Jets can’t solve Swayman
Bruins capitalize on mistakes to build insurmountable lead
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The Winnipeg Jets played a solid overall hockey game on Thursday night. The kind of game that, against the majority of NHL opponents, would probably earn them at least a point, maybe two, in the standings.
Problem is, it was the Boston Bruins standing in the way at Canada Life Centre. And the league’s best team showed why they have left everyone in their dust, sticking to their structure, taking advantage of their chances and grinding out a 3-0 victory.
Bruins sophomore netminder Jeremy Swayman stopped all 36 shots he faced for his third shutout of the season. Connor Hellebuyck stopped 21 of 23 shots.
“There’s no real moral victories at this point of the season, right?” said Jets forward Adam Lowry. “It’s really disappointing. We need these points. They’re so critical right now and we’re almost scoreboard watching every night right now. So, it would have been nice to see a few of those go in.”
Winnipeg falls to 38-28-3 and now have just four wins in their last 15 games (4-9-2). They continue to hold down the final Western Conference wildcard spot with a four-point cushion over the Nashville Predators, who lost 2-1 on home ice to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Boston improves to an astounding 51-11-5, ensuring the first two-game losing streak of the season didn’t extend any further.
“We couldn’t bury our chances. We were right there,” said defenceman Brenden Dillon. “We knew them, being the top team in the league, it was going to be a good test for us. I think we proved it to ourselves that we could have easily won that game tonight.”
1. Excellent teams will find ways to make you pay for your mistakes. And that was certainly the case in this one.
Both Boston goals (not including the empty-netter from Tomas Nosek with six seconds remaining) came off blown plays by Winnipeg.
The first, just 50 seconds into the game, saw the Jets completely forget about Trent Frederic standing all alone in front of their net. Fortunately for the Bruins, Tyler Bertuzzi saw him, feeding a perfect pass that Frederic buried.
Jets defenceman Dylan Samberg had tried to throw a hit on the Bruins zone entry and was late getting back to the front of the net. His blue-line partner, Nate Schmidt, was tied up with Bertuzzi in the corner. Winger Kyle Connor was, too. And Mark Scheifele was too far away from the slot to get to Frederic in time. Nino Niederreiter, the other winger, was on the far-side and had no chance,
Pavel Zacha made it 2-0 after Nikolaj Ehlers failed to get the puck in deep, turning it over in the neutral zone which led to a Bruins 2-on-1 rush. Neal Pionk was far too high on the play and couldn’t get back in time, with Schmidt the lone man back. Zacha may have used Schmidt as a screen, wiring a shot just under the crossbar and in at 13:22.
A two-goal deficit against such an elite outfit seemed insurmountable at the time. And it proved to be the case.
2. The Jets did get their fair share of chances.
The most glorious came in the first period when Connor was absolutely robbed by Swayman, and then Scheifele was the victim of grand theft larceny courtesy of a sliding Charlie McAvoy. Both players couldn’t believe it. Winnipeg also hit a pair of posts in the middle frame, with Schmidt and Connor ringing iron.
Swayman wasn’t just really good. He was also really lucky. However, Jets coach Rick Bowness believes his group didn’t make life difficult enough for Swayman.
“They block a lot of shots. Their forwards really do a good job rushing out on our D. Our D are getting a lot of attention now because they’re a big part of our offence,” Bowness said of the Bruins successful strategy.
“A lot of the time, their defence weren’t even worried about our forwards. They just stepped in front of the shot. They block a lot of shots, their defence. They did a good job around the net. When we got in there, the puck wasn’t there. Just a little out of sync that way.
3. A power play goal or two would help. And the Jets had plenty of chances with the man advantage. Five in total, but failing to convert on any of them.
One constant storyline continues to be the curious usage of Ehlers, who is the team’s most dynamic forward and a master at zone entries and getting possession established. But he continues to languish on the second power play unit, which rarely sees the ice as the top guns typically stay out for the majority.
Here’s the full power play icetime breakdown from Thursday:
Blake Wheeler, 6:49. Josh Morrissey, 6:39. Connor, 6:32. Niederreiter, 6:22. Scheifele, 6:16. Vladislav Namestnikov, 2:04. Ehlers, 1:58. Schmidt, 1:41. Pionk, 1:31. Adam Lowry, 1:28. Dylan DeMelo, 0:20.
The power play, once a potent weapon for Winnipeg, has gone ice cold in recent weeks.
“They had some good looks. They did,” said Bowness. “We had 10 shots on net, a couple that they blocked. You get five opportunities, or four and a half, you need the power play to put one in. But you give the goalie some credit. He made a couple saves there that he didn’t see. I know Mark’s shot was going in, he just stuck his arm up and it was one of those nights for him. We had a couple of tips that could have gone in so it was good. Does it have to be better? Yes.”
4. Speaking of Scheifele and Connor, plenty of eyes were focused on how the pair would respond after being benched for more than half of the second period in Winnipeg’s 5-3 loss in Carolina on Tuesday. Both players blew off post-game media requests, although they broke their silence following Thursday’s morning skate.
As mentioned above, they were victimized on the opening goal. But they also had plenty of great looks at the other end of the ice.
They each had six shots on goal, tied for the team high, meaning the duo accounted for 33 per cent of Winnipeg’s pucks on Swayman.
Connor just can’t buy one these days. He has not scored in the last eight games, has one in the last 12 games and just three in the previous 21 games.
UP NEXT: The Jets now hit the road for two more games, starting Saturday afternoon in Nashville against the Predators. Then it’s on to St. Louis on Sunday night to face the Blues.
“That’s going to be a huge game,” Lowry said. “We know where they are in the standings and, fortunately, we got a little bit of help with Chicago winning. But they have some games in hand and we play them a couple times, so we can kind of control our fate there. It’s going to be kind of one of those games where you have to limit the chances like we did tonight and just stick with it. I think for the most part if we keep forechecking like we have been we in the last couple of weeks, more often than not we’re going to come out on the right side.”
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.