Jets lethargic in 3-2 loss to Sabres


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There have been bigger blowouts and more lopsided losses, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a weaker effort than the one the Winnipeg Jets put forward in front of 13,589 fans Thursday at Canada Life Centre.

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There have been bigger blowouts and more lopsided losses, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a weaker effort than the one the Winnipeg Jets put forward in front of 13,589 fans Thursday at Canada Life Centre.

A lethargic 3-2 defeat to the Buffalo Sabres certainly flattered the home team. It wasn’t nearly that close, with the shot clock (36-21 for the visitors) much more indicative of the Jets’ performance.

“We’ve got 25 guys in this room who are not OK with our performance,” a dejected Nikolaj Ehlers said in the locker room.

Winnipeg entered the game with a chance to pull back into a first-place tie in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. Instead, they laid a big egg at the downtown barn and provided plenty of fodder for skeptics who question whether they are truly a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

They sure didn’t look the part in this one.

“The worst thing you can do is what we did tonight, just keep giving them the puck,” Bowness said. “We had bad puck management at both blue lines. And all you’re doing then is feeding their transition, feeding their speed. A lot of that is on us. We know their strengths. We know they’re a fast team, a highly-skilled team that can score, yet we were really stubborn with our puck management.”

The Jets fall to 31-18-1, including 2-4-0 in the past six games. The red-hot Sabres won for a fifth straight game to improve to 26-19-3 as they try to make the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.

Let’s break down where it went wrong.

1. There’s no question that, to a player, the Jets absolutely love Eric Comrie. He’s truly one of the nicest humans in sport, and it pained the organization to lose the long-time goaltender to free agency last summer.

That said, you’d think they might have tried to make his life a BIT more difficult.

Comrie’s night was relatively easy as he faced just 21 shots — including only 11 through the first 40 minutes. There were long stretches of play where he could have taken a nap in his crease as his new teammates dominated puck possession against his old ones.

Winnipeg fired six shots in the opening period, then added five more through the first 4:14 of the second. The next one came with 18:53 left in the third period, a stretch of 16:53 of game action and approximately 50 minutes of real time when you factor in the intermission.

“We didn’t really get out of our zone very well,” said defenceman Nate Schmidt. “I don’t think we had a lot of times where we had the puck on our stick and making the play to get out of the zone. Had a lot of times where we just weren’t confident with it.”

2. Buffalo is one of the most exciting up-and-coming teams in the NHL, with all kinds of young talent starting to emerge, and that was on display on their first two goals.

First off was defenceman Owen Power, the No. 1 overall pick from 2021 who didn’t score a goal in his first 45 games of the year. His short-side shot that beat Connor Hellebuyck at 10:32 of the second period was his third in as many games.

Next up was the dynamic Tage Thompson, who ripped home his team-leading 34th of the year after a gorgeous tic-tac-toe passing play with linemates Alex Tuch and Jeff Skinner. They fooled everyone on the ice, including Hellebuyck, as Tuch essentially gave Thompson a wide-open net to score on at 14:15.

3. Victor Olofsson had the final dagger at 10:30 of the third when he scored on the power play in what turned out to be the game-winner. But it was how the Sabres got the man advantage that was noteworthy.

Schmidt had attempted to throw a hit on Sabres forward Dylan Cozen near the Winnipeg bench. He missed, but his elbow ended up connecting with Cozens’ face as he spun around. Cozens was clearly woozy, barely able to stand under his own power and needing help off the ice.

There was no penalty originally called on the play, but then the referees huddled and ultimately reviewed what occurred on an iPad, then assessed a two-minute roughing minor. The whole sequence, including roughing (rather than elbowing) being assessed, was unusual.

“I don’t know. I’m not sure. I looked around and I didn’t see any hands up. I looked around and truly didn’t know what happened,” said Schmidt. “The puck was in his feet so I just tried to back into him, so in case he wasn’t looking down or anything at it, but just next thing I knew he was on the ground. I didn’t even know what kind of happened.”

4. Winnipeg finally got the wake-up call in the waning minutes.

The Jets snapped Comrie’s shutout bid with 4:46 left in the game as Schmidt scored his fifth of the season with his team on the power play. Then, with Hellebuyck pulled for the extra attacker, Pierre-Luc Dubois scored his 22nd on a scramble with 43 seconds remaining.

It was too little, too late.

“Good push, it shows that even though we don’t play well we keep fighting and have a goalie that gives us a chance to win every single game,” Ehlers said. “Sometimes you don’t deserve it, but he’s pretty fantastic.”

5. Winnipeg got slaughtered in the faceoff circle, which helps explain why it seems like the Sabres had the puck most of the night. It’s been a bone of contention for Bowness, with his team among the worst in the league on the draw.

The Jets won 19 out of 43 faceoffs, including only two of 14 in the first period when they earned a pair of power plays, but ultimately did very little with either as they spent most of the four minutes retrieving the puck in their own end and trying to re-group.

6. Speaking of Bowness, he was as animated as we’ve seen him all year. He nearly blew a gasket in the second period when the Jets had a three-on-one rush, yet didn’t manage to get off any real shot as they over-passed the puck. That’s something they’re often guilty of, and something Bowness has repeatedly harped on them to avoid.

Bowness was then observed pounding his hand against the glass seconds before Power opened the scoring, with his club once again hemmed in for long stretches of play. He could see the inevitable coming.

He tried to shake up his lineup, reuniting the trio of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler midway through the game. Ehlers had started the game with Scheifele and Wheeler, but was moved to play with Dubois and Cole Perfetti. He also switched up his defence pairs, putting Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk together in a bid to find some offence.

None of it worked.

“Well, I’m going to talk to a few of the guys (Friday). Get their feedback as to why,” said Bowness. “We had nothing going… well, at spurts. I want them to explain to me what they’re feeling.”

Up next: The Jets continue the homestand by hosting the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday at 6 p.m.

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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