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This article was published 7/2/2019 (249 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Speed kills in today’s NHL. And the Winnipeg Jets got absolutely flattened by one of the fastest teams in the league Thursday night.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this one. The 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens was an embarrassing performance from a normally high-flying Jets team that didn’t look anything like the Stanley Cup contender the standings say they are.
"The coach was no good, the players were no good, the food was no good. We just hope that the plane works," Jets bench boss Paul Maurice said following the ugly display as his team departed Bell Centre to head to Ottawa.
"We were all horse-**** tonight. Big time."
Jonathan Drouin led the way with two goals and two assists for the Canadiens, now 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. The Jets lost in regulation for the first time in six games, falling to 34-17-3. They continue to lead the Central Division, now by just one point over the Nashville Predators.
The final score actually could have been much worse if not for Connor Hellebuyck. The Jets goaltender made a couple week’s worth of five-star saves, including robbing Drouin of what looked like the hat-trick goal. Hellebuyck had a long list of victims on this night, yet couldn’t get any real support in front of him.
Hellebuyck finished the game with a season-high 48 stops.
"Those are gonna happen in 82 games. Tonight wasn’t our night. We let our goaltender... it’s a real ugly one. He played a hell of a game. We hung him out to dry. We owe him one," said captain Blake Wheeler.
"We just weren’t ready to play at that pace. They were all over us. A really fast forecheck, their forwards are really quick. We just couldn’t handle the forecheck."
It’s no secret Winnipeg can turn on the jets as well, and they showed at least one flash of it early in the game as Mark Scheifele scored his team-leading 27th just 4:54 into the opening period. Ben Chiarot sprung Kyle Connor with a great breakout pass, and the Jets winger fought off a Montreal defender and fed Scheifele for the goal.
It was a perfect start for a team kicking off a three-game road trip. But that would end up being one of the lone highlights of the night for the visitors.
"They were feeling it, you could tell that. They were kind of smothering us and using their speed and pushing us down. That’s good hockey, they had a good game. If they bring that every night, they’re going to be a tough team," Hellebuyck said of how the home team played.
Drouin got the Habs on the board at 7:51 of the first period, evading a couple of weak stick-check attempts in the slot and firing home his 16th goal of the season.
Drouin was off to the races just 43 seconds into the second period, beating Hellebuyck on a breakaway. Chiarot’s attempt to keep a puck in the Montreal zone backfired, as it bounced off a player and immediately went the other way, allowing a streaking Drouin to take advantage.
"They played a really good game and definitely one of the fastest teams we’ve seen. They came to play and it showed. They were all over us. They didn’t make it easy for us," said Hellebuyck.
Montreal really poured it on in the third. Shea Weber unleashed a big blast from the point just over four minutes into the period to make it 3-1. Phillip Danault added a goal to his three assists later in the frame, and rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi finished off the scoring with a power-play tally.
"Not to take anything from them, they’ve got a good team over there. I think tonight was about us. We weren’t clean, we weren’t crisp. We just weren’t right. We had an off night," said Brendan Lemieux, who scored his eighth goal of the season in the final minute of play.
Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien returned to the lineup after missing 15 games with a lower-body injury. He logged more than 25 minutes of ice time to lead all players in the game. However, the Jets were without another top defenceman as Josh Morrissey was sidelined with a lower-body injury suffered two nights earlier while blocking a shot against the San Jose Sharks.
They could have used Morrissey’s speed on this night, along with that of injured teammate Nikolaj Ehlers. The winger is getting closer to a return from an upper-body injury.
"We had a goalie that was standing on his head and found a way to make a 5-2 score flattering. But we don’t have a game (like that) too often, fortunately," said Maurice.
As for why his team looked so out of sorts, Maurice was at a loss.
"That’s why the coach was no good. I don’t have an answer. We threw pucks away, turned pucks over, did things standing still. And I’m not trying to be funny. I take solace in the fact that it was the group. If you get the entire group going the way that we were going tonight, it’s almost a good thing. We had everybody in on it and we can fix it (Friday)," he said.
The Jets are slated to practise today in Ottawa ahead of Saturday afternoon’s game against the Senators.
"We talk about handling our day. We’re going to deal with this one (today). I’m not quite sure how in-depth we need to see it (on video). I’m not sure we have that kind of time in a 24-hour day, to cover it all off," said Maurice.
"But this game is meaningless if it is the game that we’re going to work real hard at making it (a one-off). If it’s not, then it’s a problem. So we’ve got to get a hell of a lot faster between here and Ottawa."
Maurice is hopeful Morrissey will play against the Senators. The Jets then wrap up the road trip with a Sunday matinee against the Sabres in Buffalo.
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 Thursday, February 7, 2019 at 9:33 PM CST: Adds photo
9:55 PM: Edits photo captions.
11:21 PM: Full write through