February 24, 2018

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Record: 36 – 16 – 9

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Winnipeg Jets (36 – 16 – 9)

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Jets can't get off runway

Engines idle in one-sided loss to visiting Blues

John Woods / The Canadian Press</p><p>Nic Petan watches as Kyle Connor's shot gets past St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen.</p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press

Nic Petan watches as Kyle Connor's shot gets past St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen.

Sleepy, sloppy and surprisingly sluggish.

The Winnipeg Jets didn’t look much like the Central Division powerhouse and legitimate playoff contender their record says they are, dropping a 5-2 decision to the St. Louis Blues Friday night at Bell MTS Place.

It was an unexpected dud from a squad that has been flying high and welcomed No. 1 centre Mark Scheifele back into the lineup for the first time since late December, but that didn’t seem to give them the boost many expected.

“We were horses--t tonight. That’s a technical term for our game,” head coach Paul Maurice said following the game.

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Sleepy, sloppy and surprisingly sluggish.

The Winnipeg Jets didn’t look much like the Central Division powerhouse and legitimate playoff contender their record says they are, dropping a 5-2 decision to the St. Louis Blues Friday night at Bell MTS Place.

John Woods / The Canadian Press</p><p>Mark Scheifele had a fairly quiet game in his return from injury, generating one shot on goal in 22 minutes of play. </p></p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press

Mark Scheifele had a fairly quiet game in his return from injury, generating one shot on goal in 22 minutes of play.

It was an unexpected dud from a squad that has been flying high and welcomed No. 1 centre Mark Scheifele back into the lineup for the first time since late December, but that didn’t seem to give them the boost many expected.

"We were horses—t tonight. That’s a technical term for our game," head coach Paul Maurice said following the game.

"Nobody is in a good mood and you’re angry with it. You don’t like to get beat like that. We got beat in St. Louis (earlier this season) and played one hell of a game. We weren’t any good tonight and didn’t deserve to win the game."

He certainly wasn’t alone in the rather blunt assessment. Several players candidly said their effort fell far short of what is required to be successful.

"Our biggest challenge was us. It wasn’t them. We just didn’t come to play tonight," said defenceman Tyler Myers.

Now, there’s no reason to hit the panic button from just one tough game, and this is a Jets team that hadn’t lost in regulation for nearly a month, going 6-0-2 over their past eight games. Their overall record of 32-14-9 is still good for a share of first place in the league’s toughest division.

However, there were enough troubling signs Friday worth keeping an eye on.

They seemed to lose nearly every foot race and puck battle on the night while facing a division rival playing for the second time in as many nights. St. Louis throttled the Colorado Avalanche 6-1 at home Thursday night, then flew to Winnipeg and arrived in the early morning hours to face a rested Jets team that hadn’t played since Tuesday.

John Woods / The Canadian Press</p><p>St. Louis celebrates Alexander Steen's goal in the second period, which gave the Blues a 3-0 lead. </p></p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press

St. Louis celebrates Alexander Steen's goal in the second period, which gave the Blues a 3-0 lead.

"They came out and looked ready to go. They played a game last night, we were all going to bed when they were getting on a plane to leave St. Louis. The fact they come into our building and have more energy than us is a little bit concerning," said captain Blake Wheeler.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming. The Jets didn’t look much different against the Blues then they did in their last game against Arizona. The only difference being the Coyotes just happen to be the worst team in the NHL, so Winnipeg’s deficiencies weren’t as obvious as they escaped with a 4-3 win.

But there was no hiding from a desperate Blues club that is trying to stay above water in the ultra-competitive Central. St. Louis is now just two points behind Winnipeg and the Nashville Predators, who are tied for top spot.

"Those big divisional games, there’s a lot on the line, it definitely means we need to bring it each and every night, not coast on what our record is right now. We need to continue to focus on every game like we haven’t won," said Scheifele.

After a scoreless first period, St. Louis exploded for three goals in a 7:21 span in the middle frame that essentially put this one away.

A comedy of errors led to the first Blues goal. Wheeler was unable to clear the zone, and defencemen Myers and Josh Morrissey appeared to think the other was going after the loose puck. The beneficiary was sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, who ripped a shot past Connor Hellebuyck.

That’s just the 23rd time in 55 games the Jets have given up the first goal. They are now 7-13-3 in those games, compared to 25-1-6 when they open the scoring.

Ivan Barbashev hit the crossbar a few moments later, just as Alex Steen had done in the first period. But Winnipeg’s good fortune couldn’t continue as Patrik Berglund scored on a beautiful redirect off a Robert Bortuzzo point shot.

Just 1:26 later, Steen made it 3-0 as he buried a juicy rebound given up by Hellebuyck.

Game, set, match.

Winnipeg finally showed a spark with just 2:27 left in the second period as Jack Roslovic fed Kyle Connor for a one-timer that went off defenceman Vince Dunn’s lower body and past Jake Allen into the net. The 18th goal of the season for Connor brought the Jets within two.

Patrik Laine made it a one-goal game with just over eight minutes left in the third period, blasting a rocket of a shot on the power play for his 25th of the season. Connor and Wheeler drew the assists.

But Tarasenko snuffed out any signs of life by getting his second of the game just 66 seconds later.

"It’s always disappointing with a performance like that. For the whole game it didn’t seem like we gave any push in any part of the game. Got close there at the end, but gave one back the very next shift. That can’t happen," said Myers.

Jaden Schwartz iced it with an empty-net goal with two seconds left in the game.

Scheifele had a fairly quiet game as he began the night on the top line with Wheeler and Laine. Maurice put Mathieu Perreault on that line to start the third period, bumping Laine down to play with Bryan Little and Nikolaj Ehlers on the second unit.

Laine survived an injury scare late in the first period when he blocked a shot and then hobbled off to the dressing room. He emerged for the start of the second period.

Scheifele led all Winnipeg forwards with 23:32 of ice time, generating one shot on goal. He won nine of 17 faceoffs.

"Obviously the main thing is it sucks we lost. Had to shake off a little bit of rust early, but felt better and better as the game went on and got more comfortable," said Scheifele.

Maurice said he doesn’t believe this was a case of a letdown caused by getting a top player back in the lineup.

"I didn’t feel that. Something happened over the last two days, I didn’t get them ready to play. Obviously, something happened, we didn’t come to the rink in the right frame of mind to skate," said Maurice.

"When you don’t skate, the mistakes that you make, the disarray in our end of the ice is a function of us having the puck and then not having the puck. We did a lot of things with our legs straight."

Winnipeg continues its 10-game homestand by hosting the New York Rangers Sunday afternoon.

"That was a little out of character for us for sure. Just weren’t moving our feet, myself included. Eighty-two game season, gotta come to work for next game and put this one behind us," said Myers.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Read more by Mike McIntyre.

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History

Updated on Friday, February 9, 2018 at 11:13 PM CST: full write thru, new headline

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