WINNIPEG – The self-inflicted wounds were as glaring as they were costly.
This is one of those times where the day-after video session isn’t going to be kind when it comes to the review of the three goals allowed by the Winnipeg Jets during the second period of what was supposed to be a marquee matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That it took Jets head coach Rick Bowness fewer than 90 seconds to break down the effort in his post-game media address with those on the scene in Toronto was telling in itself.
Bowness didn’t mince words in describing the play that led to the goal that gave the Maple Leafs the lead just eight seconds into the second period after the Jets had a strong opening 20 minutes.
“Listen, we made a huge mistake right off the bat. That first goal, everyone’s ready to go,” Bowness told reporters in Toronto. “That’s just a terrible play.”
Jets centre Mark Scheifele was at the heart of the play in question.
He lost the draw to Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews and as defenceman Morgan Rielly got the puck up to Michael Bunting, Jets defenceman Neal Pionk stepped up to make a play on Bunting, who directed the puck between his legs to Matthews at the offensive blue line.
Scheifele was in the proper position to make a play on Matthews, but he waved his stick at his opponent, getting neither the man or the puck, allowing him to cruise in on a two-on-one with William Nylander.
Matthews chose to shoot on the play and fired his wrister through the pads of Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
The goal seemed to leave the Jets a bit out of sorts and reeling for a stretch early in the second period.
On Matthews’ second shift of the period, he found a quiet zone in the slot and was left unchecked once again as he made it 2-0 just 3:47 into the second period.
Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois was the closest player in proximity to Matthews but he thought he was checking Nylander on this breakdown in defensive-zone coverage.
Had Matthews not ripped his shot over the net, he would have completed the natural hat trick on his next shift, as he was left wide open in the slot once again.
Mitch Marner got in on the action just over 10 minutes later, stripping the puck from Scheifele in the neutral zone before firing home a shorthanded goal that made it 3-0.
It’s not like Matthews and Marner went out and dominated this game.
They were noticeable and opportunistic, certainly.
Most importantly, they got the job done.
Ultimately, the Maple Leafs star players – coupled with an excellent effort from goalie Ilya Samsonov (who made 37 saves) – powered their team to victory.
Outside of a blistering one-timer from Kyle Connor that was set up by Josh Morrissey and Scheifele and came with 12 seconds to go in a two-man advantage, the Jets stars were mostly held in check.
“We played really well. We had a much better effort, much better compete. The mistakes we made with their best players on the ice were glaring,” said Bowness. “To me, we gave them the first three goals – that’s all on us. You give those guys – Matthews and Marner – those chances, they’re going to score. We had some great looks.
“We couldn’t get that timely goal that I talk a lot about and their goalie made a lot of big saves for them. It was a much better effort, much better compete. The score was the same – I get that – (but) if we create that many scoring chances on Saturday, we’ve got the goal-scorers, the puck will go in.”
For all of the recent discussion about sluggish starts, the Jets actually came out of the gate with plenty of pace and moved the puck crisper than they did in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
But an inability to convert several quality looks was compounded by a series of avoidable miscues.
“Hockey is a funny game. Sometimes you have good starts,” Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt told reporters. “Even in the second period, we had a couple assignments we usually pick up. For the majority of the period though we still did a good job of getting up the ice. I thought our D did a really good job of getting up in the play and creating second chances for us.
“We can do a better job of getting ourselves back into games when something like that happens to start a period. Things like that are going to happen. Nobody is perfect. Good players are going to score when you give them chances. We have a group that is capable of coming back in a situation like that, and being a little more urgent when something like that does happen.”
Following the game, Hellebuyck was named to the NHL All-Star Game, voted onto the Central Division squad along with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche.
Hellebuyck will be making his second trip to the All-star game and joins Morrissey, who collected his 50th point of the season.
The Jets have dropped consecutive games for the fourth time this season and they’ll attempt to prevent a second three-game losing skid on Saturday as they face the Ottawa Senators.
It’s the latest test on this season-long five-game road swing.
Ups and downs happen over the course of the season.
Outside of putting together one of the crispest efforts of the season last Friday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins, the Jets have allowed a few bad habits to creep into their collective game recently.
They’ve also been held to four goals for, with just one of those coming at even strength and the three others coming on the power play.
The key for the Jets is scoring more without making any sacrifices on the defensive side of the puck.
Cheating for offence is not the solution.
That will only make things worse and lead to more bad habits to overcome.
“Losing is not fun. We say that good teams don’t lose two in a row and that’s two in a row,” Dubois told reporters. “We’ve looked at our past couple of, seven or eight games here, and it’s not the hockey that we’ve played all year that’s made us successful.
“Sometimes, you’re lucky enough with a goalie like that to get a win even if you don’t play your best. We know that kind of hides, sometimes, the mistakes that you make. Right now, (Hellebuyck) is still giving us a chance to win but we… can do a lot better out there.”