ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Winnipeg Jets look like they desperately need some days off.
They’ll get five, thanks to a league-mandated break that began immediately following a forgettable performance Saturday night.
Soundly outworked by the Minnesota Wild through half a hockey game, the Jets tried clawing back, but ultimately, suffered a 4-1 defeat on the eve of the bye week.
Goalie Connor Hellebuyck gave up four goals, but went above and beyond to keep the Jets within striking distance. He finished with 37 saves, including 22 in a first period completely dominated by the Wild.
Winnipeg (26-13-7) dropped the second and third legs of a three-game road trip that started with promise Tuesday in Buffalo. But after clobbering the Sabres 7-4, the Jets fell 2-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks Friday and then failed to rebound at Xcel Energy Center.
There was no disguising the Jets’ lack of energy in the first period, still looking gassed from the gritty battle in the Windy City.
Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler admitted cranking up the energy level after waging an exhausting Central Division battle a night earlier was a tall order.
"Well, we were 22 hours since we took our skates off and that’s tough, you know what I mean?" he said. "People have come into our building after that and we’ve given a couple of beat-downs this year, so we knew it was going to be a grind."
Winnipeg had posted three straight victories over Minnesota earlier this season. But they looked every bit a team with three regulars up front — Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev — in sick bay.
Injuries aside, some distressing elements crept into their game during the road trip. Puck control in their own end was messy, beginning in Buffalo and continuing here, while exiting the defensive zone was a chore.
All too often, the Jets tried cutesy plays that resulted in turnovers instead of forcing pucks past opponents’ blue-liners and generating chances off the forecheck.
"We weren’t happy with the result (Friday) and you want to do a little bit more," defenceman Josh Morrissey said.
"Everyone in this room cares and you want to win hockey games, so that’s where sometimes doing a little bit less, as weird as that sounds, with the puck especially, early on in a game like... would have been better served for us and that’s a learning experience for us."
The holiday from the rink couldn’t come at a better time, said winger Mathieu Perreault, who scored the lone goal for the visitors.
"Two tough losses in the standings for us. But we won’t let it affect us. We’re playing too well," Perreault said.
"We’ve got some injuries right now that we’re battling with. That five days can be good. Some of those guys that are hurt are going to have time to take care and be back after the break."
Mikael Granlund scored a power-play goal for the Wild in the initial frame and linemate Jason Zucker added a second-period goal. Perreault’s early third-period marker sliced the lead in half, but defenceman Matt Dumba provided some insurance in the third with a pair of missiles from the point that eluded Hellebuyck.
It’s the first time Winnipeg’s No. 1 netminder has lost consecutive games in regulation this season.
But he was by far the sharpest player in a Jets jersey.
Head coach Paul Maurice minced no words in his last meeting with the media until the club resumes skating Friday.
"We looked challenged in the first (period), especially. When you have your whole group kind of be behind the game, we weren’t particularly strong in any department," he said. "Maybe the power play was good for the four minutes or so that we had. Other than that, we weren’t a good hockey team tonight."
The Jets still lead the Central Division by three points over Nashville, but that could change during the break as both the Predators (25-11-6) and St. Louis Blues (26-17-3) come off their bye weeks Monday.
The Wild (24-17-4) aren’t all that far behind in a jam-packed division. They’ve gone three games without a regulation loss and are 6-2-1 in their last nine.
Morrissey said the intensity level jacks up as the season goes on.
"We’ve seen that since the Christmas break and, as we get closer through January to the all-star break, I think it’s starting to turn up more, especially Western Conference games and within the division," he said. "Everyone knows how important divisional games are, and I think we have one of the best divisions in hockey right now. Every night, anyone can beat anyone and you have to be ready to go."
A rambunctious crowd at the downtown St. Paul rink included hundreds of Jets fans, possibly in town for a double dip of hockey and Minnesota Vikings playoff action today.
Maurice tried to flip a switch, inserting Perreault onto the top line with Wheeler and Patrik Laine, while Kyle Connor dropped down to play with Bryan Little and Nikolaj Ehlers.
Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk, who was barely tested in the first period, had a tidy second, stopping 17 shots as Winnipeg showed some push back after the forward shuffle.
Joel Armia generated Winnipeg’s best chance of the middle frame when he dashed away on a shorthanded partial breakaway, but was interrupted by a bold poke-check by Dubnyk.
He finished with 32 saves for his 17th victory of the year.
Perreault chipped in his 13th goal of the season with the Wild shorthanded just 47 seconds into the third period, converting a great pass from Wheeler.
But Dumba took Marcus Foligno’s behind-the-back feed and launched a missile from the point that got by Hellebuyck at 6:23 to beef up the lead for the hosts. He then duplicated the feat seven minutes later.
Read more by Jason Bell.