Just days after beating the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Winnipeg Jets followed that up by laying an egg against one of the NHL’s bottom dwellers.
The Jets were outclassed by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who came into town a desperate club and left looking like world-beaters, earning a 4-1 win in front of a crowd of 13,210 at Canada Life Centre Friday night. The effort was in stark contrast with the one put forth 48 hours earlier in a dominating 5-0 triumph over the Colorado Avalanche.
Adding insult to injury, the Blue Jackets were led by former Jet Patrik Laine, who notched a pair of goals in his first taste of action in weeks. Erik Gudbranson and Gustav Nyquist rounded out the scoring for the visitors, while Pierre-Luc Dubois spoiled Columbus’ bid for a shutout with a late goal on the power play.
The Jets snapped a three-game win streak with the loss, dropping to 14-7-1 on the year, keeping them in second place in the Central Division. The Blue Jackets improved to 8-12-2 with the victory, marking just their second win in the last six games.
Let’s dig deeper into this one with some news, notes and analysis from the loss.
1) It was quite the return to Winnipeg and the lineup for Laine, who needed just six minutes and 48 seconds to find the score sheet, beating Jets goalie David Rittich short side for his third of the season. He added another in the second frame, finishing off a nice tic-tac-toe play that had Rittich sprawling for his life. Laine was inches from completing the hat trick, but his shot on the empty net late was stopped just short by the post.
Laine was making his return to the lineup for the first time since spraining his ankle in a game against the New York Islanders back on Nov. 12. It’s been an injury-riddled season so far for the 24-year-old Finn, who has been limited to just nine games owing to two separate stints on injured reserve.
Laine played 306 games for the Jets before being traded, along with forward Jack Roslovic, early into the 2020-21 season. Roslovic also got in on the action, registering an assist on Gudbranson’s goal midway through the first.
“Points are points, it doesn’t matter where they come, but it’s a little bit special here,” Laine said. “It’s nice to hear the fans booing a little bit when I scored, but that’s just the way it goes. It was a special, special night to get the win here.”
2) Pierre-Luc Dubois, who the Jets got in exchange for Laine, has had a strong start to the season. But he struggled mightily on Friday in what was arguably his most challenging game of the year.
Dubois was on the ice for three goals against, had four shots and was 46 per cent in the face-off dot. Line mate Kyle Connor was also a minus-3, with head coach Rick Bowness shuffling the line midway through the first period, moving Morgan Barron to the third group and promoting Sam Gagner to the top trio.
It was a tough night for several of the Jets top guns, including the line of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Cole Perfetti. The trio combined for 10 points against the mighty Avalanche, but were non-factors against the lowly Blue Jackets.
One of the biggest improvements for the Jets this season compared to previous years has been their depth scoring, with offensive contributions from up and down the lineup. But it’s the players who get paid the big bucks that should have been the difference on this night, especially against a team expected to finish near the bottom of the standings.
“It’s a team that has nothing to lose, really. A lot of young guys getting an opportunity,” said Dubois. “They want to come in and prove that they belong here. And they work hard and have five guys around the puck, five guys below the top circle in the d-zone. Those teams are tough to play against because of that. You gotta go through five guys. They played well and Korpisalo played a great game. It happens.”
3) Give credit to Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo, who made 37 saves in the win, falling just short of his fourth career shutout and first of the season.
Korpisalo hadn’t won a game in two weeks and was boasting a 3.75 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage prior to puck drop. Despite a somewhat high shot count against, the 28-year-old Finn wasn’t all that busy.
Korpisalo made a couple saves on Gagner in close and got a bit of luck when midway through the second period Barron beat him with a shot that caught the post. Scheifele and Perfetti also had good looks, as well as Adam Lowry, but none could find paydirt.
Hard to blame Rittich, who made 22 saves, for the loss. He was hung out to dry on at least three of the goals, with the 30-year-old lamenting the first one by Laine.
With the Jets playing 16 games in 30 days this month, Rittich is going to be leaned on a bit more over the next few weeks. He’s 3-2-0 this season with a save percentage below .900, so a little run support from his teammates would go a long way.
4) The Jets power play had found its groove the last two games, scoring three goals on nine trips to the man-advantage. It was a solid turnaround after going 0-for-9 in their previous four games.
You’d think they would have built on that momentum facing a Columbus penalty kill that ranks 16th in the league and 24th on the road, but instead, it was tough sledding for Winnipeg. The Jets went 1-for-5, but the goal came on the fifth PP, when the Jets were desperate and with slim chance of mounting a comeback.
Jets head coach Rick Bowness showed some clear frustration by the fourth man-advantage, pulling the top unit after just 30 seconds. The second unit then went out for 45 seconds, and Bowness opted to put the fourth line out for the final 45.
“The power play wasn’t even close (to good enough),” said Bowness. “That power play could have turned the game around for us and they didn’t. They didn’t execute. So, that’s on them. It is a statement. If you’re not going to work, you’re not going to go back out.”
5) The Jets aren’t expected to bring their A-plus game every night, but it has to be disappointing to play so flat against a struggling Blue Jackets team.
Winnipeg will practice Saturday before hosting the Anaheim Ducks Sunday afternoon. The Ducks are even worse than Columbus, currently dead last in the 32-team NHL, with a record of 6-16-2.
“They’re a good team and they’re good people in that room,” said Bowness. “They care. We had a bad night. They’ll respond.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
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