Jets skid out in Motor City

Winnipeg loses 7-5 to Detroit


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DETROIT — Connor Hellebuyck’s latest homecoming was not a very happy one. A rare off night by the Michigan-born netminder — not to mention another slow start by the group in front of him — came back to bite the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

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DETROIT — Connor Hellebuyck’s latest homecoming was not a very happy one. A rare off night by the Michigan-born netminder — not to mention another slow start by the group in front of him — came back to bite the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

A 7-5 loss to the Detroit Red Wings brings a season-high five-game winning streak to a screeching halt in the Motor City. Winnipeg was definitely asleep at the wheel as they fell behind 3-0 in the opening period, then spent the rest of the night trying to rev the engines and play catch-up.

Winnipeg falls to 26-14-1 as they hit the official midway point of the season. They are in second place in the Central Division, three points behind Dallas (with a game in hand), and third overall in the Western Conference. Detroit snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 17-15-7.

Former Winnipeg Jet Andrew Copp is chased by Pierre-Luc Dubois in the third period on Tuesday. (Paul Sancya / The Associated Press)

Here’s a detailed look at where this one went off the road:

1) Where, oh where, has the attention to defensive detail gone?

The Jets were pretty loose on Sunday in a 7-4 win over Vancouver, then trumped that with how they started this one. Poor puck management and turnovers galore proved costly. And Hellebuyck, who has been arguably the NHL’s best goaltender this season, couldn’t bail them out.

“I just think that we’ve been giving up way too many chances against. Not just chances that are lots of shots. We’re giving up a lot of Grade A and Grade B chances,” said defenceman Nate Schmidt. “It’s a little bit uncharacteristic of us right now. We’re getting all of the offence we can get. We have enough to win in a game like tonight. It just comes down to us as guys to realize that’s not going to be the brand that we can win with. If you play any team here in this league, it’s going to be tough when you give up that many chances.”

Jake Walman (1;16, on the first shot of the game), Jonatan Berggren (7:21) and Oskar Sundqvist (15:27, on the ninth shot of the game) gave the crowd at Little Caesars Arena plenty to cheer about and put the Jets in a huge hole.

It’s probably not a coincidence the minor cracks in the defensive foundation are appearing at the same time four star players — Schmidt, Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler and Cole Perfetti — all returned at the same time late last week from injuries.

“With the fluctuation of the lines recently with everyone coming back, there’s some work to do to tighten things up and get everyone on the same page,” said coach Rick Bowness.

Hellebuyck, playing in front of dozens of family and friends, was ultimately beaten six times on just 22 shots. Ville Husso stopped 32 of 37 shots at the other end of the rink.

“He’s a battler. He’s our guy. He’s won us a lot of games this year. He’s going to win us some more,” Bowness said of Hellebuyck.

2) At least the offence is firing on all cylinders:

Winnipeg has scored a dozen goals in the past two games. Ten have been at five-on-five, one shorthanded and one on the power play. There’s no question an already potent offence prior to getting some of the walking wounded back is even more dangerous now.

“The last 50 minutes we outplayed them, out chanced them, had a lot of zone time and a lot of possession, but it’s tough when you spot them a few,” said forward Sam Gagner.

Defenceman Neal Pionk cut the deficit to 3-1 when he scored his seventh of the year at 17:17 of the first. After Dominik Kubalik restored the three-goal lead at 2:57 of the second, the Jets really made things interesting as Gagner (eighth of the year at 9:46) and Schmidt (fourth of the year) at 12:08 both beat Husso.

Winnipeg had all the momentum. Until…

3) A pair of penalties happened at the worst possible time:

A David Gustafsson tripping infraction and a Brenden Dillon high-sticking minor 32 seconds later put them two men down for an extended period. Winnipeg survived the first 62 seconds of the five-on-three deficit, but Adam Lowry whiffing on a clearing chance quickly turned into a Dylan Larkin one-timer goal at 17:38.

“It’s a tough one. You have to continue to push forward,” Gagner said of that sudden turn of events.

“Our kill has done an amazing job for us all year. It’s one of those things just the timing of it, and it compounds. For the most part, it’s not really an area of concern for us. We’ve been disciplined all year, we’ve been great on the kill all year. It’s one of those things that it happens in a game, we’re gathering momentum. I think the story of tonight is more on our start and having to climb back. We did a really good job of climbing back, but we shouldn’t put ourselves in that position.”

4) The mountain was just too high:

Ehlers made things interesting when he scored his second of the year 33 seconds into the third, but Robby Fabbri answered for Detroit at 1:52. The Jets again pulled within a goal at 14:55 as Mark Scheifele scored his team-leading 24th on the power play, but that’s as close as they would get.

With Hellebuyck pulled for the extra attacker, the Jets had all kinds of chances and even came within an inch or two of tying it as Pionk hit the post and Scheifele had a pair of deflections turned away before an empty-netter by Lucas Raymond at 18:40 sealed their fate.

“We had more than enough chances to win the hockey game,” said Bowness. “We had 85 shot attempts, we had a ton of scoring chances even at the end with the goalie out. He made some big, big saves. So give him credit.”

A disappointing result, and one that serves up an important reminder.

“We want to get into games and get offence and you want to continue getting offence, but sometimes you realize what you have done has worked. You don’t have to go looking for it,” said Schmidt.

5) Hey now, he’s not an All-Star: The loss cost the Jets more than just two points in the standings. It also means Bowness won’t be headed to Florida next month to coach in the All-Star game.

A victory would have left Winnipeg with the top winning percentage in the Central Division by Wednesday’s cutoff. Instead, Dallas’s Pete DeBoer will have the honours after his club got help on the out-of-town scoreboard and then beat the New York Islanders 2-1 in a shootout.

Bowness was asked about it earlier in the day and said it wasn’t on his mind at all. Perhaps he’ll enjoy the bonus rest and relaxation, but it would have been a nice honour for both the well-respected bench boss and the organization.

6) Sick bay: A pair of players were scratched from the lineup as they battle non-COVID illness. Defenceman Ville Heinola was slated to play after a pair of healthy scratches and take the place of Dylan Samberg. And forward Kevin Stenlund was going to keep his spot. Instead, Samberg remained in and Gustafsson got the call. Kyle Capobianco was the lone healthy scratch.

“A couple of (other) guys probably not feeling 100 per cent, but certainly good enough to play,” Bowness said of a bug that has been going around the room for the last couple of weeks. “At this time of the year you’re banged up a little bit, you’re fatigued a little bit. Everyone is around the league, so deal with it.”

Next up: The road trip continues on Thursday in Buffalo, then wraps up Friday in Pittsburgh.

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.


Updated on Tuesday, January 10, 2023 10:43 PM CST: Fixes typo in deck

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