Jets' offensive slump putting unnecessary pressure on Hellebuyck

Tyler Seguin assisted Denis Gurianov's game-tying goal in the third period and scored the game-winner in overtime as the Dallas Stars took down the Winnipeg Jets 3-2.

Connor Hellebuyck chose his words carefully, as he’s done on many other occasions during his tenure as the starting goalie of the Winnipeg Jets.

The subject matter of the question delivered on site by a reporter in Dallas clearly made Hellebuyck uncomfortable - and it’s not the first time he’s been left to squirm a bit at the podium or provided a pregnant pause before engaging in the conversation.

Part of how Hellebuyck has grown into his role as a true leader for the Jets is his ability to deflect queries about how the group in front of him may have let him down or not performed up to the standard expected from a team that needs to show some serious desperation.

And just like he did with his blocker when Jason Robertson took a shot from point-blank range, Hellebuyck smoothly turned this attempt aside in what turned out to be a 3-2 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars on Wednesday in Texas.

“You know, I don't want to speak too much of the team game. I think that's more of a coaching perspective,” said Hellebuyck, who made 36 saves in what was his 43rd start of the season. “I do a lot of analyzing myself and making sure I'm giving my best effort. I know I am dialling in some details and I'm getting better this season. I’ve got to make sure I do my job to the best possible capabilities and then let everything else work itself else.”

In case you are wondering, the next time Hellebuyck throws his teammates under the bus will be the first and despite another missed opportunity to narrow the gap against a team the Jets are chasing, this wasn’t just an act of diplomacy from the starting goalie.

Even after watching his group come out on the lopsided side of the shot-attempts (67-32), he praised his teammates for keeping most of the shots to the outside

Then, he allowed himself to show a bit of vulnerability when the topic turned to the Jets sitting five points behind the Stars for fifth place in the Central Division and six behind the Edmonton Oilers in the chase for the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference.

With 31 games left in the regular season, time is running short for the Jets.

“It's tough. It's tough because I want it so bad and I want to make (the) playoffs really bad and I know everyone in the room does, too. It's hard not to watch the standings,” said Hellebuyck. “I know we're taking it game by game, but it's tough when we keep on losing so close. We are in most games and those are important points. But, that being said, it's only two games of the road trip. We could still salvage a good roadie (with the last two games).”

Salvaging this four-game road trip is now an extremely tall task for the Jets, who have a date with the best team in the NHL on Friday night, a Colorado Avalanche juggernaut that is 22-3-2 on home ice and 37-10-4 overall to leave them with 78 points in the bank already.

The Avalanche entered the season as a prohibitive Stanley Cup favourite and they’ve done a great job of living up to the advance billing, firing on all cylinders with a team that features plenty of dynamic offensive players and ample depth at forward and defence, is sound defensively and has been receiving solid netminding.

With the Jets staring at a 1-2-1 record in this second of eight five-game blocks, the urgency to elevate the level of play is real.

This is a group that has continued to show flashes but just can’t seem to pull it all together.

The Jets snapped a stretch of six games of allowing the first goal, building leads of 1-0 and 2-1 but they also surrendered a shorthanded goal after a Neal Pionk turnover and then sat back a bit during the third period after going ahead and couldn’t hold the lead.

The script was eerily familiar to 12 days ago, when the Jets had an opportunity to close the gap on the Stars and scored in the final minute with the goalie on the bench in favour of an extra attacker, but then lost the bonus point in overtime.

Momentum has been almost as tough to come by as consistency for this group and it’s part of what makes them so perplexing.

Some flashes of serious commitment, followed by costly mistakes ending up in the back of the net.

When a team suffers through a six-game losing skid and drops seven of eight overall like the Jets did, rattling off a lengthy winning streak is basically the only way back into contention.

Remember, this is a team that’s won consecutive games just twice since the calendar turned to 2022 and that’s not going to be good enough.

Losing three consecutive games (0-2-1) coming out of a 4-1-1 stretch basically undid the progress the Jets made.

“Well it’s frustrating when you don’t get two points and you don’t get a point at least out of Calgary the other (game) for sure,” said Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey, who had a great opportunity in overtime but was turned aside by Jake Oettinger. “So, you know, you look at our schedule, you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself or get dejected. We’ve got to turn the page right away and be ready to go against a pretty darn good team next.”

This was another one of those nights when the Jets got offensive production from just one line - with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele supplying the goals (Scheifele would add an assist), the second of which came on the power play.

Stars forward Tyler Seguin continues to haunt the Jets, setting up the tying goal and providing the game-winner 54 seconds into overtime after he batted in his own rebound.

A video review was required to determine whether the puck was fully over the goal line and the second part of the equation was that there was some debate over Seguin’s stick may have been above the crossbar when he made contact.

“It’s not a high stick. The league reviews every goal in the last minute and in overtime,” said Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry. “So, there’s nothing that you can do.”

Hellebuyck wasn’t so sure the goal should have counted.

“So he shot it at my blocker and I blockered it up and as it was descending, I got another piece of it and knocked it up again and then that's where it ran into his stick and he swatted at it,” said Hellebuyck .”For me, I knocked it up twice, which had to be over my shoulder. I don't know exactly where it was on the net but it was close. Definitely close.”

It was also another outing when the Jets were held to two goals or fewer, leaving them with a record of 1-18-5 when they didn't find the back of the net at least three times.

For a team that has plenty of offensive weapons, this season-long goal-scoring drought is incredibly difficult to explain.

Low-scoring games are often the order of the day when it comes to the stretch run, but unless the Jets find a way to get more players going in the same game and for the production to increase, things will continue to be challenging.

It also enhances the pressure on Hellebuyck to be nearly perfect.

Of course, being asked to provide above-average-to-elite goaltending comes with the territory for a goalie with Vezina Trophy credentials, but in order for the Jets to get things turned around, providing some additional support for Hellebuyck is a must.

Even if Hellebuyck had no interest in going down that road on Wednesday night.

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