It appeared to be the perfect opportunity for the Winnipeg Jets to win three straight games for the second time this season and depart for their four-game road trip feeling really good about themselves.
Instead, it turned into their most disappointing defeat of the season so far.
Jets Can’t Best Banged-Up Avalanche, Nor Beat Werner Wall
The Colorado Avalanche came into the game — the final one of the Jets’ four-game homestand — without star forwards Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, defenseman Nikita Zadorov, and starting goalie Philipp Grubauer.
Backup Pavel Francouz got the call, but was forced to leave the game 31 seconds in after his bell was rung by Mark Scheifele when the Jets alternate captain was driven into the Avalanche netminder by Colorado defender Samuel Girard.
That set the stage for the relatively unknown Adam Werner to make his NHL debut. The Jets — and their fans — were licking their chops. They fired 40 shots on the 2016 fifth-round pick, but found nothing but frustration.
By the mid-third, Patrik Laine was slamming the gate and whaling on his water bottle. The smiles the Jets’ players sported in their two previous victories were replaced by furrowed brows and frowns as Werner stymied them time and time again.
Looking like an unflappable veteran rather than a 22-year-old making his big league debut, the Swede stopped every one of Patrik Laine’s season-high eight shots. He robbed Jack Roslovic on a wrap-around. He stoned Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Adam Lowry, and all others.
Although Werner was very good, part of his success was the result of the Jets’ far-from-perfect attack — they didn’t create net-front havoc, nor did they set up many screens, get a lot of second opportunities, or generate many shots from the slot.
“We got beat by four goals, so we’re not bragging that we dominated the game. I didn’t feel that way,” head coach Paul Maurice said in his post-game comments. “Their guy made a bunch of good saves. We had a bunch of good chances that didn’t go for us.”
Bad Habits Crept Back into Jets’ Game
The Jets made some ugly mistakes and the Avalanche capitalized on them.
Despite registering 15 fewer shots, the visitors made the most of the opportunities and space the Jets’ defence gave them — they blew the doors off the home side with their speed. Nathan MacKinnon had a night to remember, factoring on all four Avalanche goals.
Connor Hellebuyck — who’s stolen a number of games this season — wasn’t awful, but had his worst outing since being yanked after allowing five goals on 19 shots in Anaheim two weeks ago. The team, the least-penalized in the NHL, took three minors which interrupted their flow and continuity.
The margin between victory and defeat is razor-thin for the Jets these days given their defensive deficiencies and surprisingly inconsistent top-six. If they want to succeed, they need above-average goaltending, to avoid the sin bin at all costs, and for everyone to scratch and claw for every opportunity.
Jets Can’t Let Bad Feelings Fester
This loss is not one the Jets can draw positives from. It’s one they know they should have won. If they take anything away from it, it should be that they cannot miss the chance to land knockout punches on teams already against the ropes.
In the latter half of last season, the Jets allowed bad feelings from losses like this one to linger and demoralize them. That led to their monumental fall from the first spot in the Central Division and “ruffled feathers” in the room that culminated in a disappointing first-round exit.
This defeat is just the latest bit of adversity the Jets will have to overcome. They’ve already faced a ton in 2019-20: Laine and Connor’s prolonged contract holdouts, the Dustin Byfuglien leave of absence situation that keeps getting weirder and more acrimonious by the day, Sami Niku and Kristian Vesalainen’s training camp car crash, Mark Letestu’s heart condition, Bryan Little’s gruesome head injury, and others.
The Jets have, by in large, banded together through all of these and were beginning to really gel. Their pair of games prior to Tuesday, victories over the Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars, were two of their most complete performances of a season that’s been exciting, infuriating, and unpredictable; they were 4-0-1 in their past five.
They possess a respectable 10-8-1 record, but things won’t be easy for them in the immediate future. Their next three games are against teams with winning records in the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Nashville Predators, and seven of their next eight are away from Bell MTS Place.
If they want to stay afloat during this crucial stretch, they must to leave any bad vibes from this one behind immediately and get back to playing how they did during their five-game point streak. They used to be great at bouncing back from sub-par efforts; we’ll see beginning Thursday if they still are.