For years, even when things haven’t gone well for the Winnipeg Jets, they could always fall back on the stellar goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck to get them through the tough times.
But on Wednesday night, Hellebuyck was one of the reasons why the Jets dropped a 4-2 decision to the Minnesota Wild as he was sizably outplayed by counterpart Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Jets badly outshot Minnesota 48-23, but still lost for the seventh time in their last eight games.
“One of the best games we’ve played all year,” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “Dominated the game. 82 shots attempts. I don’t know if we’ve done that this year. Lots of scoring chances. Fleury was outstanding.
“A lot of loose pucks we couldn’t get our stick to, but that’s one of the best games we’ve played all year. So, we play like that, we’ll take it. Some nights you just don’t get any puck luck, and right now we’re not getting any puck luck.”
The Jets power play continues to do them no favours. They were 0-for-3 on the man advantage against the Wild and are now just 8-for-67 with the extra attacker in their last 18 games.
Logan Stanley and Nino Niederreiter scored the goals for the Jets in the loss.
The Wild have now won all three meetings against their division rival this season.
“It definitely sucks,” said Jets forward Kyle Connor who has just one goal in the last eight games. “But that’s hockey. We’re going to have those nights. We got to keep the confidence high in this group. Putting up that many shots, that many grade-A’s, you’re going to take that most nights.”
After a shootout loss the previous night, the Wild are now on an 11-game point streak as they moved six points ahead of the Jets in the Central Division standings.
Pierre-Luc Dubois missed the game after just returning to the lineup in their last outing, and he suffered a different injury in his first game back on Monday.
“He’s not going to travel with us tomorrow and we’re hoping at some point during the trip that he will join us,” Bowness said. “It’s a totally different injury. It’s an upper-body injury.”
The Jets won just once during the three-game homestand and are now looking at an awfully tough stretch on the road against three solid opponents with just a four-point cushion for the final playoff spot.
“We got to do it the hard way, we’re gonna have to do it the hard way,” said Bowness. “We got to win some games on the road, but the most important thing is to keep the effort, and play like we did tonight.”
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The Jets came out of the blocks flying, controlling play for long stretches of time in the Minnesota end but they were unable to beat Fleury.
That inability to finish proved costly when Marcus Foligno ripped a perfect shot over the shoulder of Hellebuyck to open the scoring at the 14:14 mark on Minnesota’s third shot on the night.
Winnipeg had ten shots at that point and finished the first period with 15 to just five for the Wild, but trailed 1-0. A power play late in the first also proved fruitless.
The Jets got a great opportunity early in the second after a Wild power play elapsed. Adam Lowry found David Gustafsson cutting to the net but the Swede was denied by Fleury.
Winnipeg continued to mount pressure but could not get on the scoreboard, and just over seven minutes into the period, the Wild doubled their lead.
As the Jets tried to clear the puck out of their own end, they turned it over, leading to a breakaway for Frederick Gaudreau. He deked out Hellebuyck and slid it through the goalie to make it 2-0 as Hellebuyck lost his balance and fell into the goal.
Winnipeg finally broke through just 30 seconds later when Stanley took a loose puck off a rebound and fired it over a sprawling Fleury to make it 2-1. It was Stanley’s first goal of the season and third in 110 career regular season games.
Any positive energy generated by the Stanley goal quickly evaporated 55 seconds later when Ryan Hartman beat Hellebuyck five-hole on a fairly weak wrist shot from the faceoff dot, one of the smelliest goals you’ll see Hellebuyck allow.
Winnipeg managed to cut the lead to one again with 2:45 to go in the period. Nate Schmidt sent a lazy wrister in the direction of the net, and it fluttered right to Niederreiter, who caught it, dropped it and fired it past Fleury all in one motion. The goal also marked the 400th point of his NHL career.
The Jets held a 34-15 edge in shots on goal but trailed 3-2 after 40 minutes.
The third period began with 6:45 of uninterrupted play before the first whistle as Winnipeg continued to try and find the equalizer, but Fleury stood stall as the minutes wasted away.
With just over a minute to play, the Jets pulled Hellebuyck for an extra attacker to try and claw even but Mark Scheifele stumbled with the puck, the Wild took it away and Mason Shaw skated the puck into the empty net to seal it.
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Hellebuyck made 19 saves in the game as he has now allowed 22 goals in his last five starts while Fleury was the difference, making 46 saves for the Wild who are now 9-0-2 in their last 11 games.
Winnipeg will now head on the road for a three-game trip that begins Saturday in Florida against the Panthers. The puck drops from Sunrise just after 6 p.m. with pregame coverage starting at 4 p.m. on 680 CJOB.
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