If you’re the glass-half-full type, you’ll point to progress — another power-play goal, perhaps, or not trailing by multiple goals heading into the third, throw in hot-handed goalie, too.
If you prefer the glass half empty, you’ll view it as a third straight loss at home — one where their penalty kill let the Winnipeg Jets down once again and they were left to rue missed chance after missed chance.
In the end, a 3-1 defeat to the New York Islanders kept the losing train rolling chugging along at Bell MTS Place on Thursday.
“It’s not going for us right now,” captain Blake Wheeler said. “Scoring one goal, you’re not going to win many games that way. I thought we did enough offensively to win the game. I thought ninth game in 15 days, I still thought we carried most of the play and were the better team. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
What could have been…
Nikolaj Ehlers wired a wrist shot up and over Semyon Varlamov’s glove hand to give the Jets a 1-0 lead at 13:12 of the first period.
The goal, a power-play marker, was the fourth straight game in which the Jets have converted on the man advantage and a product of Winnipeg’s domination in the opening period.
The lead would last until the Jets took their first penalty of the game.
Coming into Thursday, the Jets were giving up a goal 40% of the time they were down a man.
Sixteen seconds into a Dmitry Kulikov tripping call, the inevitable occurred, with Mathew Barzal cranking a one-timer near-post past Connor Hellebuyck at 7:41 of the second period.
They now own the 31st-ranked penalty kill (56.3%).
“They got a power play. Scored,” Wheeler said. “Outside of that, that was it.”
The Jets put on a possession clinic through the first 30 minutes and Hellebuyck bailed his team out on several occasions in the final 10 minutes of the middle frame.
It wasn’t enough.
Barzal would once again prove deadly before the period was through.
Josh Morrissey tried to dump the puck in at the Isles’ blue line but Johnny Boychuk swatted it down, allowing the puck to get worked up to Barzal, who led a 2-on-1 where he elected to shoot, beating Hellebuyck low blocker side for his second with 17 seconds left.
“The goal at the end of the second clearly hurts because it’s a controllable situation, we got possession of the puck,” Maurice said. “That’s a tough one. But there’s still lots of time on the clock and there’s still lots of opportunity to tie that game.”
Varlamov would take it from there, stopping 32-of-33 for his second win of the season.
Josh Bailey would add an empty-netter with 27 seconds left in the game to seal it.
Hellebuyck made several 10-bell stops in a 23-save effort, a game would have ended with a far worse scoreline that it did without him.
DEFENCE MUST IMPROVE
A training camp spent working diligently on team defence has yet to bear fruit for the Jets in the regular season.
Heading into Thursday’s game, Winnipeg was worst among the NHL’s 31 teams in goals allowed with 30, second worst in shots against per game at 34.3 and back to worst in terms of high-danger chances against at 71.
You can tack on the fourth lowest expected goals percentage at even strength (42.72%), too.
Oh, and the 30th-ranked penalty kill as well, giving up a power-play goal a whopping 40% of the time.
That porous penalty kill aside, the buy-in to a five-man defensive structure has some cracks and ones that need to be filled quite quickly.
“The league is too good now, there’s too many good players, you have to buy in, all five guys defensively,” said defenceman Josh Morrissey. “The teams that have had success, especially in the playoffs over the last few years, that’s a big key with them, just playing as a five-man unit and defending that way.”
Besides the past two games where the Jets have been outscored 11-4, Morrissey feels his team has done a good job defending as a unit.
“We just have to get back to that compete level,” he said.
Granted, the team had a tall order to turn the ship around during a two-and-a-half week stretch of training camp after bleeding their entire right side on the blue line over the summer.
At the same time, their attention to detail in terms of team defence wasn’t that great to begin with.
Maurice feels half of the job has been accomplished, insofar as they’ve cut down on odd-man rushes (minus the second period in against the Islanders last week) and their controlled zone entries on defence are better than they were year-over-year since the 2016-17 season
“And then there’s a big chunk of our defensive numbers that we don’t like at all, but we kind of knew that would be the hole, we’d have to get stronger at that,” Maurice said. “We certainly not surprised where we are at. We’d like to be a bit better in a couple of areas. We think we can improve pretty quickly in a couple of areas.”
The Jets continued to play it cautious with centre Bryan Little on Thursday.
Little shed his non-contact jersey for Wednesday’s full team practice, offering hope that the 31-year-old might make his season debut against the Islanders after missing the first eight games with a concussion.
Little took part Winnipeg’s very-optional morning skate Thursday, working exclusively with assistant coach Todd Woodcroft, but Jets head coach ruled him out of the game during his pre-game availability.
“We had a 30-minute puck movement practice and he worked hard… and he’ll get another one today,” Maurice said. “Erring on the side of caution again.”
Little has been out since he was forced from Winnipeg’s final preseason game at the Minnesota Wild at the end of September.
Wild centre Luke Kunin was trying to cut through the middle of the ice when he clipped Little on his chin, dropping Little to the ice. Little left the game and wouldn’t return, eventually being diagnosed with a concussion.
On Wednesday, Little said he won’t be out for retribution against Kunin. Little revealed that Kunin sent him a text message a day after the hit to see how he was doing and to apologize.
After spending the previous three games watching the game from the press box as a healthy scratch, 18-year-old defenceman Ville Heinola made his return to the lineup on Thursday.
Heinola played in place of the injured Anthony Bitetto, who left Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes late in the second period and did not return.
Heinola was solid in Winnipeg’s first four games of the season before a bit of fall off in the fifth game, something Maurice and his coaching staff said was noticeable.
“He’s handled it like a real good pro,” Maurice said of the layoff. “And it’s also given him a time to recover a little bit. It’s a heavy camp that we had from an NHL man’s point of view. Our guys who have been through eight or nine camps are saying that was a tough, tough camp.
“An 18-year-old who is not used to a North American (hockey), certainly never been to an NHL camp, there’s a cost to that. We started to think we started to see it in his game a little bit. So, he’s been able to come out of the lineup in a heavy schedule and almost recover a little bit. He’s started to go back to moving real well.”
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNING
The Jets were 1-for-11 — 9% — with the man advantage during their first five games of the season. Since then, they’ve gone 5-for-17 or 29%.
How do you break up a line that had a 22-4 advantage in the shot share department on Thursday night? The line of Andrew Copp, Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor were dominant in the game, playing like they don’t want to get broken up when Bryan Little returns.
Jack Roslovic’s move to the wing has proved to be a shrewd move. He’s played very well out at right-wing, and even better since getting linked up with Adam Lowry.
Barzal’s power-play bullet seemed to spark the third-year pro, and when he got another chance to score, he took it on a 2-on-1 after a gaffe by Josh Morrissey at the Isles blue line.
Connor Hellebuyck stood tall once again for the Jets, stopping 23-of-25, including some timely saves to keep the score manageable. Outside of a .886 save percentage against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday, Hellebuyck has been at .920 or better in four of his past five starts.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019