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Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice didn’t exhaust his vocabulary specifying what went wrong Saturday afternoon.
Regardless of the questions directed his way following a poor performance by the Jets and a highly predictable 3-1 defeat to the Minnesota Wild, one short but significant word kept coming up.
“There really isn’t a piece of the game that you can point to and say, ‘Well, that’s what was wrong with your game.’ We were slow,” said Maurice. “From our back end to our forwards, we were so very slow. It was just our feet.
“It’s not something you see often in other games. I haven’t seen that. I just haven’t seen that in a long time.”
The Jets look like they desperately need a change of scenery, dropping their second-straight home game to fall to 24-12-2. It’s the first time the Central-Division leading team has lost back-to-back games at Bell MTS Place since February.
The team had designs on a bounce-back effort after a bitter 4-1 defeat to the visiting Calgary Flames on Thursday. But any lingering resentment did not manifest itself in any productive manner against the Wild.
In fact, the Jets exhibited a substantially reduced level of engagement. Calling them listless, particularly in the first period, would be an understatement.
“I thought (the Wild) played really well over there. They came out and were skating in the first period. I think that was the biggest thing for us, we weren’t moving our feet,” said defenceman Josh Morrissey. “We were kind of watching them do all the work, to be honest. They got a veteran team over there and they don’t give you a lot.
“I did think that we got better as the game went on but… they played well and we didn’t match that intensity off the hop and that’s where we have to be better.”
Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien injured his leg in the third period and had to be helped off the ice with about 10 minutes left and his club down 2-1. He did not return, and no update on his condition was provided after the game.
An energetic start wasn’t in the cards for the hosts, who trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes and had as many giveaways (six) as shots on goal. Winnipeg finished with 27 shots on goalie Devan Dubnyk but only Patrik Laine’s quick drive on the power-play in the third period got past him.
While Maurice credited the defensive work of the Wild, he wasn’t at all content with his team’s response.
“We had very few quality chances in this game. But it wasn’t where we took an opportunity to have a quality chance and tried to put it through the seam. We had 24 shots blocked. That’s a piece of what they’re very, very good at, so it wasn’t a casualness. They’re good at that,” he said
“It goes back to the symptom of the disease that we died from (Sunday), we were just slow. Change an angle, create a seam, get a puck through, then win a battle — there was just a complete lack of speed to our game.”
The visitors led 2-0 after two periods on goals by defenceman Matt Bartkowski and centre Charlie Coyle.
Laine had cut the lead in half with the Wild a man short at 7:21 of the third period, beating Dubnyk for his 24th tally of the year and league-leading 11th on the power play. It was his first goal in six games.
Built to score at will, the offensively potent Jets have fired just one goal in each of their last three games.
“I think we go back to basics, maybe. Work harder, maybe try to tip one in. Maybe one off your ass goes in, and then maybe that’s how you can get back and get your confidence back, get more goals,” summed up forward Mathieu Perreault.
“Last game (Calgary) we ran into a goalie (David Rittich) that had a great game, tonight same thing. So just stick with it. Chances are there, eventually if we work hard they’re going to go in for us.”
Winkler product Eric Fehr scored his fifth goal of season into an empty net to seal it for the Wild (18-16-3).
Maurice did some significant line juggling in an effort to re-energize his forward group. Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers traded spots fora time, while Andrew Copp rejoined Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev, while Perreault was inserted with Jack Roslovic and Mason Appleton on a fourth line.
The moves proved fruitless.
“I didn’t think it had any effect, positive or negative, either way. (There was optimism) behind the bench that we would get better… (long pause) but we did not,” he said.
Roslovic blindly tossed the puck up the middle in his own end, and the miscue led directly to Bartkowski’s first tally of the season at 9:28 of the opening period.
Coyle’s sixth goal of the year just 2:17 into the second period increased the visitors’ lead. Neither Tanev nor Lowry picked up Coyle as he headed toward the net, picked up a loose puck and lifted it over Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck’s shoulder.
Hellebuyck finished with 22 saves.
Winnipeg closes out 2018 on Monday night — New Year’s Eve — in Edmonton against the Oilers. Game time is 8 p.m. CT.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).