WASHINGTON — The last time the Winnipeg Jets won a hockey game around here, Barack Obama was just settling in for a second term at that really fancy mansion situated just a few blocks away from Capital One Arena. In that sense, you could say they were due.
They came close to snapping the nine-year drought on Tuesday night, racing out to an early 2-0 lead before a few thousand late-arriving fans had even settled into their seats. But the visitors couldn’t hold on, surrendering three straight goals, tying it up with just over a minute left in regulation and ultimately falling quickly in overtime by a 4-3 count.
Better luck next season on your annual visit, fellas.
"Tonight, we don’t like losing. Tomorrow we can probably look back at it and say we got a point against a good team in a tough building to play in but tonight, it kind of feels like we lost that point," said Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois.
"Getting a point in a building like this against a good team is good but when you go up 2-0 and we’re playing well the first 10 of the first, you feel like you let it slip away. They played well, they came back, they made it a game. Both goalies played well. But it definitely feels like a point dropped instead of a point gained."
Winnipeg is now 17-12-6 on the year, including 3-1-1 in the month of January which has seen them playing exclusively on the road so far. They’ll have three more stops on this current trip in Nashville, Boston and Pittsburgh before they can finally enjoy some home cooking starting next week.
"I thought we had a great start, did a lot of things right," interim coach Dave Lowry said of the latest effort.
Indeed they did. Kyle Connor blasted a shot into a gaping net just 62 seconds into the game, with his club enjoying an early power play, for his team-leading 21st of the season. That was followed 78 seconds later by the first career NHL goal from 20-year-old Cole Perfetti, who took a perfect feed from linemate Dubois and ripped a wicked wrister past Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek.
"It was crazy. You dream of that, scoring your first goal in the NHL. I don’t actually know where I put it in the net," a beaming Perfetti said in his post-game chat. "I kind of blanked and then it was all just a whirlwind. I came back to the bench and actually looked at Dubie and I said ‘I can’t believe I just scored in the NHL.’ It was just kind of a surreal moment and it kind of hit me when I came to the bench. It was pretty special."
Dubois was pleased to play the role of set-up man for such a momentous marker.
"After I missed that chance in Detroit (last Thursday) to get him his first point, I told him that I owed him one," said Dubois. "It was a nice play by him to find that open space, to not drive too far and to find a lane for me. Then I got it on the side and I mean, it wasn’t an open net. He had to beat the goalie with a nice shot. He’s playing really well right now. It’s his first goal, but the way he’s playing, the way he’s improving, game by game and practice by practice, hopefully we can keep this going."
What the Jets couldn’t keep going was the early goal scoring, despite a slew of additional chances including Mark Scheifele hitting the post, Andrew Copp being stopped on a breakaway and Dubois later ringing iron. That eventually came back to bite the visitors, as a Washington club that began the night with just one win in the past six games finally found their legs.
First up was Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL’s leading goal scorer who was given too much time and space by the defence pairing of Logan Stanley and Nate Schmidt and made them pay, one-timing a Garnet Hathaway feed with just over three minutes left in the opening frame to cut the deficit in half. It’s the 27th goal of the season for the Great Eight.
Dmitry Orlov tied it at 4:26 of the middle frame with a seeing-eye slapper that went through a maze of traffic and beat Connor Hellebuyck. The Jets then fell behind for the first time at 4:15 of the third period when Aliaksei Protas attempted a wraparound which banked in off both Schmidt and Hellebuyck.
"You look at the team that you’re playing, they’ve got a bunch of world-class all-stars on their team and they’re not going to go away," said Lowry. "They stayed (with it), they got their own legs under them and they took the game over but I still thought we did a lot of really good things. We stayed with our game. We continued to push pucks deep and continued to attack and we were rewarded for it."
They certainly were, with just 65 seconds left in regulation and Hellebuyck on the bench for an extra attacker. Dubois was able to convert a pass from Adam Lowry for his 16th of the year, sending this one beyond regulation.
Unfortunately for the Jets, a lost faceoff to start the three-on-three skills session would kill their hopes of victory. Winnipeg never got a stick on the puck, and Tom Wilson ended it 26 seconds later off a nifty rush by linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov.
The Jets lost more than just the bonus point on this night. Winger Nikolaj Ehlers suffered what looks to be a significant injury after taking a knee-on-knee hit from Orlov in the final frame, a play that went unpenalized. Ehlers needed help limping off the ice, favouring his left leg, and screamed at the officials before leaving the bench for good.
"He’s not going to play next game," Lowry said of Ehlers, who will be further evaluated Wednesday morning and could miss substantial time.
"If they would have saw it the same way I saw it, it would probably have been more than a minor penalty. I lose a world-class player and, like I said, it’s a fast game and I have the luxury again of watching and rewinding it and watching it in slow motion. You’re disappointed as a coach. I lose a player and I will probably lose him for more than one game."
The Jets are getting set to welcome forwards Blake Wheeler (knee injury), Paul Stastny (COVID) and Evgeny Svechnikov (minor ailment) back into the lineup as early as Thursday, so help is on the way. But Ehlers is a dynamic player who will certainly be missed. Winnipeg was also without top defencemen Brenden Dillon (COVID) for this one.
"It’s going to be a long road trip. Every team on this road trip is doing really well right now and are good teams. It’s going to be a good test for us.," said Dubois. "At the end of the year, when you look at the standings, it’s usually a point or two that mean you’re in or you’re out of the playoffs. So for us to get a point, it’s a point in the bank. Now we’ve just got to keep going and try to get as many as we can to end the road trip.
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.