WINNIPEG – When you’re out of the playoff hunt, what is left to accomplish?
One theory suggests it is better not to win any more games in order to improve draft positioning.
At the same time, you want to see how your younger players perform and give them a chance to be successful. If that means you win some games, in the long run that has merit too.
On Sunday night at MTS Centre, the Winnipeg Jets were slotted into that second option, knocking off the below-average Vancouver Canucks 2-1 in a game that was mind-numbingly boring for long stretches, staving off mathematical elimination for one more day.
Vancouver got on the board first late in the first but Mathieu Perreault continued his hot play of late with a power play goal in the second frame. It’s the 7th straight game in which Winnipeg has scored a power play goal.
Winnipeg controlled the bulk of the play but couldn’t beat Ryan Miller again until they got another power play chance midway through the third. Adam Lowry, whose presence on the top PP unit drew ire from some fans, scored the game winner on a great set up from Perreault, who now has 21 points in his last 17 games.
“Tonight was a little different because Buff wasn’t there [Byfuglien sat out with a lower-body injury], it’s all forwards out there and we’re just passing the puck around,” Perreault said about the suddenly effective power play. “We still have to play games. We have great players here, you need a few bounces here and there on special teams and now they’re going our way.”
Most of the “show us what you’ve got” is directed at the defence seeing as nearly all the forwards on the ice have been here all year. The back end is two-thirds Moose and tasked with keeping the ship afloat, and while there have been struggles, against Vancouver they held their own, buoyed by the continued strong play of Michael Hutchinson in goal.
“It’s always nice to play in those games where it’s tight going into the third, it’s character building,” Hutchinson explained. “With having a young team, we’re treating every game like it’s a must-win to get into the playoffs. That’s the mindset you have to have in these games, you have to put something on to make it mean something.”
With Patrik Laine sitting out with some kind of illness, the lines were shuffled, but the rest of the top guns kept firing: Perreault picked up a goal and an assist, Wheeler had a pair of helpers and Scheifele added an assist.
Heading into the offseason the most glaring question mark will be in net. Even with Connor Hellebuyck not playing well, one would expect him to get the bulk of the starts, seeing as the team was hoping he would be the goalie of the future.
His spot on the bench speaks volumes about the amount of confidence Paul Maurice has in his young netminder, instead riding with Hutchinson even though few would expect to see him back in a Jets jersey next year.
Hutchinson has been solid in recent games, including this one where he made 28 saves for the win. The fact that Maurice continues to go with Hutchinson would suggest the coach still cares more about winning than giving Hellebuyck a chance to prove his worth.
This puts the Jets at 75 points with six games remaining, and for those looking at the draft board, Winnipeg currently sits 23rd overall, remembering that Las Vegas will also be slotted into the mix.
Next up is a quick trip to New Jersey to make up a postponed game from a couple weeks ago. Puck drop Tuesday night is 6 p.m.