Tonight was a very exciting night for Winnipeg. There was a pre-game Jets Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but the real joy came from a post-trade deadline line-up. Winnipeg put together its strongest forward grouping since the mythical 2017-18 roster, introducing newest Jets Kevin Hayes and Nathan Beaulieu to adoring audiences. This evening’s opponent was the pesky Minnesota Wild, who’ve frustrated the Jets repeatedly this season. Could the deadline additions push Winnipeg over Bruce Boudreau’s Big Boys?
The First Period
Winnipeg had a bit of a first-minute scare, with one of the Minnesota forwards walking in and ringing a puck off the crossbar. It fell behind Connor Hellebuyck and was promptly swept from the crease, but phew. Close call. The Jets went to work, with the new-look forward groupings functioning as advertised. Winnipeg went to the slot area and tested Minnesota’s defensive structure repeatedly. The Jets created some quality offensive looks, putting Dubnyk to work early.
The Jets backline without Josh Morrissey (injured on Sunday) certainly looked the part. Beaulieu and Trouba acquitted themselves well. Everyone else.........yeah, not so good. Chiarot, Kulikov, and Myers had some defensive issues around the net, which is par for the course. Thankfully, the Jets got an early power play opportunity to put the heat on Minnesota’s defenders. After a few early attempts, Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele connected for a slick goal through Dubnyk’s pads. The Wild offered a minor response with some offensive pressure, but not much around Hellebuyck’s territory. All in all, it was a quality period from a team that desperately needed one.
The Second Period
The Wild awoke from their hibernation a touch, pushing the pace after a rougher first period. Minnesota seized on Winnipeg’s lesser D pairings, setting up some strong periods of offensive zone possession. Like the Jets, the Wild were happy to direct long-distance bombs from up high. Winnipeg shut those down, but pucks behind the net caused guys like Chiarot and Kulikov some serious grief. Minnesota got some grade-A opportunities off of poor defensive zone clearance attempts and turnovers.
Winnipeg didn’t pay for its defensive sins until a mid-period penalty kill. For the most part, the Wild weren’t able to establish much in the way of central slot opportunities. Brad Hunt didn’t care, and wristed a shot from well beyond the face-off circles through traffic to knot the game at 1-1. Hope transitioned to despondence, but Chiarot decided to imitate Connor McDavid with a power drive right down Minnesota’s central channel. He deflected a puck off of Laine’s skate and into the net, this only 30 seconds after the Wild had drawn level. The 2-1 scoreline held, though Hellebuyck had to work double duty to keep the Jets ahead.
The Third Period
Minnesota continued to pressure, looking for the tying goal with all manner of low-slot pressure. The Jets defense continued to capitulate on numerous sequences, with Myers and Kulikov bearing the brunt of the poor performances. Folks, it wasn’t pretty, and it became costly late in the period. With only a scant few minutes remaining in the third, Myers took a cross-checking minor. The Wild pulled the goal to make it 6-on-4 and promptly tied the game. Yikes.
Double yikes for what happened next. Myers and Kulikov were out for the final minute or so of the period, and a chaotic rebound that Hellebuyck couldn’t shut down fell to Joel Eriksson Ek. In the chaos, he poked the puck over the line, confirmed by official video review. I’m not sure what Maurice was thinking, putting the worst D pairing out in a tie-game scenario with no time remaining, but it cost Winnipeg a massive 2 points. Winning the Central only gets harder from here.
- Beaulieu and Niku had strong, confident outings. Hayes was very decent, sliding in naturally. Kevin may want to shoot a bit more, though.
- Hellebuyck with another strong night in goal. He needs to keep it up, what with this leaky back-end.
- Myers, Chiarot, and Kulikov were disastrous. They singlehandedly cost the Jets the game, and the coaching staff needs to re-evaluate their usage in high-leverage situations.