A return to home ice did not equal an end to the Winnipeg Jets’ losing streak.
Back in the friendly confines of the Canada Life Centre for the first time in more than a month, the Jets still fell to the Florida Panthers 5-3 on Tuesday. The Jets suffered their fifth straight loss in front of just 250 fans with a restricted capacity due to current health restrictions.
The Jets were dealt a tough blow just an hour before faceoff, announcing that defenceman Josh Morrissey had entered COVID protocol. That meant Ville Heinola would make his season debut. The Jets were missing three of their top-six defenceman with Dylan DeMelo and Logan Stanley both injured.
The Panthers scored just two minutes into the game and notched two more tallies in a high-octane first period that featured five goals. The Jets tied the game early in the middle frame, but the Panthers soon took the lead back for good.
“I think we made a lot of mistakes,” said head coach Dave Lowry. “Obviously, you find out, and we’re not going to make excuses, but you find out an hour before, you’re going to lose one of your top defencemen, right. Playing one of the best teams, and one of the most offensive teams, you take J-Mo (Morrissey) out, (you’re) putting some guys in positions where they haven’t seen a team like this.”
The Panthers are the highest scoring team in the NHL, and the Jets sure didn’t help their cause with two of the Panthers’ goals a direct result of turnovers by the Jets.
“If we want to play their way, we’re not going to win,” said Jets forward Paul Stastny. “I think sometimes you got to stick to your game plan, what makes us work, and what makes us successful. Against different teams, and different nights, we’re going to have to play different ways and if we don’t kinda learn to play like that, if we just want to play offence, and we just want to go, go, go – it’s going to be a lot of frustration, misery.
“Everyone wants to chip in, but it doesn’t mean anything if you’re not winning.”
Stastny, Kyle Connor, and Pierre-Luc Dubois scored goals for the Jets.
One of the few bright spots for Winnipeg was the continued strong play by rookie Cole Perfetti. The 20-year-old had a pair of assists in the loss, recording both his first-career assist, and his first-career multi-point game.
“I definitely think the more you play, the more you get comfortable, more confidence you get,” said Perfetti. “I think game-by-game it’s getting a little bit better. Obviously, it’s a pretty tough league, and it’s going to take a long time to learn, but definitely feel like it’s slowing down just a hair.”
It was a giveaway by Heinola that led directly to Florida’s first goal of the game just over two minutes in. Heinola slid the puck up the boards in his own end, but it was intercepted by Anton Lundell, whose shot on goal was tipped past Connor Hellebuyck by Mason Marchment.
Marchment had a great chance to make it 2-0 a few minutes later on a breakaway but he hit the post.
The Jets would draw even at the 8:19 mark. A point shot from Brenden Dillon produced a juicy rebound that Stastny buried past Sergei Bobrovsky.
Less than four minutes later, Marchment made amends for his breakaway miss. Sam Reinhart won a race for the puck in the Jets end and fed Marchment, who was alone in the slot and roofed it past Hellebuyck to give Florida the lead.
But it didn’t last long. 51 seconds later, Connor took a great pass from Perfetti, deked and beat Bobrovsky to tie the game. It was the first assist of Perfetti’s NHL career.
The back-and-forth first period swung back in Florida’s favour with 2:27 to go. Hellebuyck tried to clear a puck behind his net but it hit a Panthers player and bounced into the slot where Marchment whipped a chance on goal that deflected off Lundell and in.
Winnipeg would get the first power play of the game early in the second, and with time winding down, Perfetti made an excellent move at the net to set up Dubois for a tap-in goal to tie the game.
Florida grabbed the lead back near the midway point of the period. Hellebuyck was screened as Aaron Ekblad fired a shot from the point, hitting the goalie’s left pad and sitting in the crease for Carter Verhaeghe to bang home.
Each side would get power play opportunities later in the period but the score remained 4-3 in Florida’s favour heading into the third.
The Panthers would net an insurance marker just over 12 minutes into the final period. Anthony Duclair cut through multiple Jets defenders and got to the net, he was denied by Hellebuyck but Sam Bennett knocked home the rebound to give the visitors a 5-3 cushion.
It seemed like all hope was lost for the Jets when they took a penalty with under two minutes left, but Adam Lowry got in alone shorthanded and beat Bobrovsky five-hole. Unfortunately for Lowry, the puck somehow skittered wide of the net, taking with it any chance of a late comeback.
Hellebuyck stopped 27 shots in his 12th straight start, while Bobrovsky made 32 saves for the win for the first-place Panthers.
The Jets were also without forward Dominic Toninato, and assistant coach Charlie Huddy after they were also placed in COVID protocol earlier in the day.
The Jets will try to put a stop to their losing skid when they host the Canucks Thursday night. The pregame show begins on 680 CJOB at 5 p.m. with puck drop shortly after 7 p.m.