Depleted Jets can’t contain Wild

Injury-ravaged club’s losing streak hits season-high three games


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Make no mistake: The “try” factor was dialed high, with the Winnipeg Jets working their tails off Tuesday night. Unfortunately, the talent pool is painfully shallow right now, the result of a rash of injuries that now has seven regulars out of the lineup.

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Make no mistake: The “try” factor was dialed high, with the Winnipeg Jets working their tails off Tuesday night. Unfortunately, the talent pool is painfully shallow right now, the result of a rash of injuries that now has seven regulars out of the lineup.

The end result was a hard-fought but ultimately futile effort against the Minnesota Wild, one that ended in a frustrating 4-1 loss at Canada Life Centre.

It’s the third straight setback for the Jets, the first time that’s happened all year. They remain in second place in the Central Division with a 21-13-1 record, but are 3-6-0 in the last nine. Right behind them are the surging Wild, who improve to 20-12-2 with their seventh win in the last eight games.

“I think after every loss there is urgency. You want to get back on the right foot and you want to put it behind you and get back to playing well and executing and doing what you know can make you successful,” said forward Adam Lowry.

“Losing three in a row is frustrating and tough, but we need to find a way to stop the skid and start compiling points again.”

Let’s head inside the downtown rink for a further look at what went down:

1 Winnipeg didn’t exactly come roaring out of the three-day holiday break, as Jared Spurgeon and Mats Zuccarello gave the visitors a quick 2-0 lead by scoring 64 seconds apart early in the first period.

“The details and the urgency of what we’re doing… things have got to improve,” said Jets coach Rick Bowness.

“That’s why we’re down 2-0. The urgency has to be there right away. The details have to be there right away. They can’t get better as the game goes on. Our margin of error right now is slim. It is. We have to live with that reality, which is fine. The solution is to make sure that our details are… We’re ready to start games at a very high level of urgency and we’re ready to pay attention to details.”

Pierre-Luc Dubois cut the deficit in half a few minutes later, but that’s as close as Winnipeg would get. Frederick Gaudreau added a valuable second-period insurance marker and Samuel Walker sealed it with an empty-netter.

Filip Gustavsson stopped 31 of 32 shots to lead his team to victory. Connor Hellebuyck made 24 saves on 27 shots in a losing effort.

2 With so many skilled players unavailable — Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler and Cole Perfetti represent 50 per cent of the team’s top six skaters from opening night — Bowness decided to try and put all his proverbial eggs in one basket.

That meant a top line of Dubois, Mark Scheifele (sliding over to the wing) and Kyle Connor.

It’s fair to say the results were mixed. The trio did combine for the lone goal, with Connor (and top-scoring defenceman Josh Morrissey) setting up Dubois for his 16th of the year. They generated plenty of other chances, too, while not giving up a whole lot in their own end.

The downside is loading up left an already thin roster even more depleted when it comes to the other three lines, which are already missing depth wingers Mason Appleton and Saku Maenalanen,

Consider this: The usual third line of Adam Lowry, Morgan Barron and Jansen Harkins became the second line Tuesday. And the bottom six was comprised of two Manitoba Moose call-ups (Kevin Stenlund and Michael Eyssimont) two waiver wire pickups (Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Karson Kuhlman), plus Sam Gagner and David Gustafsson.

Not surprisingly, they didn’t generate a whole lot.

“I don’t think we played up to the standard we expect out of everyone in terms of execution,” said Lowry. “Our passing wasn’t very crisp, decision making, reads off faceoffs, reads in and on them. I think we can play fast and be more aggressive on the forecheck. We can create more turnovers that will lead to extended zone time.”

The NHL holiday trade freeze ends today, but don’t hold your breath waiting for a big move from GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. The internal plan appears to keep trying to tread water until some of the injured can return, which could start to happen in waves as early as next week.

3 When the margin between success and failure is razor-thin, you really need to dominate the special teams battle. That didn’t happen in this one.

Minnesota went one-for-one on the power play (Spurgeon), and killed off both penalties they took. Neither Winnipeg man advantage looked dangerous. And the goal from Gaudreau came just seconds after Zuccarello stepped out of the sin bin, then fed his linemate for an easy backdoor tap-in.

The Jets (and their fans) were angry late in the game when Connor took an obvious high-stick to the face from Wild forward Sam Steel, which either went undetected or was ignored by the men in stripes.

“We’re clearly frustrated, everybody’s pissed off,” said defenceman Brenden Dillon. “When you don’t get those calls, there’s maybe going to be nights where those calls do go your way. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way on that one.”

4 There was big scare in the first period as Morrissey appeared to jam his wrist while throwing a check on Matt Boldy, then went straight to the dressing room in pain. Fortunately, he returned moments later and never missed a shift.

Winnipeg is already without Nate Schmidt and Logan Stanley on the back-end, and losing Morrissey (now up to a career-high 40 points in 35 games) would be devastating.

“When he came back there is just huge relief,” said Lowry. “He is the anchor on the back end there, he’s been so critical for us in every situation.”

5 One major strength for Winnipeg this season has been play in their own division. Minnesota has been the lone exception.

The Jets are now 11-3-0 against the Central, but two of those three losses have come to the Wild — by a combined score of 10-2.

To be clear, this latest result bore no resemblance to the 6-1 debacle in St. Paul last month, which is arguably the worst effort of the year. The rivals will meet twice more this season.

6 From the department of bad timing… Tuesday’s game was a sellout (15,325 fans), which is just the third time all season Canada Life Centre was jam-packed.

Unfortunately, the Jets are now 0-3 in those games, getting outscored 11-2 in the process. (4-1 loss to Toronto on Oct. 22, 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 19, 4-1 loss to Minnesota on Dec. 27).

Incredibly, they are 12-3 in the other 15 home games that involved some empty seats. Tuesday marked the start of a stretch where Winnipeg plays five of the next six in friendly quarters, with the lone exception being the New Year’s Eve game in Edmonton.

Up next: The Jets will try to get back on track when they host the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

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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