COLUMBUS -- The offence has gone from potent to popgun in the blink of a red light. And the Winnipeg Jets -- a deep, talented team that, on paper, should have absolutely no trouble scoring goals -- are suddenly reeling on the ice as a result.
The latest power outage came Wednesday night in Columbus, where Elvis was definitely in the building. That would be Elvis Merzlikins, the Blue Jackets No. 1 netminder who stopped all 36 shots he faced for his first shutout of the season in a 3-0 victory by the home team.
Winnipeg falls to 9-6-4, including 0-3-1 in the last four. Incredibly, they've fired 153 shots on net in that span, with just four tallies to show for it.
"We’re going to have to find a different way to get pucks to the net," a clearly perplexed Jets coach Paul Maurice admitted in his post-game session at Nationwide Arena. To make matters worse, Maurice found plenty to dislike about his club's defensive effort in a game where Connor Hellebuyck was tested early and often and probably kept the game closer than it really was with 29 saves.
"I’d be lying if I I’m not worried about our offence, but I know it’s there. I’m not worried about how are we ever going to score another goal, it’s there. But we can’t have a defensive game like that, coupled with our offensive struggles right now," said Maurice.
Winnipeg might want to start with fixing its power play, which is stuck in a horrific rut right now. They went 0-for-4 against Columbus, and are now just one for the last 22. Couple that with the fact their penalty kill continues to be one of the worst in the NHL and gave up yet another goal on Wednesday, and the so-called special teams are anything but right now.
"I don’t love it. I don’t think we have the speed to generate clean looks like we would like to. But there’s enough around the net laying there, and there was again tonight, that we’ve got to get on those pucks," Maurice said of the five-on-four play.
"I think both the puck movement and the body movement has got to be a little bit quicker, for sure. More decisive. I think you lose confidence in your ability for an average puck to go in when you’re waiting then for a very high percentage play. And that’s what slows you right down."
Columbus opened the scoring with just under five minutes to play in the first. Pierre-Luc Dubois, playing against the team that drafted him third-overall in 2016 for the first time since January's blockbuster trade, fed a pass back to defenceman Josh Morrissey in the Columbus zone. It hopped right over his stick, and Max Domi and Gregory Hoffman were off to the races on a two-on-one.
Dubois made a great effort on the back-check, but linemate Kyle Connor did not -- coasting towards his own net after crossing the blue-line. That proved costly as Hoffman took a feed from Domi and beat Hellebuyck.
After a scoreless middle frame -- thanks largely to Hellebuyck's efforts in net -- the dagger came early in the third period with Nash in the box for cross-checking. Columbus defenceman Zach Werenski wired a wicked wrister just under the crossbar to make it 2-0. For a Jets team with absolutely no offensive finish these days, the deficit no doubt seemed daunting.
"I think our energy dropped on the bench a little bit," said Jets forward Andrew Copp. "I think we need to try and keep that going for a full 60 (minutes). I mean, I think we also know we're capable. We've done a lot this year of coming back if we don't score first. Maybe a hair, just because what's going on right now, but at the same time, we've got a lot of confidence in our ability to put the puck in the net."
Andrew Peeke finished off the scoring by firing a puck into an empty Winnipeg jet with just over three minutes to play.
"I think we had a lot of great chances. Maybe get a little more traffic in front of the net," Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers said of what needs to change. "The goalie is getting paid, too. We want to continue shooting, getting pucks to the net, get a little more traffic to the net. If you get down 1-0, you can’t get down on yourself. You’ve got to brush it off and get ready for the next shift. It could be one shot and it’s 1-1. You’ve got to keep shooting."
Stuart Skinner (Edmonton), Thatcher Demko (Vancouver), Tristan Jarry (Pittsburgh) and now Merzlikins are all going to be seeing dollar signs in their eyes if they can keep up the run of play they've shown against Winnipeg over the past week,
Ehlers had a team-high 12 shot attempts in this one. But only five made it on net, the rest either going wide of being blocked by a young, energetic Columbus team that is feeling pretty good right now. The Blue Jackets improve to 11-6-0, and the last eight games have been played without injured star Patrik Laine, who suffered an oblique injury earlier this month.
As for that ugly power play, Ehlers says it's time to go back to the basics.
"I think it's just a matter of getting back to that shoot-first mentality and getting a bunch of stuff to the net and get a greasy one and hopefully, we can take it from there," he said.
Indeed, beggars can't be choosers at this stage of the game.
"I think that’s pretty obvious that you don’t want to get on a run of losses," said Ehlers. "But if you look at our last four games, we’ve played some pretty good hockey. We want to find a way to continue playing good hockey, the way we want to play - and score some more goals. But we want to play the right way doing that."
Not to add more fuel to the fire, but life isn't going to get any easier in the short-term. The Jets next opponent, a Black Friday matinee, are the Central Division-leading Minnesota Wild. That's the start of a back-to-back which wraps on Saturday night in Calgary against the scorching-hot Flames, who lead both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference.
"A lot of confidence in our group but with that said, a sense of urgency to get it back rolling again," said Copp.
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.