The bleeding continued for the Winnipeg Jets Wednesday, and it’s starting to turn into a gaping wound.
Already riding a season-long losing streak at the worst possible time, the Jets extended that slump to five straight defeats with a 3-1 loss to the visiting Edmonton Oilers at Bell MTS Place. It was also the second straight loss to Edmonton this week — and sixth straight this season against the Oilers — not to mention it capped of a five-game home stand with no points to show for it.
"That’s hockey. You’re going to go through slides. We’ve been pretty consistent all year, not losing two in a row. When you go on a slide like this it definitely sucks," Jets forward Mark Scheifele said after the game. "You never want to do this, but whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. We just have to know there’s a plan for this, there’s a plan for this team. I have faith that we’re going to come to the rink every single day and work our hardest and know that the rest will be taken care of."
What’s more, the Jets will most likely play the Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. And with the way they’ve manhandled Winnipeg this season, they no longer have the their number, the Oilers officially own the Jets.
In those six straight losses to the Oilers, the Jets have been outscored 21-7, with just two goals in the last two games including Monday’s 6-1 drubbing. That game they were stoned by goalie Mike Smith; on Wednesday, it was backup Mikko Koskinen who stole the show, registering 29 saves in his first start since April 7.
"I don’t think we have an opportunity the rest of the regular season, do we?" Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. "So we’ll have to figure it out. We’ve got some important games for our group and it was a step in the right direction tonight but nothing’s going our way."
Connor Hellebuyck made his NHL-leading 40th start of the season and played much better than in his last four starts. He finished with 24 saves in the loss, but accounted for a number of key saves to keep the game close.
Twice he stopped a quality chance from in close that seemed destined for twine. Once on a two-on-one, robbing Jesse Puljujarvi with the glove and again in the final minutes on a breakaway from Kailer Yamamoto. It’s a troubling sign when your goalie gives you a chance to win but you come up short on what’s supposed to be a prolific offensive team.
"I thought we were hard tonight. We were doing all those details hard. It was a step in the right direction," Hellebuyck said. "But we can’t settle for losing. We’re going to snap out of this and it’s going to be big, and we’re going to carry that momentum. It’s just a matter of time."
The loss is particularly damaging in the standings. The Jets entered the game one point back of the Oilers, who still have two games in hand. Winnipeg drops to 27-19-3 with the loss, and Edmonton improves to 29-16-2, inching closer to securing second place in the Canadian division and home-ice advantage against the Jets in the opening round.
The first period followed a familiar script for the Jets, with Winnipeg starting the game with a spark only to fizzle out by intermission.
Edmonton would finally make them pay for their sluggish play, making it 1-0 on the power play with Wheeler in the sin bin.
Tyson Barrie ripped a shot top shelf over the blocker of Hellebuyck, one-timing the blast off a pass from Connor McDavid with 29 seconds remaining on the man-advantage.
The assist gave McDavid an eye-popping 20th point against the Jets this season. He finished the night with three assists, adding to his four-point night on Monday that included a hat trick. In nine games against the Jets this season he scored seven goals and added 15 assists.
"With McDavid’s speed he’s always going to draw a few," Scheifele said. "It’s just a matter of getting into the O-zone more, when you get in the O-zone more you’re going to cause a team to make mistakes and that’s when you’re able to capitalize, whether it’s getting a goal or getting momentum or drawing a penalty."
Winnipeg mustered just five shots through 20 minutes — Edmonton doubled that number — with the Jets’ best chance coming off a bobbled play in front, where Josh Morrissey couldn’t handle the puck before it slid out of danger and back into the hands of Edmonton. The Oilers turned back up the ice, and if not for a stellar display of athleticism by Hellebuyck to rob Puljujarvi it could have easily been a 2-0 first-period lead.
The Jets would find some life in the second frame courtesy of Wheeler, who scored his 11th of the season following a series of effective plays by Andrew Copp. Copp stole the puck in the corner before delivering a no-look backhanded pass to Wheeler, with the Jets captain firing a shot to the far side that beat Koskinen. It was the first goal in nine games for Wheeler and first even-strength marker in 11 games.
Edmonton didn’t wait long to regain the lead, making it a 2-1 score less than two minutes later.
Again on the power play, and again with Wheeler serving the penalty, this time a double minor for high-sticking, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins fired a shot from the top of the left circle that bested Hellebuyck low glove side. McDavid registered another assist to give him his ninth straight multi-point game against the Jets, which sets a new — and likely never to be duplicated, given the uniqueness of the season — record as the first player in NHL history to register at least two points per game against the same team in a single season.
The Jets pressed in the third period, but Koskinen stood tall in the crease, turning aside any danger that came his way. Leon Draisaitl provided the nail in the coffin with an empty-net goal with nine seconds remaining.
With seven games remaining in the regular season, the Jets are running out of time to right the ship. They get back to action Friday in Montreal against the Canadiens.
"I think the game that we played tonight, if you can play that game from a positive viewpoint — right now we’re not, it’s a bit of a grinder for us obviously — but you get a better feel of your opportunity going into the game," Jets coach Paul Maurice said.
"The chaos is the thing when you have some elite players on the other team that you worry about the most. Putting them in a position where it becomes a skills contest, you’re going to have a hard time beating that team with those two players (McDavid and Draisaitl) in their lineup; they’re just that good. So for the next handful of games you want to take that same template — even if they’re low-scoring games — and not give up anything off the rush, try to limit that as much as we possibly can regardless of our opponent, and then you take that game into the playoffs."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.