The Winnipeg Jets wouldn’t have left the rink on Saturday night wanting more chances. They had plenty.
But in a game that was ultimately decided by a single third-period shot, they would have simply departed hoping some of the many tipped shots and bounces they created to carom in a different direction than they did.
Over an 82-game slate, there will be nights they just don’t, as the Jets found out in a 3-0 defeat to the resurgent Pittsburgh Penguins, who have won two straight and four on the trot at Canada Life Centre, which was sold out for just the second time this season.
“You have nights it just doesn’t go in,” head coach Rick Bowness said. “The puck trickles by the post, or hits something and goes wide, or a shot misses the net, or the goalie makes big saves. He did. Give him credit. He made a lot of big saves. That’s hockey. If we weren’t getting those chances we’d be upset. We had enough chances to score tonight.”
Tristan Jarry was solid between the pipes for the Pens, stopping 32 shots for his first shutout.
Winger Jason Zucker rewarded his netminder with the dagger some 53 seconds into the final frame, breaking a scoreless deadlock in a tightly contested game.
Zucker ripped a one-timer from the left circle high over Jets starter Connor Hellebuyck’s glove side with the Jets in the midst of a bad line change
“I would call it a bad decision,” Bowness said of the events leading to the game’s opening goal. “It wasn’t slow. It was just coming off at the wrong time.”
From there, the Penguins locked it down through the neutral zone, employing all of their veteran experience to frustrate the Jets as they went in search of a tying goal.
There wasn’t one to be had against Pittsburgh’s stingy defence.
“They flew the zone, they made it tough to get a forecheck on their D, and then they really sat above it,” defenceman Josh Morrissey said. “They weren’t really pushing for that next one. It almost seemed like they were content to sit above us and really slow things down through the neutral zone.”
Bryan Rust would put the game out of reach at the 18:26 mark on a goal — his fifth — that Hellebuyck, who finished with 29 saves, would want back.
Beckoned to the bench by Bowness as the Jets looked to deploy their extra attacker, Hellebuyck made it about halfway to the bench before the Penguins got the puck out of their own zone.
Hellebuyck latched onto it, dragging back before he ran out of real estate, knowing he’d be handed a penalty for handling the puck outside of the trapezoid.
Instead of rimming it around the far side of the zone, Helelbuyck tried to backhand it to Morrissey. The only problem with the scenario is that Crosby stood in the way, and he intercepted the puck before feeding it to Rust, who deposited it into the back of the net before Hellebuyck could recover.
“I wouldn’t overanalyze it,” Bowness said, referring to it as a tough break. “Sid’s the smartest hockey player in the world.”
Jake Guentzel potted his 10th into the empty net with four seconds left.
“I thought, for the most part, it was a pretty even game,” forward Adam Lowry said. “I thought both teams had some pretty good chances. Both goalies had some really good saves. Ultimately, one shot was going to be the difference.”
As much was true.
The Jets came into the game 8-1-1 in their previous 10 games. Saturday was the first time Winnipeg was held off the scoresheet through 16 games.
Their record on the season fell to 10-5-1, as did their standing in the Central Division, down to third — tied for the same record with the reigning Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
The goal now for the Jets is to quickly flush Saturday’s game as they turn their attention to the Carolina Hurricanes, who help cap off Winnipeg’s three-game homestand on Monday night.
“We’re going to play a lot of hockey here coming up and it’s one of the best teams in hockey coming in here,” Lowry said. “We’re looking forward to that challenge.
“It’s one of these things, you’re going to look at the tape and try and learn from it and then kind of implement some changes for Carolina. We know they have a lot of speed, they defend really well. They kind of roll all four lines and they come at you. It’s going to be a great test for us and it’s important we use (Sunday’s) practice to get ready for it.”
Monday’s game also marks the return of forward Paul Stastny, who played the past two seasons with the Jets in his second stint with the club.
Puck drop is slated for 6:30 p.m.