All-Star Games? Who needs ’em.
At least that’s what Winnipeg Jets’ head coach Rick Bowness and netminder Connor Hellebuyck are thinking at this very moment.
The latter – a snub from the 32 players announced last week as all-stars for the 2023 event in Florida – still could hear his name called as one of the ‘Last Men In’, an online initiative to which fans get to vote in the remaining 12 players to the game via online submission.
But for Bowness, it was simple, win on Tuesday in Detroit, and you’re in as coach of the Central Division mini-team. The 67-year-old had never coached an All-Star Game, despite being on the bench of an NHL club for a record 2,600+ games.
But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Why put the old bod’ through more unnecessary travel and potential risk than needed when a winning season is on the line?
Bowness also has not won a Stanley Cup.
Make of that what you choose, but Tuesday’s game in Detroit – the first of a three-game-in-four-day road trip – was not up to par with Bowness’ standards.
A back-and-forth game that was sometimes lopsided and sometimes nail-biting close saw the Jets ultimately lose their first in six appearances, falling 7-5 to their old running mates Andrew Copp and Ben Chiarot and the Red Wings from Little Caesar’s Arena in the Motor City.
“We gave up some chances early that we never give up,” Bowness said post-game. “It was their night. The puck was going into the net for them. We had more than enough chances to win the hockey game. We had 85 shot attempts, we had a ton of scoring chances.”
The loss, paired with Dallas’ win, did cost Bowness the coaching gig at this February’s All-Star Weekend.
But it wasn’t for lack of offence.
Most times when you score five goals, it’s a victory.
This time, however, it wasn’t enough. Despite three separate comebacks, the Jets were unable to find a lead in the lead, or even tie the game at any point after falling behind early.
Andrew Copp had assists on Detroit’s first two goals, defenceman Moritz Seider had a career-high four assists, while five total Red Wings put up multi-point efforts as the Jets kissed goodbye to their five-game winning streak.
Costly mistakes in the form of turnovers from Neal Pionk and Adam Lowry, paired with poorly-timed penalties from David Gustafsson and Brenden Dillon gave Detroit nearly all it needed to hold off a strong Winnipeg attack.
The final ingredient was a strong performance from goaltender Ville Husso, who actually gave up five goals on the night, but did face 38 Jets shots – including multiple moments of ongoing heavy zone pressure.
Local Michigan products Connor Hellebuyck and Kyle Connor did not have impressive nights, with Hellebuyck giving up a season-high six goals on 22 shots, while Connor collected one assist – a pretty one at that – on the night in a game he finished as a minus-2.
“We’ve been giving up way too many chances against,” Schmidt said. “It’s a little bit uncharacteristic of us right now. We’re getting all of the offence we can get. We have enough to win in a game like tonight. It just comes down to us as guys to realize that’s not going to be the brand that we can win with.”
Detroit got out to a 3-0 lead before Pionk scored on a long-range shot late in the first period to make it a respectable 3-1 deficit entering the middle stanza.
But it took just three minutes for Dominik Kubalik and the Wings to score another, restoring Detroit’s three-goal cushion.
Veterans Sam Gagner and Nate Schmidt replied in succession for the Jets, cutting the Red Wings’ lead back to just one goal, but captain Dylan Larkin once again found a way to help his mates out with a power play marker late in the second period.
After being outshot 8-7 in the first, Winnipeg bounced back with 17 shots to Detroit’s nine in the frame, pulling ahead 24-17 on the shot chart through 40 minutes.
Nikolaj Ehlers potted his second goal of the season 33 seconds into the third, but Detroit bounced back once again, with Robby Fabbri collecting his second on the year just a minute-and-a-half later.
The 6-4 score would stand until just five minutes remained on the clock. Ongoing Jets pressure led to Mark Scheifele tapping home a Pierre-Luc Dubois rebound on a Winnipeg power play, bringing the teams to within just one goal of one another.
And with Hellebuyck on the bench for the extra attacker, the Red Wings sealed the deal as Lucas Raymond potted his 11th into the yawning cage, winning it for the home team.
“Every line going over the boards was doing a job creating a lot of offence, but not spending much time in our own end as well,” Gagner added. “Just spotting them a lead that we have to learn from. We’ve talked a lot in here about being better off the start. It’s an area for growth and we’re pushing forward.”
The loss drops Winnipeg to 26-14-1 on the year, three points back of the Dallas Stars for first in the Central Division. Next up is a set of back-to-back games with the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday and Friday. Both games will feature 6:00 PM central time puck drops, with Thursday’s game on TSN and Friday’s contest broadcast on Sportsnet.
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