Kyle Connor’s saucy sleight-of-hand tally was a delicious distraction from an otherwise bland and uninspiring performance from the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.
The Jets had a rapid heart rate on a couple of power plays and again late in the game with goalie Connor Hellebuyck on the bench in a last-ditch effort to even the score, but barely produced a pulse the rest of the time, gifting the San Jose Sharks two points in a 3-2 Valentine’s Day triumph for the visitors.
Melker Karlsson and Timo Meier erased a 2-1 deficit with goals 89 seconds apart in the third period to spark the Pacific Division’s seventh-place squad.
The Jets finished with 32 shots on goalie Aaron Dell, however, 20 of those came with the Sharks a man short, representing just over seven minutes of game action. The hosts had 14 shots on three power-play chances and directed another six Dell’s way late in the game with the net empty.
While Jets head coach Paul Maurice tempered his words during a post-game chat with the media, it was relatively easy to decode his unflattering assessment.
"Spent an awful lot of time fooling around with the puck in the neutral zone. And then you’re left with two or three empty nets that you think that on a normal, relaxed night you’re putting those in and you’re not thinking twice about it. I don’t have an answer on why the real clear one, the clean ones, aren’t going in," he said. "But you have those nights and you need to survive them off the other things that you create, the broken plays to the net, a puck thrown at the net, jammed at the net. Clearly, that wasn’t available (Friday).
"The speed that you have to generate against a trap is almost easily generated, for the most part. I don’t think it’s a difficult system to get through — at least to get a hard rim in on — and I don’t think we wanted to do that."
The Jets (29-25-5) have lost two straight after a 4-0-1 run and remain a point back of the Arizona Coyotes — with a game in hand — for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Connor tied the game 1-1 on the power play at 8:21 of the middle period with one of the most eye-popping goals in Jets 2.0 history. Stationed at the goal-line near the right post, he took a pass from Blake Wheeler, stepped in front, slipped the biscuit between his legs and flipped his 29th goal high to the stick side.
"Honestly, it was just kind of instincts. I just got the puck and I knew he dropped down there, just have to get to the other side, right? Just instincts, I guess," said Connor.
On Monday, Dell was victimized in the same fashion by Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk.
Connor’s goal caused a ripple effect, and just 86 seconds later Wheeler wired his 18th goal of the season after receiving a fine feed from Andrew Copp.
Winnipeg pushed for the equalizer over the final 90 seconds at 6-on-5. Mark Scheifele had a couple of sensational scoring opportunities, including one from in tight with just over a minute left in regulation. Connor had two chances late but had a shot deflected into the netting and then rattled the post with 20 seconds to go.
"It’s frustrating to not cash in there. Had the right guys with the puck in the right areas. It just wasn’t meant to be," said Wheeler.
Sharks forward Marcus Sorensen opened the scoring in controversial fashion, jamming in his sixth goal of the season on a goal-mouth frenzy with just over five minutes left in the first period.
Maurice challenged the play, insisting goalie Connor Hellebuyck was pushed and spun deep into the back of the cage during the scrum. But the goal stood and Winnipeg was forced to kill a two-minute minor penalty for the lost challenge.
The rationale from the NHL Situation Room was that Sorensen was making a play on a loose puck, and that some contact is allowed in the crease. Maurice wasn’t buying it after the game.
"I’m making that call all day long and it really doesn’t matter what they say. There’s no way they can tell me that’s not goalie interference. It’s two sticks into his pad that pushes him behind the line. I understand the puck goes five-hole on him but that’s the reason why. He’s spread open on the two sticks that push him behind the goal-line," he said.
"It’s not going to matter. I don’t understand it. I’m not going to agree that they’re ever right on that call."
Ex-Jets forward Evander Kane was public enemy No. 1, targetting blue-liner Neal Pionk with an overtly illegal elbow in the offensive zone with about seven minutes left in the final frame. But Dell turned aside six shots with Kane in the box.
Kane clobbered Pionk earlier in the game, drilling him away from the puck, which led to Connor’s memorable goal on the power play.
The Jets host the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
Updated on Friday, February 14, 2020 at 9:00 PM CST: Adds photos
11:11 PM: Full write through