The Winnipeg Jets had no touristy stuff planned anyway, but for all intents and purposes, their 32-hour jaunt to the Motor City was a colossal waste of time.
Not so for the Detroit Red Wings.
Michigan's downtrodden NHL squad used the visit to its own advantage Thursday night, posting a 5-2 victory to earn a full two points for the first time in a month. The Red Wings had gone 12 games without a regulation win until the Jets, gliding smoothly in the upper atmosphere of the Central Division, touched down and experienced all sorts of mechanical trouble.
Heading into the contest, head coach Paul Maurice's crew had gone 3-0-1 in its previous four, including a definitive 5-1 defeat of those same floundering Red Wings Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place. But one of the Western Conference's premier teams couldn't keep pace with the league's doormat, at least for one night.
Yet, there was no evidence of shattered hockey sticks, booted trash cans or even mild hand-wringing in the Jets dressing room at Little Caesars Arena afterward. The tenor of the post-game comments came down to this: (Bad) shifts happen.
"They came out in the first period and wanted the puck more, and they were all over us. They’re a pretty desperate team out there, so they had something to prove," said Kyle Connor, a born-and-raised Michiganian who injected some zest into the struggling squad with a pair of second-period goals to cut Detroit's lead to one.
"(Trouble) matching their intensity. It seemed like they outworked us. We made a game of it in the second period. In the third, they’re protecting a lead. Just one of those games."
Detroit outshot Winnipeg 14-5 after one period and 26-15 after 40 minutes before reverting to a defensive shell in the final frame when the Jets peppered goalie Jonathan Bernier with 13 shots but couldn't capitalize, compared to eight directed the other way at Connor Hellebuyck.
"We couldn’t convert on a lot of the stuff we had sitting around (the net). It felt like that, just pucks off our sticks. The legs wanted to but the hands wouldn’t keep up to them. That meant you were going in the wrong direction half the time," said Maurice. "We’re not winning every game."
Winnipeg has done so many good things the last six weeks — posting a 13-4-2 record since Nov. 1 — that soul-searching really wasn't required during a day away from the rink Friday.
The team's goal differential is a plus-15 (58 goals for, 43 goals against) during that timeframe, and only the Dallas Stars had given up fewer goals (36), as of Friday. Winnipeg's penalty-killing unit is also running at an 81.5 per cent efficiency (14th) since the end of October. The power play, however, remains a model of inconsistency, scoring just 15.5 per cent of the time during that stretch.
The brilliant play of Connor Hellebuyck can’t be understated, either.
In 14 starts since Nov. 1, the Jets goalie posted 10 wins, a 2.10 goals-against average and .937 save percentage, along with one shutout.
Only Dallas goalie Ben Bishop had a better save percentage (.945) among goalies with at least 10 starts during that span.
And only Bishop (1.76), Darcy Kuemper of the Arizona Coyotes (2.02) and Philadelphia Flyers’ Carter Hart (2.05) had lower goals-against averages since Nov. 1 among puckstoppers with double-digit starts.
Winnipeg hosts a pair of Eastern Conference squads to begin three straight on home ice. The Philadelphia Flyers are in town for a rare 4 p.m. start Sunday and the Carolina Hurricanes are here Tuesday. The Jets wrap up the home stand Thursday against division-rival Chicago Blackhawks.
Winnipeg Jets centre David Gustafsson is going to the Czech Republic for the holiday season.
The NHL club has loaned the 19-year-old rookie to Team Sweden for the upcoming 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship. The annual tournament is set for Ostava and Trinec, Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
Gustafsson, a second-round draft pick (60th overall) in 2018, scored his first NHL goal on Nov. 27 in San Jose against the Sharks, his only point in 22 games on the fourth line this season. He's been a healthy scratch the last three games since the Jets claimed Nick Shore off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He had three assists for Sweden at the last year's world juniors.
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).
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