy Islanders basically having their way on his doorstep.

A failure to box out, coupled with plenty of juicy rebounds, made for a dangerous combination.

“That’s the bread and butter of their game,” said Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey. “They play a very structured game. They play physical and they don’t give you a lot of freebies. They go to the front of the net, they’ve got a strong forecheck and they put pucks there. Obviously, they won a few battles in front and got rewarded for it.”

Still, Morrissey bristled at any suggestion Hellebuyck is letting his team down and not pulling his weight.

“That’s something that, for me, bothers me, because he’s been the heart and soul of our team back there since we’ve been relevant in the league,” he said.

“I understand that, when you’re goaltender, you get that criticism and he puts more pressure on himself than any external source could, whether it’s media or anything like that. But you know what, it’s not fair to him. I mean, when you’ve got guys whacking at pucks in front of the net, that’s a tough place to ask your goaltender to make a second, third, fourth save. I certainly know that everyone in that room has full confidence in Helly and the type of goaltender he is so we’re not worried at all. We got to do a better job in front of him and make his job easier. We haven’t been good enough in front of him defensively.”

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck stops a scoring chance against New York Islanders’ Mathew Barzal with the help of teammate Kyle Connor during the first period on Friday in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jim McIsaac)

Brock Nelson opened the scoring on the power play at 6:38 of the first period, beating Hellebuyck high with a one-timer off a beautiful feed from Anthony Beauvillier.

Kyle Connor tied it up at 16:58, blasting a shot past Semyon Varlamov that came on a two-on-one rush with Nikolaj Ehlers. Neal Pionk had sprung the pair with an outlet pass that seemed to caught the Islanders sleeping. It’s Connor’s team-leading 36th of the year, putting him within two goals of his career-high.

“Very surprised. I actually thought that they had a guy coming from the bench. I’ve never been that open,” Ehlers said of the play. “Obviously, you go for breakaways, but a two-on-(none) like that, I’ve never seen that happen. So, we were able to score on that, which was obviously a huge goal.”

Despite not being at their best in the opening 20 minutes, the Jets found themselves deadlocked. But it quickly came unravelled in the middle frame, as the home team struck twice in 40 seconds to jump ahead, this time for good. Josh Bailey at 1:09 and Anders Lee at 1:49 had the Islanders firmly in control.

“Obviously (it was) very frustrating starting the second period like that. You don’t want to start any period like that. We were watching the puck, it’s as simple as that,” said Ehlers.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler gave his club some life just 20 seconds into the third as a puck bounced off his leg and in. Dylan DeMelo’s point shot actually hit teammate Paul Stastny, then Wheeler. They don’t ask how, just how many, right? Unfortunately for Winnipeg, Wheeler’s eighth of the year wasn’t nearly enough.

Bailey made it 4-2 with his second of the night at 7:14, and then Cal Clutterbuck added an empty-netter later in the final frame.

“If you look at the goals that we gave up, we gave up a couple of rebound goals. But we’re not going to sit here and point out the individuals or whatever. We have to defend harder and it goes to puck management and it goes to details,” said Lowry.

Hellebuyck ended up making 33 saves on 37 shots, while Varlamov had 27 stops for the victory. The Islanders are well out of the Eastern Conference playoff race but won in their new building, beautiful UBS Arena, for the second time in 24 hours. They downed Columbus 6-0 on Thursday.

New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov stops a scoring chance by Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele during the third period. (AP Photo/Jim McIsaac)

Winnipeg didn’t earn a single power play against the Islanders, after drawing just two a night earlier against the Devils. That would seem to suggest they aren’t doing enough to force their opponents to break the NHL rulebook to thwart them. New York went one-for-four.

“Well, I don’t think our style of play has changed. We were on a run where we were getting six (per game). That’s all I will say,” said Lowry, clearly not thrilled with the officiating. Neither was centre Mark Scheifele, who thought he’d been thrown out of the game in the final minutes and headed down the tunnel. He came back on the ice seconds later, learning he’d just been given two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Frustration is clearly boiling over, with time quickly running out on the season. The Jets chartered to St. Louis following the game, and they’ll close out this trip on Sunday night against the Blues.

“We have to be disappointed with the result tonight, but we also have to now reset again and get ready to play another big game,” said Lowry.

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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