ANAHEIM — As Connor Hellebuyck goes, so do the Winnipeg Jets most games. And so it’s not surprising that a rare off night for the No. 1 goaltender meant a rough ride for his team.
The Anaheim Ducks used an explosive second period to chase Hellebuyck from the crease and skate away with a 7-4 victory over the Jets Tuesday night at Honda Center.
Winnipeg falls to 6-7-0 on the year. Anaheim improves to 8-6-0.
"There wasn’t a whole lot given up. I’m not putting it on the goalie. He’s been too good for us up until this point. It was just off. It wasn’t easy for him around the net. Nothing was clean for him," coach Paul Maurice said as he broke down the latest disappointing defeat.
The Jets were kicking off a three-game road trip, looking to build off a recent run of mostly solid defensive play, which included a 2-1 overtime victory over the Calgary Flames in the Heritage Classic last Saturday in Regina, but the Ducks were able to expose some of the warts in the Jets lineup, which only got worse when Patrik Laine was unable to play due to a lower-body injury, and Adam Lowry was forced to sit out due to a suspension.
"They score a couple breakaway goals, a faceoff goal, things that shouldn’t happen in a hockey game at this level," said captain Blake Wheeler, who sat quietly at his stall for some time as media entered the room, then slowly got up to speak. It's clear this up-and-down season is taking a toll.
"I think we need a consistent approach from everyone, not just defencemen. It’s forwards coming back, you know, kind of building a team identity defensively where we know the forwards are filling in for the D and the D can be aggressive so we’re not giving up these big chances," he said.
Maurice dressed 11 forwards and seven defencemen, which included forward Logan Shaw and defenceman Luca Sbisa playing their first games for Winnipeg. That meant plenty of rotation and instability on the back end.
"I don’t think we’re allowed to use any excuses for a game like that," Wheeler said when asked if that contributed to the end result.
Nikolaj Ehlers got the visitors off to a strong start when he scored just 55 seconds in, finishing off a great play that began with a long stretch pass from Tucker Poolman and a feed from Jack Roslovic.
After Cam Fowler tied it at the midway mark, Wheeler grabbed the lead back a couple minutes later when he buried a poor clearing attempt by Anaheim goalie John Gibson. Wheeler snapped a six-game pointless streak in the process, one of the longest of his career.
Winnipeg took the 2-1 advantage into intermission, but the wheels quickly came off in the middle frame.
Ryan Getzlaf tied it just 38 seconds into the period, beating a surprised Hellebuyck with a one-timer right off a faceoff draw. Hellebuyck didn’t appear ready for the shot, and it showed.
Adam Henrique gave the home team the lead at 6:38 off a deflection. Ehlers replied just 42 seconds later with his team-leading sixth of the year, this time knocking home a rebound following a Bryan Little shot.
But then Troy Terry at 8:00 on a breakaway, and Derek Grant off a deflection at 9:10 had the Jets reeling. Hellebuyck’s night was over after surrendering five goals on 19 shots — four on six shots in the second period. To put that in perspective, Hellebuyck had given up just six goals over his past four games.
"It definitely didn’t bounce very good for me. There were a couple that I didn’t even see. It was hard to track it. It’s not like I’m coming in here and saying that I’m bad. I liked a lot of my game. I was just a little bit off," said Hellebuyck.
"I liked the way I was playing, I liked the way I was feeling and I liked the way I was seeing the puck. For some reason, I just couldn’t get any of the lucky bounces, and I didn’t see any of the releases very well."
Little got the Jets back within one just over six minutes into the third period, as he took a pass from Ehlers and blasted a shot past Gibson, but with the Jets pressing for the equalizer late in the frame, Carter Rowney snuck in behind Winnipeg’s defence, got a breakaway pass and beat Laurent Brossoit, who stopped seven of the eight shots he faced in relief of Hellebuyck.
"Not cheating for offence. Trying to keep the puck alive. We’re just trying to keep the puck alive. There’s not enough time on the clock to be sitting off or pulling off," Maurice said of what went wrong on that play.
Rowney fired an empty-netter with three seconds remaining to finish the scoring.
Gibson finished with 36 stops, including nine on Kyle Connor, who was buzzing all night but couldn’t score.
"I didn’t love his game, but that’s how good Kyle is. You don’t love his game and he still has five A chances in the game. He’s that good. I didn’t like the icing (that he took), I didn’t like a couple of other plays, but Kyle wouldn’t have been alone in that," said Maurice.
Special teams continue to be an issue for the Jets. They went 0-for-2 on their power play, which began the night ranked 22nd in the NHL. Wheeler is still stuck at zero power play points this season after posting 33 last year.
"Listen, it’s not easy, we’re a young hockey club, we have a hard time moving the puck. Lots of pressure on him to put pucks in the net, but he’s been good with those kids and he’s been working his ass off, as he always does," Maurice said of Wheeler.
Winnipeg did kill off the only penalty they took, which is an accomplishment for the league’s worst-ranked team in that department.
The road trip continues with games Friday in San Jose and Saturday in Las Vegas.
"This is an anomaly, we’ve got to put this one behind us. I don’t see that happening too often. From there on out, it’s just closing things down. Making sure I’m seeing the pucks and making sure that they’re not getting any clean chances. We are right there, right there," said Hellebuyck.
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.
Updated on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 at 12:46 AM CDT: Full write through, adds quotes.