Paul Maurice not impressed with Jets’ effort in Montreal

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The Winnipeg Jets have been one of the best teams in the NHL for the better part of the last two seasons. This year, many expected them to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and they have been, but Thursday’s performance in Montreal left a lot to be desired.

“We don’t have it happen very often,” said head coach Paul Maurice said after the 5-2 loss. “It’s almost in some ways easier to process this and to get ready for Ottawa, because it’s not like a guy let you down or you played your a– off and the goalie let you down. When I said we were no good, the coach is in on that too. We were all horse—t tonight. Big time.

“The coach was no good, the players were no good, the food was no good. We just hope that the plane works.”

That last line is especially terrific.

Maurice’s assessment of the game is very accurate. If netminder Connor Hellebuyck didn’t make five or six outstanding saves, the final score would have been way uglier than what it was. The Jets were simply the second best team on the ice all night.

The Jets bench boss didn’t single anyone out, but there’s two things that jump off the page if you’re a Winnipeg fan.

The top line of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler was severely outplayed by the Canadiens’ first line, which consists of Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin. The Jets clearly have the more talented line, but they were outworked and hemmed into their own end from the start of the game until the very end.

Each member of the Scheifele line finished with a CF% between 39 percent and 42 percent. They were on the ice for one high-danger scoring chance for and seven against. Like we said, they were totally dominated from top to bottom. Connor managed to score the game’s first goal, but that was partly because of a terrible line changes from Montreal.

They should be able to bounce back in Ottawa on Saturday.

Anyway, moving on.

The other thing that is far too noticeable regarding the Jets, is how invisible Patrik Laine has been.

Here’s how Canadiens play-by-play voice Dan Robertson described Laine’s game last night:

Robertson’s points are all accurate. Nothing Laine did worked and it appears as though this has been the case for a while now. Let’s be clear, nobody should be worried about the way he’s playing, but the Jets have to find a way to get his season back on the rails.

He’s on pace to score 38 goals, which is still awesome. They just need him to step up his production, especially when the first line has an off night.

Sure, the Jets can wait it out with Laine. That will probably work. But they might just have to go out and get him a new linemate via trade. Can they squeeze Matt Duchene or Mark Stone out of Ottawa? Would they be willing to land Artemi Panarin as a pure rental? We’ll find out before the end of the month.

Even though they’re 3-3-1 dating back to Jan. 19, no one in Winnipeg should be panicking about this team. They’re still in top spot in the Central Division and they have the assets to make a significant deal before Feb. 25. They’ll be fine, but they have to move passed Thursday night’s ugly performance as soon as possible.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blue Jackets lose in especially painful fashion after Torts tirade

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John Tortorella probably won’t call Thursday a “no-show” performance from the Columbus Blue Jackets, but when it comes to the standings, they still have nothing to show for it.

[Torts’ tirade]

When you take a step back, just about everything is painful about Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, which extends the Blue Jackets’ losing streak to four games (all in regulation).

For one thing, you have the more literal pain.

During warm-ups, All-Star forward Cam Atkinson was struck with a wayward puck off of a crossbar, the kind of freak accident that might inspire someone to gripe about players warming up without helmets (looks at Patric Hornqvist), but Atkinson had his lid on. If there are hockey gods, perhaps they simply determined that Atkinson would not play against the Jets.

Those hockey gods must also have a sick sense of humor during another sequence. With the game tied 3-3, the Blue Jackets received a key power-play opportunity after Mark Scheifele put a puck over the glass and into the safety netting. Lucky break, right? Maybe, but an unlucky moment came when the play was whistled dead when Brandon Tanev was struck by a Zach Werenski shot.

As you may remember, the Blue Jackets suffered from a power-play goal scored by the Pittsburgh Penguins during one of Columbus’ ill-fated playoff runs, even though Werenski was injured by a shot in a similar way.

Do you think this gross image of Werenski’s face popped up in Tortorella’s mind as he raged about the play being called dead? It’s certainly possible.

*Gross hockey wounds warning*

That would probably have left Torts & Co. grumbling even if they won the game in overtime, or at least took a point out of this.

Instead, Kyle Connor scored what would be the game-winning goal with just 1:14 remaining in the third period, and the Blue Jackets were unable to respond.

So, losing in regulation, with such little time remaining, is one reason why there was also some serious figurative pain on Thursday.

It may also sting to see Columbus fall short, even as both of their trade targets/free agent conundrums Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky made some big plays.

Panarin was especially impressive, scoring his 20th goal of the season with authority, and also setting up Atkinson’s replacement Josh Anderson for a nice power-play tally. Panarin played almost 26 minutes (25:52) and generally reminded the hockey world why he’s such a big deal, as if he hadn’t already done so by inspiring free vodka for life.

Bobrovsky’s had a tougher time this season, yet he’s still had his moments, including making this save.

Panarin’s points, Bob’s stops, and Torts rants were not enough, at least not on Thursday.

The Blue Jackets now sit at 59 points in 50 games, three ahead of the Buffalo Sabres (also 50 GP) for the East’s second wild card. While it’s not extraordinarily difficult, their stretch heading into the trade deadline may be challenging enough to increase the strain on everyone involved:

Feb. 2: vs. St. Louis
Feb. 5: at Colorado
Feb. 7: at Arizona
Feb. 9: at Vegas
Feb. 12: vs. Washington
Feb. 14: vs. Islanders
Feb. 16: at Chicago
Feb. 18: vs. Tampa Bay
Feb. 19: at Montreal
Feb. 22: at Ottawa
Feb. 22: vs. San Jose

While there are a decent number of home games sprinkled in there, quite a few of them are against dangerous opponents (possibly all if the Blues continue to trend upward).

To Columbus’ credit, they’ve battled through a lot this season. Thursday was a microcosm of that, as they gave the Jets a good fight despite unexpectedly losing Atkinson. And the Blue Jackets deserve at least a mention that they nearly fought back from a significant deficit before losing to the Sabres in the very game that enraged Tortorella.

Then again, this is also the sort of talk that the Blue Jackets are fighting against. A franchise that’s never won a playoff series likely isn’t soothed by the word “close.”

Losses like these have to hurt that much more.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Laine’s cold streak isn’t only warning sign for Jets

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Search Patrik Laine‘s name and you’ll see a lot of pessimism lately, and that makes sense.

After all, the Finnish winger is ice-cold, to the point that you can slice and dice his numbers in a wide variety of unflattering ways, at least if you make sure to skate past the whole “18 goals in November” thing.

The takes really hit a boiling point after possibly Laine’s lowest point as an NHL player. While the Winnipeg Jets managed a 4-3 shootout win against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, Laine only logged 10:55 of ice time, and again — that’s in a game that included a full five-minute overtime of 3-on-3 action. (That “free hockey” accounted for 52 seconds of Laine’s ice time.)

That ice time marks the second-lowest of Laine’s career, but his worst was a game cut short by injuries, so this was the harshest “coach’s decision” the sniper’s faced yet.

The Winnipeg Sun’s Ted Wyman wonders if that tough game was a “wakeup call,” one that might even merit a healthy scratch, and he’s far from the only person cringing at Laine’s numbers.

No doubt about it, the Jets need to make sure that Laine is focused and confident with the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs not much more than two months away.

Is it possible, though, that Laine’s struggles distract from some issues for the Jets? Winnipeg isn’t necessarily in a crisis, but there are some things to consider.

While that trio is dominant, Laine isn’t exactly riding with high-end scorers. During the last month or so, he’s mostly been skating with Bryan Little (a decent but unspectacular center) and Jack Roslovic (an intriguing but unfinished talent). It’s perfectly reasonable to wonder if the Jets would be wise to move Little or Roslovic off that combination in favor of Mathieu Perreault, a long-underrated play driver who has played at center in the past.

Either way, it’s clear that injured winger Nikolaj Ehlers is missed, whether Ehlers would line up with Wheeler and Scheifele (allowing Connor to boost Laine), or if Ehlers could join up with Laine.

  • The Jets aren’t lighting opponents up possession-wise.

Perhaps Winnipeg is coasting through the season while saving that “extra gear” for the postseason, but they’re not necessarily dominant by certain measures.

Before that Bruins game, Money Puck tweeted that the Jets have been looking like an “average team” at times in 2018-19, and that they were stronger according to the same expected goals metrics last season. Looking at Natural Stat Trick, Winnipeg is middle-of-the-pack by a variety of standards, including Corsi and Fenwick. They can’t explain it away by “shot quality” alone, as they’re middling in high-danger scoring chances, too.

Again, this isn’t to say that the Jets are a “paper tiger.” There’s plenty of talent on hand, and this team’s also dealt with substantial injuries to the likes of Ehlers and Dustin Byfuglien.

That said …

  • They might indeed want to spend at the trade deadline.

On Monday, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun postulated that there might be something of an arms race between the Jets and the Nashville Predators during the deadline (sub required).

Winnipeg was happy with the addition of Paul Stastny last season, and there have been murmurs about Derick Brassard, but this could be a time for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to gamble a bit.

For one thing, this team may very well need a bigger boost than you’d think, at least considering some of the struggles depicted in their underlying numbers.

Really, though, this might be the Jets’ best chance. Both Laine and Connor are due significant raises with their rookie contracts set to expire after this season, and Jacob Trouba needs a new deal as an RFA, too. Much like the Maple Leafs, things could really start to get tight for the Jets once they pay some of their brilliant young players — and they might lose some key ones in the process.

Cap Friendly projects the Jets’ deadline cap space at about $26.45 million. They should spend as much of it as ownership will allow.

***

Again, this situation is far from “doom and gloom,” as the Jets are set to be a competitive team for some time. Maybe some of their sneaky (possession stats) and headline-grabbing (Laine slump) issues could actually inspire this patient franchise to go bold, and possibly win big in the process?

Ultimately, Winnipeg’s challenges – and ambitions – could really spice things up during the trade deadline. Again.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Limited Laine; Dazzling Dahlin

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Three Stars

1. Anthony Stolarz

The Flyers scored just one goal on Tuesday, and it came 1:40 into their game. The Rangers had plenty of time to at least tie things up, and they certainly tried, firing 38 shots on Stolarz. None of them resulted in a goal, as Stolarz nabbed an impressive shutout.

This marks the second shutout of Stolarz’s career, and the second of this season. He came into Tuesday’s game with just an .880 save percentage in 2018-19, so while the Flyers are generally trending up in net lately, Stolarz needed this.

For more on the Flyers’ win, click here.

2. David Pastrnak/the Bruins’ top line

You can really take your pick from Boston’s tremendous trio.

Pastrnak scored a goal and two assists while firing an impressive six shots on goal. Brad Marchand also generated three points in this one, all of which were assists. Patrice Bergeron didn’t have as many points, yet his two were goals, and they were pretty impressive.

As strong as the performances were from the Boston’s top line, they could only manage a standings point from Tuesday’s game, thanks in part to this guy:

3. Kyle Connor

Last season was Connor’s early-career breakthrough, as he generated 31 goals and 57 points.

He’s on track to generate an even better year in 2018-19. Connor scored two goals on Tuesday, remarkably pushing him to 21 goals (and 40 points) already in 50 games.

One thing that seperates Connor from the other players who managed two points on Tuesday is that Connor also scored the only shootout goal between the Bruins and Jets, so he essentially added the game-winner to his two goals.

Highlight of the Night

That wasn’t necessarily the most impressive moment of that Jets – Bruins shootout, though, as Connor Hellebuyck made a sweet “toe” save.

More from that game:

Factoids

Over the last seven games, Laine’s generated only one goal and one assist, and has just three points (one goal, two assists) during the last 11.

Things aren’t going great for Laine, and there are some warning signs here and there for the Jets … but hey, they won. Maybe some early struggles will be worth it in the long run?

  • Rasmus Dahlin continues to climb the “How is he just 18?” ranks.

With two assists on Tuesday, Dahlin enjoyed his sixth multi-point game, becoming only the third player to collect at least six before they turned 19. Ahead of him: Bobby Orr at eight and Dahlin’s own coach, Phil Housley … at 13(!). That’s just one of the more impressive numbers he’s accumulated.

Scores

BUF 5 – CBJ 4
WPG 4 – BOS 3 (SO)
PHI 1 – NYR 0

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers host Jets on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

While the Tampa Bay Lightning lead the NHL with 76 points, the Western Conference has a tighter race at the top, especially in the Central Division, where Winnipeg currently owns the top spot and has four games in hand on the second-place Nashville Predators.

The Jets are currently on pace for 109 points and 52 wins. Last season, the team set franchise records in both wins (52) and points (114), but they still didn’t win the division (Nashville did w/ NHL-best 117 pts).

All-Stars Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele are top two on the team in points at 61 and 59, respectively. Kyle Connor is next with 38. Wheeler, tied for ninth in the NHL in points, is second in the league in assists (52) and although his streak of 20-goal seasons may end at five given he has only nine goals, he’s on pace for 104 points, which would be a career high and break Marian Hossa’s franchise record of 100.

In addition to the All-Star break, both teams are coming off their bye weeks, each having last played on Saturday, Jan. 19.

One of the bottom-dwellers of the Eastern Conference, the Flyers sit 14 points back of a playoff spot and are on track to continue their trend of missing the postseason the year after making it. From 1995-2012, the Flyers made the playoffs 16 times in a 17-season span. Since then, Philly has made just three postseasons in the last six years and each in alternating years.

Wayne Simmonds, a popular name in trade talks ahead of the Feb. 25 deadline, has played in all 48 games this season and put up 15 goals but just 23 points. He’s on track for his sixth straight season with 24-plus goals but only 39 points, which would be his fewest in a full season since 2011.

The Flyers are 7-8-2 since interim coach Scott Gordon took over for Dave Hakstol. The coaching change was one of several moves in what has been a tumultuous season for the team that has also included letting go of GM Ron Hextall and replacing him with Chuck Fletcher.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Winnipeg Jets at Philadelphia Flyers
Where: Wells Fargo Center
When: Monday, Jan. 28, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Jets-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

JETS
Kyle Connor – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
Patrik LaineBryan LittleJack Roslovic
Mathieu PerreaultAdam LowryBrandon Tanev
Brendan LemieuxAndrew CoppMason Appleton

Josh MorrisseyJacob Trouba
Dmitry KulikovTyler Myers
Joe Morrow – Sami Niku

Starting goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

FLYERS
James van RiemsdykClaude GirouxTravis Konecny
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Scott LaughtonNolan Patrick – Wayne Simmonds
Phil Varone – Mikhail Vorobyev – Michael Raffl

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Shayne GostisbehereAndrew MacDonald
Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

Kenny Albert and Brian Boucher will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.