WINNIPEG — Connor Hellebuyck wants to have his voice heard and he wants some clarity.
Although he was obviously disappointed by the ruling after a coach’s challenge for goalie interference didn’t go his way, this wasn’t an example of sour grapes from the star netminder of the Winnipeg Jets.
Hellebuyck has shared strong opinions on the subject before and he feels like his suggestions have mostly been ignored.
But after his Jets fell 4-2 and were outclassed by the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night to wrap up a four-game homestand, Hellebuyck made another passionate plea to the NHL.
“It’s very frustrating. I’ve been trying for years to get this rule more black and white,” said Hellebuyck, who made 30 saves on Tuesday, which allowed his team to stay in the game. “I don’t want to say changed. But just so everyone understands what’s going on there. I’m not trying to take away goals from the league. I just want to make it black and white. I feel like my word isn’t being heard enough. One year, on the competition committee, we had a good discussion, but it didn’t go anywhere. Obviously that needs to be on the agenda.”
For the record, Hellebuyck wasn’t trying to make the case that the officials cost his team the game, as that simply wasn’t the case.
This was about his growing frustration about a number of goals that were allowed to stand over the years — whether it was James Neal catching him with a stick to the mask or some less blatant examples where it was ruled that a Jets player pushed the opponent into Hellebuyck and that action was what may have hindered his ability to reset or try to make a save.
Tuesday’s play in question was one that falls into the grey area category.
During a scramble inside the blue paint, Hellebuyck made the initial save with his right pad.
Hurricanes centre Sebastian Aho went hard to the net and tried to jar the puck loose with his stick, making contact with that right pad in pursuit of the puck.
Before a whistle was blown, Hellebuyck had spun sideways and the puck eventually trickled over the line.
Since the puck was not fully covered, Aho was well within his right to go after it and was ultimately rewarded for doing so.
But Hellebuyck provided a counter argument for consideration.
“It’s goalie interference,” said Hellebuyck. “I’ve read the league’s explanation about it. They called it a loose puck. The rule states that on a loose puck the player and goalie, if they’re both trying to go for it, there’s allowed to be incidental contact. But that wasn’t incidental contact. He drove me through and he didn’t get the puck until he turned me 90 degrees. I don’t want to say I had it fully covered, but it was jammed on my pad by my doing, and it only came free once I was spun fully around. And his stick was in my knee, and not allowing me to do anything.
“I was rendered useless. So for me that’s goalie interference. If it’s puck first, I’ll allow it. But it wasn’t puck first.”
Hellebuyck wasn’t done there.
He had a thoughtful answer at the ready when asked what he would suggest to help improve the rules when it comes to goalie interference.
He also made it clear that he’d like an opportunity for further examination and clarification, once he had a moment or two to collect his thoughts after being in the heat of the battle just a few minutes earlier.
“In my opinion, if it’s in the crease and the guy gets the puck first, then it’s a 50-50 puck and he’s allowed to battle (with) the goalie,” said Hellebuyck. “If he gets goalie first, that renders the goalie useless and doesn’t allow him to do his job, then it’s goalie interference.
“The grey area comes when it’s outside the crease. My argument would be if it’s incidental contact, it has to be for the puck, it can’t be directly goalie first. But there’s plenty of time for me to think about it and really define it. I’m talking about it now after I’ve just played a game. That’s just a general idea.”
Jets head coach Paul Maurice had no regrets about using the coach’s challenge on the play in question, although the goal was not overturned and his team was also assessed a penalty for delay of game.
“I make that call, not based on whether I think there was goalie interference, it’s do I think there is enough goalie interference there to get it overturned and I think it is,” said Maurice. “To me, there’s enough goaltending interference on that play to make that call and make it every single time it comes like that again.”
Hellebuyck’s thoughts about wanting to see less grey area on goalie interference calls were presented to Maurice, who was asked if he shared similar sentiments.
“That’s what we would all like,” said Maurice. “But they’ve been going at this for an awfully long time and haven’t been able to do that.”
Hellebuyck was under siege throughout the contest as the Hurricanes put on a clinic, playing with aggression and purpose in all three zones.
They gave the Jets fits with their defensive structure, providing very little time or space to manoeuvre, while also dictating the pace of the play.
In this measuring stick game against an opponent that resembles a Stanley Cup contender, the Jets failed to earn a passing grade.
Were it not for the play of Hellebuyck, this could have easily been a route.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Hurricanes held a 15-1 edge in high-danger chances at five-on-five and 20-5 overall.
This was a dominant performance by the Hurricanes, one that left the Jets noticeably frustrated after exploding for 14 goals over the previous two games.
At the root of that frustration was special teams.
Although Pierre-Luc Dubois scored a highlight-reel goal by deflecting a pass from between his legs from Blake Wheeler for a power-play marker that briefly made it a 2-2 game, the power play failed to deliver when the Jets needed it most — coming up empty during a five-minute major to Ian Cole for kneeing Mark Scheifele at 7:39 of the third period.
The Jets managed only two shots on goal during that power play and neither was particularly dangerous.
“When you’ve got a team that’s pressing you that hard, you want to move the puck from side to side. From one side to the other side, as quick as possible, and we weren’t able to do that,” said Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers, who scored for a third consecutive game and is up to 10 goals on the season. “I think maybe a little bit more support to the guy that has the puck is something that we should have changed a little. We did score a power play goal, but obviously when you’re behind 4-2 and you get a five-minute power play, you want to at least get some momentum going. And we weren’t able to do that.”
Compounding matters for the Jets was another suspect effort from the penalty kill, which allowed the go-ahead marker and an insurance goal to lose the special-teams battle 2-1.
The Jets gave up multiple power play goals for the eighth time in 25 games this season and they are currently ranked 31st in the NHL in penalty killing efficiency.
That’s just not good enough and it’s costing them valuable points right now.
The Jets found out earlier in the day they would be without defenceman Neal Pionk for an indefinite period of time after he entered concussion protocol, the result of a knee to the head from Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza, which resulted in a six-game suspension that he plans to appeal.
Pionk, who was suspended two games for kneeing Maple Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin, won’t make the trip to the West Coast with the Jets and the timeline for his return is unknown at the moment.
Nathan Beaulieu jumped back into the lineup for the Jets on Tuesday, but the Jets are expected to recall either Ville Heinola or Johnny Kovacevic from the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League in the next day or two after veteran forward Riley Nash was claimed off waivers by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
With the loss, the Jets finished the homestand with a record of 2-2 and they remain below the playoff line in the Western Conference with a record of 12-9-4 as they get set for a West Coast swing that includes games against the Seattle Kraken and the Vancouver Canucks.
“Ebbs and flows. A roller coaster,” said Hellebuyck, asked to assess the homestand. “We played some good hockey. We can’t let this beat us up.”
No, the Jets can’t let this disappointing loss overshadow some of the progress made in winning three of the previous four games.
But it also must serve as a stark reminder of what level the Jets must consistently play at as they attempt to distance themselves from the stretch of five losses in six games that originally put this group on high alert.