The Winnipeg Jets classified a recent resounding defeat at home as a one-off. An aberration, easily erased from the memory banks.
Actually, the NHL team demonstrated Tuesday night it can turn in second-rate performances at Bell MTS Place with some degree of regularity.
Looking outwitted and outmatched against a relentless forecheck by the Arizona Coyotes for 40 minutes, the Jets recovered with a heavy push in the third period but, ultimately, fell for the second time in three nights, suffering a 4-2 setback at the hands of the Pacific Division squad.
The Jets were bombed 7-2 by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday night.
Two power-play goals in just over two minutes in the second period sparked the Coyotes (2-2-1) and wounded the Jets (4-4-0), whose collective confidence appears to have ebbed during the early stages of a five-game home stand.
Not so, said Jets winger Blake Wheeler, who maintains the belief in the personnel is strong but the process of gelling — with so many new faces — isn’t going as smoothly as was hoped.
"We have the majority of our season left. I think we’re still trying to establish ourselves and figure out our identity as a team. We’re very much a work in progress," he said. "We’re a competitive group and we’ve come to work every single day since training camp. That’s a great thing to fall back on. Tighten a few things up.
"Also, keeping in mind we’ve played quite a bit of hockey here to start the year. So it’ll be good to hopefully scratch one out here whatever day it is, Thursday, and start to get into a routine."
The Jets host the New York Islanders on Thursday night, welcome the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday and then wrap up the stay at home Tuesday against the L.A. Kings.
The guy with the ‘C’ on his chest said he’s unsure how to define personality and makeup.
"I don’t know. I wish I had a better answer. I’m not sure exactly," Wheeler said. "We want to be a real good defensive team and work from there. We’re confident in our ability to put pucks in the net, but if you’re constantly chasing the game from two or three back, you just can’t do it every night."
Indeed, Winnipeg has made a habit of chasing hockey games to begin the 2019-20 season, trailing in five of eight games to begin the third period. The club has rallied back in two of those contests and lost three, including Tuesday’s to head coach Rick Tocchet’s gritty crew.
Christian Dvorak snapped a 1-1 tie at 5:11 of the middle frame with Jets’ blue-liner Dmitry Kulikov serving a high-sticking minor. Just seconds later, Jets centre Mark Scheifele was called for slashing, and at 7:21 Nick Schmaltz whipped a point shot past goalie Connor Hellebuyck to inflate the Arizona cushion. Dvorak added his second goal with just under three minutes left in the period.
"It’s tough when you go down 3-1. We did it once this year (a four-goal comeback in New Jersey Oct. 4) and you can’t rely on that. We have to find a way to stop some of their goals and score some of our own," said Jets forward Jack Roslovic, who acknowledged giving up a late goal in a period is demoralizing. "It kills the momentum going into the locker room. But a goal at any time of the game is hard."
Hellebuyck stopped 31 shots.
Scheifele, with his fourth goal of the season, and winger Kyle Connor, with his third, scored on the power play for the Jets. The unit finished two-for-six, however, the penalty killers failed to scrub out a pair of Coyotes chances with the man advantage.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice was uncharacteristically critical of his penalty killers, suggesting only a few were prepared to pay a price to defend.
"We just didn’t kill two penalties. That, to me, is the difference," he said. "Those were their first two power-play goals of the year. We made mistakes... we blocked four shots (over three periods) and that’s a problem. You need guys to get in the lane."
Scheifele opened the scoring with Coyotes forward Derek Stepan in the penalty box, cashing in on a setup that was tried-and-true a year ago. Stationed at the left dot, Patrik Laine hammered a one-timer off a pass from Josh Morrissey that rattled the iron and Scheifele knocked in the rebound at 7:35.
The hosts let their guard down with time winding down in the opening period. Nikolaj Ehlers failed to push the puck deep and the Coyotes rushed the other way, Conor Garland bumped Scheifele off the puck deep in the Jets end, headed straight for the net and twisted to tip an Oliver Ekman-Larsson point shot to the top mesh behind Hellebuyck with eight second left.
It’s that soft approach to defensive-zone coverage that has Maurice concerned.
"Well, first of all we don’t have everybody in our lineup (Dustin Byfuglien is still on a leave of absence and fellow defenceman Nathan Beaulieu remains on the injured reserve list) and I don’t know if that day comes for us. Our forward group isn’t that much altered from last year. It’s slightly different, so we still think we can play a real fast game and score goals. We’ve got enough offensive firepower," said Maurice. "Our back end looks a whole lot different. We’re going to have to identify and become a team that plays a five-man defensive game. On the fourth goal (by Dvorak), we took some unusual routes in the defensive zone that we need to clean up.
"That would be a work in progress all year. That’s not getting a switch flipped next week and now we’re a defensive juggernaut. We’re going to have to work really, really hard to be a solid defensive team."
Down 4-1, the Jets got one back in the final frame when Connor flipped a rebound behind goalie Darcy Kuemper, with Garland serving a double-minor for a high stick that nicked Laine.
Kuemper finished with 38 saves.
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 Tuesday, October 15, 2019 at 9:57 PM CDT: Clarifies Jets lost to the Penguins on Sunday.
11:49 PM: Writethru.