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Lacklustre Jets lose 4-1 to lowly Canadiens

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MONTREAL – The Winnipeg Jets have put forth several quality efforts this season, rightfully earning their position atop the Western Conference. Tuesday, however, was not one of those games.

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MONTREAL – The Winnipeg Jets have put forth several quality efforts this season, rightfully earning their position atop the Western Conference. Tuesday, however, was not one of those games.

The Jets opened a season-long, five-game road trip with a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of the lowly Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. Winnipeg was outclassed by their opponent from the get-go, scrambling to gain momentum early on before the night went off the rails in the final 40 minutes.

“We weren’t skating. Our legs weren’t going. Our compete wasn’t good. Our execution was way off. There’s very few games that we’re going to walk out of a rink and say we didn’t deserve to win but that’s certainly one tonight,” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “We didn’t deserve to win that game. We were behind them all night and made it very easy for them to play their game. When the compete isn’t there and the legs (aren’t) there and the execution isn’t there, then you look bad. We looked bad.”

Josh Anderson made it 4-1 for Montreal in the third, ending any chance of a Winnipeg comeback. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)

The Jets dropped to 29-15-4 on the year in what was just their second loss in the last 10 games, moving them into a tie for first place in the West. It was also just the second loss to the Canadiens in the last eight games between the two clubs.

Montreal improved to 19-23-3, a record that keeps them second last in the Eastern Conference as the Canadiens are playing some of their best hockey of the year, despite a rash of injuries, with victories in three of their last four games.

Let’s dig a little deeper into this one…

1) The Jets didn’t get off to the start they had hoped to kick off a long road trip. They left the scoreless first period unscathed but were nonetheless outplayed by the Canadiens through the opening 20 minutes.

Winnipeg took two penalties in the frame and killed them off with relative ease. Credit to the Jets penalty killers for allowing just one shot against over the four minutes, while killing off another penalty early in the second to end the game a perfect three-for-three.

Still, the Jets were limited to just six shots in the period versus a Canadiens team that entered the game averaging 34 shots against per game – good enough for 28th among 32 teams.

“I wish I knew. I would tell you,” Jets forward Kyle Connor said when asked what contributed to the slow start. “We’re all going to look in the mirror and figure that one out. We really haven’t practised much, so we’ve got to really bear down and be sharp there and kind of work on a lot of things like execution. Just be crisp on every pass and clean up some areas and then we’ll be all right.”

Had it not been for the play of Connor Hellebuyck, who was forced to make several quality stops, ending the night with 24 saves, the Jets could have easily been down a pair of goals heading into the second period. Instead, the Jets’ sluggish play out of the gate foreshadowed what was to come in the second.

2) Indeed, the second period was not friendly to the visitors, even if it began with a positive, as Connor beat goalie Samuel Montembeault at the 1:24 mark for his 200th NHL goal, giving Winnipeg a 1-0 lead. With the power-play goal, set up by Josh Morrissey and Nikolaj Ehlers, the Jets are now 8-for-21 on the man advantage over the last six games against the Canadiens for a success rate of 38 per cent.

The Canadiens would take over from there, scoring three goals in the period, including a pair over the span of one minute and 42 seconds. Evgenii Dadonov wired a one-timer past Hellebuyck, who had just made three quality stops, to put the Canadiens on the board.

Mike Hoffman made it 2-1 Montreal with a high and hard shot that beat Hellebuyck blocker side. Dadonov scored his second of the game with fewer than seven minutes remaining in the period, cleaning up a Christian Dvorak rebound at the side of the net.

“They come out hot at home,” said Morrissey. “Overall, our start wasn’t good enough and we managed to get the one, but after that we couldn’t get anything going.”

The outburst of goals gave all the momentum to the Canadiens and created a buzz in the Bell Centre that proved difficult to subdue. After Josh Anderson made it 4-1 in the third, ending any chance of a comeback, the crowd began their ritual of chant of “Ole…Ole, Ole, Ole” with more than 14 minutes remaining.

3) The Jets looked visibly frustrated after the game, a clear sign that this one stung. Asked whether they might have taken the Canadiens lightly, both Connor and Bowness shot down the suggestion.

The Jets had been rolling of late, entering the game with wins in eight of their previous nine. To open a road trip with a loss to a Canadiens team that’s not only well below them in the standings, while also severely banged up, with several key players sidelined with injury, made this one particularly tough to swallow.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without that being a proud group,” said Bowness. “They knew they were off tonight. Now we’re going to be challenged Thursday in Toronto and we better answer the bell.”

The Jets aren’t going to play 82 perfect games, and they deserve the benefit of the doubt for how well they’ve played this year, but if they want to finish atop the West, you can’t afford to fall to teams you’re supposed to beat.

Winnipeg has done a good job of besting lesser clubs, and there’s a few more coming up here on the road trip, including back-to-back tilts against the struggling Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers Saturday and Sunday.

4) Bowness didn’t view the loss as a wake-up call or kick in the pants, but it should provide some motivation for what will be a stiff challenge Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs are coming off a 5-4 overtime win over the Florida Panthers, the victory giving them some breathing room on the Tampa Bay Lightning for second place in the Atlantic Division with 61 points – two more than the Jets in the same amount of games — behind the Boston Bruins.

“I’m sure the coaches will find some areas we can improve on, but I don’t think it was necessarily tactical stuff today,” said Morrissey. “We sat back and we weren’t on our toes and we didn’t have our skating legs. That’s something that’s easy to fix. We’ll have to be ready to go against a top team here in a couple of days. It’s a big game, always one you shouldn’t have a hard time getting up for, for sure.”

The Jets have shown a strong ability to bounce back from losses this season; only three times this year have they lost consecutive games, but they’ve struggled with teams in the East, boasting an 8-7-0 record against the Conference this year.

Jeff.Hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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