WINNIPEG -- Connor Hellebuyck wasn’t looking through rose-coloured glasses and this show of confidence came exactly on cue.
If you thought the Winnipeg Jets goalie was going to be down in the dumps about dropping a sixth consecutive game in the season series with the Edmonton Oilers and a fifth consecutive game overall, you clearly haven’t been paying close enough attention.
When it comes to the power of positivity, Hellebuyck is the guy leading the chorus.
But this declaration wasn’t rooted in false bravado or a lack of respect for his opponent.
A 3-1 defeat to the Oilers on Wednesday night merely fueled his belief in himself and his teammates, should these two clubs meet in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs several weeks down the road.
“It was a step in the right direction. But we can't settle for losing,” said Hellebuyck, who made 24 saves. “We're going to snap out of this and it's going to be big, and we're going to carry that momentum. It's just a matter of time.”
Time seems to be running short for the Jets, who fell three points behind the Oilers in the chase for second place in the North Division standings (with Edmonton holding two games in hand).
With seven games left in the regular season, the Jets slipped to 27-19-3 after they were unable to bank a single point from a five-game homestand that followed a successful 4-1 road trip.
You can understand why Hellebuyck was feeling encouraged though, as the Jets regrouped from a lopsided 6-1 loss with a determined effort that featured the necessary commitment to puck management and defensive-zone play.
The only two shots to beat Hellebuyck were shots he couldn’t see -- and both came on the Oilers’ vaunted power play.
Goaltending is rarely high on the list of concerns for the Jets, though this was an important showing for Hellebuyck after being pulled in two of his previous three starts, especially when you consider he had given up 24 goals in his previous six games against the Oilers.
By making his league-leading 40th start on Wednesday, Hellebuyck is on pace to finish with roughly 45 -- which is right around the number projected for him going into the condensed season.
Given the nature of the schedule, that should allow Hellebuyck to remain in a comfortable rhythm while not being overworked by the time the post-season arrives.
However, he’s likely due for a rest when the Jets open a three-game road trip on Friday against the Montreal Canadiens, having started 13 of the past 14.
With a two-day break before the next game against the Ottawa Senators, it’s a perfect time to get backup Laurent Brossoit some work.
The Oilers wrapped up the season series with a 7-2 record against the Jets, something you can be sure they’ll be looking to draw on should these two clubs meet again in May.
“Playoffs (are) a completely different game,” said Hellebuyck. “You’ve seen it. It’s harder.”
Jets captain Blake Wheeler had a high-event game, finishing with three shots on goal, five hits and three blocked shots while snapping an eight-game goal-scoring drought but also racking up six minutes in penalties.
Wheeler received a tripping minor and a double minor for high-sticking that resulted in a pair of power play goals for the Oilers.
After the game, Wheeler was still trying to figure out how he generated an incision to the mouth of Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear.
“I told him I was completely baffled as to how I cut him,” said Wheeler, asked about the nature of his discussion with the men in stripes. “My stick went up his arm a little bit as I’m trying to get back into the backcheck and I mean, he’s certainly bleeding, there’s no question about that. You know when you hit someone. Clearly I hit him. I’m shocked that I caused that much damage, but that’s the way it goes.
“Yeah, they went and looked at it (on video review). Like I said, I’m shocked that… I’ve hit guys in the face with my stick plenty hard before and haven’t drawn blood. I didn’t think I hit him at all. He’s bleeding for sure, there’s no denying that so I guess I caught him with the sharp part of my stick.”
Earlier in the day, Wheeler discussed the notion that the Jets' lack of regular-season success against the Oilers could be cause for concern.
“There’s going to be adversity in any season,” said Wheeler. “We’re being taught some valuable lessons right now heading into the end of the regular season and into playoff time. It’s pretty simple, there’s a way to play that’s going to give you playoff success and a way to not play that won’t give you success.”
For the bulk of Wednesday’s contest, the Jets implemented a template that if executed to that degree, should allow them to go toe-to-toe with a team like the Oilers in a series.
With one notable exception.
Although the Jets did win the even-strength scoring battle 1-0, they’re simply not generating enough quality scoring chances or finishing at a high enough rate.
Scoring six times during the five-game skid merely reinforces that theory.
The Jets' biggest challenge is finding a remedy for that issue without sacrificing the dedication to the defensive details.
Cheating for offence is simply not a viable option.
“Just got to capitalize on your chances. It’s not like we didn’t have our opportunities,” said Scheifele, who has responded well to Saturday’s unexpected benching. “Maybe a little more sustained O-zone time. It just means going to the right spots, knowing your options, knowing your outlets. That’s about it.”
After doing an excellent job of preventing losing streaks this season, the Jets are clearly in a rut and there’s only one way out of it.
“You’re going to go through slides. We’ve been pretty consistent all year, not losing two in a row. When you go on a slide like this it definitely sucks,” said Scheifele. “You never want to do this, but... we just have to know there’s a plan for this. There’s a plan for this team. Just keep working hard, that’s what it comes down to.
“I have faith that we’re going to come to the rink every single day and work out hardest and know that the rest will be taken care of.”