Record: 52 – 20 – 10
PHILADELPHIA — Patrik Laine’s milestone goal wasn’t enough to keep the good times rolling for the injury-riddled Winnipeg Jets, who couldn’t match the level of a desperate Philadelphia team Saturday.
Looking to make it five straight victories, the Jets instead dropped a 2-1 decision to the Flyers in a matinee at Wells Fargo Center.
Laine scored the only goal of the game for Winnipeg, and the third-period tally was certainly a big one. His 40th of the year ties him with Alexander Ovechkin for most in the NHL this season. It also gives him 76 for his career, putting him in a tie for third all-time with Wayne Gretzky and Brian Bellows for most NHL goals by a teenager. Only Jimmy Carson (92) and Dale Hawerchuk (85) are ahead of him.
"It was a tough game. It was a tight one. We had a lot of good scoring chances, but I think Mrazek was really good," said Laine, who wasn’t in a celebratory post-game mood despite now having 15 goals and six assists in his past 11 games.
"I’m not happy because we lost. But maybe tomorrow I’ll be happier. I got to be proud of myself. (40 goals) is a great number. But now it doesn’t feel good," he said.
Petr Mrazek made 27 saves while Claude Giroux and Andrew MacDonald scored in the second period for Philadelphia, which snapped a five-game winless streak as they fight to stay in the tight playoff race. Winnipeg falls to 41-18-9, including 3-1-0 on this season-long six-game road trip.
The Jets had to scramble once again due to injury, this time to defenceman Toby Enstrom. Tucker Poolman was recalled on an emergency basis from the Manitoba Moose and had to rush from Chicago to Philadelphia in time to dress. Enstrom has a nagging lower-body issue that flared up again and is considered day-to-day. Winnipeg was also without Dmitry Kulikov, who was hurt Thursday night in New Jersey. Joe Morrow replaced him, and skated in a pairing with Poolman. Other regulars out of the lineup with injuries included Jacob Trouba, Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry and Steve Mason.
Head coach Paul Maurice also got the blender out as the game progressed, trying to find a spark, including some badly needed secondary scoring. It didn’t work.
"To get that game tied we needed somebody to find the back of the net. We’ve got a few guys that it’s been a while. We were just OK for the most part. We had a few guys fighting the puck," Maurice said following the game.
Mathieu Perreault began the day on a unit with Matt Hendricks and Jack Roslovic, but was later moved up with Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little. Andrew Copp started off with Joel Armia and Brandon Tanev, but was joined later in the game by Roslovic and fellow rookie Kyle Connor. Hendricks took Copp’s place on that line. The only line that stayed intact was the red-hot trio of Paul Stastny with Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers.
Laine was sent flying late in the second period off a big hit from Travis Konecny, and defensive specialist Sean Couturier clung to him like glue at times in the game. It’s perhaps a sign of what’s ahead for the Jets as opponents try to step up and limit Laine’s chances.
One encouraging sign for Winnipeg on Saturday was their continued prowess killing penalties. The Jets were two-for-two, and have now killed off 22 straight minor penalties on the road dating back to late January.
Giroux opened the scoring 5:40 into the second period on a delayed penalty call to Winnipeg. With the Jets scrambling in their own end, Giroux patiently waited out Hellebuyck and beat him with a low, hard shot.
Hellebuyck looked to have made a miraculous save just over two minutes later, getting a glove on MacDonald’s wrister. Play continued, but the horn sounded seconds later in the arena indicating the NHL wanted to have an immediate look. Replays confirmed the puck had just crossed the line before Hellebuyck snagged it.
"I thought it was a save. (The NHL office in) Toronto hasn’t really been helping me out too much this year," said Hellebuyck, who made 33 saves in the game. "I thought I had it, I felt it in my glove. That’s the only way I could possibly get it. It was maybe a fraction of an inch. It’s a little unlucky. It’s just the goalie anatomy that the hand’s going to come back when you’re trying to hold on to a puck. It stinks, but I’ve got to live with it."
Maurice said he knew it was a goal before the buzzer even went off to halt play. He joked after that he can’t figure out offside — referring to a recent challenge against Nashville he lost — but he has no trouble figuring out whether the puck crossed the line.
Nolan Patrick drew one of the assists on MacDonald’s game-winner, giving him 10 points in his past 12 games. The 19-year-old Winnipegger, drafted second-overall last summer, is coming on strong after a slow start to his rookie season.
Laine cut the lead in half midway through the third period when he ripped a power-play goal off a beautiful cross-ice pass from Wheeler. Stastny drew the other assist.
"I think it was just pretty usual on the power play. (Wheeler) saw me again, gave me just a hard flat pass through their guys. I just tried to shoot and it went in," Laine said.
That’s as close as the Jets would get on this day. Winnipeg’s power play failed to click on three earlier chances, looking disorganized at crucial times when they could have used a goal.
"I think they were just pressuring us pretty hard. We were just fumbling every puck," Laine said. "We were just not quick enough."
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 Saturday, March 10, 2018 at 6:01 PM CST: Write-thru
11:02 PM: Edited