Uninspired Jets scrape out two points against lowly Coyotes

uninspired jets scrape out two points against lowly coyotes

Arizona Coyotes’ Connor Mackey (12) and Winnipeg Jets’ Morgan Barron (36) fight during the second period in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

It was neither a convincing nor momentum-building victory, the kind of win a team pushing to keep hold of a playoff spot would want, especially against the lowly Arizona Coyotes.

But locked in a battle between three teams that seem awfully unwilling to grab the final playoff spot in the Western Conference by the horns, the two points are as valuable as they would be if the Winnipeg Jets dominated the desert dogs.

They came nowhere close to doing that in a 2-1 win at Canada Life Centre, but they kept themselves five points ahead of the Nashville Predators, who won 7-3 on Tuesday in Buffalo, and, depending on the result between the Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks, at least ensure their four-point cushion over their Pacific Division rivals remained intact.

“That’s three games with that team and they’re all 2-1,” head coach Rick Bowness said after the Jets completed the season-series sweep. “They’re hard to play against. Sometimes you give the opposition some credit. Give them credit for the second period.

“That third period, we played the right way, we did all the little things necessary. We controlled the pace of the game, we played on our toes, and were a much harder team to play against. We were pressuring them all over the ice. That’s Winnipeg Jet hockey.”

Nikolaj Ehlers and Adam Lowry lit the lamp in the first period, and Connor Hellebuyck made 29 saves, including a miraculous paddle save early in the second to win his 31st game of the season.

The Jets improved their record to 40-29-3, good for 83 points.

Barrett Hayton struck back for the Coyotes, who came into the game winning six of their past 10 games, including riding a four-game winning streak. Sitting in seventh in the Central Division, the Coyotes’ record fell to 27-33-11.

Winnipeg’s struggling power play continued their ugly narrative, going 0-for-6 on the night, after managing just eight shots on Coyotes starter Karel Vejmelka. The Jets are now 0-for-19 over their past five games, their worst stretch of the season.

Vejmelka, who has dominated the Jets during his brief career to date, stopped 23 shots.

Arizona outshot Winnipeg 30-25, including holding the Jets at bay for the final 16:14 of the second period — a period where they outshot the Jets 18-3.

“We stopped attacking. We got soft with the puck,” head coach Rick Bowness said. “They were fighting to get back in the game. We got hemmed in our zone a couple of shifts, which took all the steam out of our game. When that happens, someone has to get it and ice the puck and reset. We weren’t even able to get it.”

The Jets bounced back in the third, limiting Arizona to just five shots while benefitting from 7:43 of power-play time in the final frame alone.

“It’s funny,” Bowness said. “The second period the bench, it got quiet. They could see what was going on. The third period, there was a lot of energy on the bench and that took itself out on the ice. We had everyone going. The bench was really energized in the third, they knew what was at stake, they knew we had to find a way to win this game.”

Ehlers notched his ninth of the season 4:17 into the first, creating his own turnover at Winnipeg’s blue-line to send him in all alone on a breakaway. His first shot was stopped by Vejmelka, but Ehlers managed to find his own rebound and popped it in to give the Jets an early 1-0 lead.

The goal was just the second in Winnipeg’s past 11 games where they found the opening goal of a contest.

Later in the period, and killing of a Dylan DeMelo slashing call on Clayton Keller, Adam Lowry scored his second in his past three games shorthanded after wiring a one-timer off a cross-ice pass from Morgan Barron.

Barron played the odd-man rush perfectly on the play, outlasting a sliding Coyotes defender before picking out Lowry on the right side to make it 2-0 at the 11:33 mark.

It was an eventful game for Barron, who came within a goal of a Gordie Howe hat trick after dropping the gloves with Arizona defenceman Connor Mackey after a brief scuffle early in the second.

The aforementioned paddle save by Hellebuyck came off Michael Kesselring’s backhand attempt just before, at 2:55.

Nick Schmaltz had just ringed one off of the post as the Coyotes began their second-period siege.

“We’ve seen so many great saves by (Hellebuyck),” Lowry said. “He’s never out of the play. I think of the one from Vegas earlier in the year, where he just reaches back and gets it with his stick. He’s just got such good hand-eye and reads the game so well. He really gave us a chance to win, especially with the way we played in the second period.”

Hayton cut the lead in half at 11:46 of the second, shovelling in a backhand shot past Hellebuyck after the latter couldn’t handle Keller’s initial shot.

Hayton pushed his point streak to eight games with the goal, while Keller saw his streak improve to nine games with the primary assist.

Meanwhile, Nino Niederreiter played in his 800th NHL game on Tuesday. He’s hit several milestones since joining the Jets a week before the NHL trade deadline earlier this month, including his 200th NHL goal, his 200th NHL assist and his 400th NHL point.

The Jets now embark on a three-game road trip through California, beginning in Anaheim on Thursday.

[email protected]

Twitter: @scottbilleck

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