WINNIPEG – Professional athletes generally don’t embrace the idea of “silver linings.”
Anything short of a win is often viewed as failure. There can be building blocks, sure, though at the end of the day they’ll tell you they don’t get any points for moral victories.
But after a 4-2 loss to the West-leading Minnesota Wild Tuesday night, the Winnipeg Jets admit there are plenty of positives to take away.
The Jets outshot and outchanced the Wild for the majority of the 60 minutes, and dominated play after digging themselves into an early 3-0 hole, the 13th straight game they have allowed three or more goals.
“Winning is everything in pro sports, but you have to have an assessment of your game that’s honest. In terms of improvements, that’s as well as we’ve played in a while against some pretty good teams,” head coach Paul Maurice said after the loss. “We played the best team in the conference, and I think we were better than they were over the course of the game. I know we were a hell of a lot better than we’ve been in a long time.”
Nino Niederreiter opened the scoring with a wicked wrister past Ondrej Pavelec midway through the first. With time winding down in the frame, a neutral-zone turnover by Patrik Laine led to a Jason Pominville that Pavelec should have stopped.
The second didn’t start any better: Pominville got his second of the game 2:33 in after the entire Jets team lost track of him in their own end. But not long after, Bryan Little scored his 15th to pump some life into a dormant MTS Centre crowd.
At the first TV timeout, Pavelec was pulled due to a lower-body injury, finishing with 11 saves on 14 shots. Connor Hellebuyck played the rest of the game, stopping all 11 shots he faced.
Maurice also decided to change up the lines in the second, mainly to facilitate the benching of Laine after the late-period turnover. The rookie would be demoted to the 4th line and play just 2:22 in the period.
“That line was minus-2 after the first period,” Maurice said. “Tougher night for the young guys tonight.”
Joel Armia ripped a wrister past Devan Dubnyk late in the period to pull the Jets within one, as the team continued to mount pressure.
Winnipeg dodged a bullet in the third on a strange play: there was a loose stick just sitting on the ice, and Dustin Byfuglien shot it towards the Wild player who had the puck. It resulted in a penalty shot, but Mikael Granlund whiffed on a deke.
“That was something new I learned today,” Byfuglien said about the obscure rule. “I had no clue.”
The Jets continued to get pucks at the net, but couldn’t get the equalizer. Neiderreiter’s second of the game into an empty net iced it.
“I think the Jets played a pretty good hockey game tonight,” Byfuglien continued. “Obviously, we didn’t get the points we wanted tonight but we can pick our head up and just keep working.”
Mathieu Perreault joined the top line with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele for much of the game as Andrew Copp was knocked down to the fourth line with Laine and Nic Petan. Wheeler offered his thoughts on the line juggling post-game.
“We spent a lot of time in their zone, created some good looks that we normally bury, their goalie made a few good saves. We were a little bit slow to start the game but I thought we controlled a good portion of the play.”
The Jets are now 3-14-2 on the season when trailing after one and fall to 25-27-4 overall. They’ll return to action Friday night at home against Chicago, Hellebuyck will start in goal. Pavelec’s status for Saturday is uncertain but Maurice but didn’t think the injury was serious.