WINNIPEG, Manitoba — After exceeding league-wide expectations without No. 1 center Mark Scheifele for six weeks, the Winnipeg Jets fell back to earth with a clunker when he made his long-awaited return to the lineup Friday.
Winnipeg will try to right the ship when it hosts the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon.
Exhibiting none of the speed or spunk that propelled them into first place in the Central Division during Scheifele’s absence because of a shoulder injury, the Jets were outplayed in every facet of the game and were only really in it for a very short time in the third period during a 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues.
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That’s when right winger Patrik Laine ripped home his 25th goal of the year on a power play to pull the Jets within one goal at 3-2, but they gave up the go-ahead goal on the next shift — it was impossible to miss defensemen Tyler Myers and Josh Morrissey who were on for their third goal against — en route to a three-goal loss.
“We were horse (manure) tonight,” coach Paul Maurice said in his postgame press conference. “That’s a technical term for our game. Nobody is in a good mood and you’re angry with it. You don’t like to get beat like that. We got beat in St. Louis (earlier this season) and played one hell of a game. We weren’t any good tonight and didn’t deserve to win the game.”
Despite the loss, it’s not as if the sky is falling. The Jets are 6-1-2 over their past nine games and sit second in the Central Division with 73 points. The Nashville Predators won Saturday night to take over first place.
If there is any cause for concern for the Jets, it’s that Friday night’s contest was the second consecutive clunker, following Tuesday’s 4-3 nail-biting victory over the basement-dwelling Arizona Coyotes.
Scheifele wasn’t the second coming of Dale Hawerchuk on Friday but led all Winnipeg forwards with 23:32 of ice time, and recorded one shot on goal. He also won nine of 17 faceoffs.
The Rangers come to town on the heels of a 4-3 victory at home over the Calgary Flames on Friday night, a come-from-behind victory that put an end to a four-game slide. Mika Zibanejad scored the go-ahead power-play goal in the third period and Rick Nash, who is expected to be traded also scored
But whatever the Rangers do on the ice, it’s being overshadowed by president Glen Sather and general manager Jeff Gorton, who effectively told the team’s fans last week to expect major roster changes to the lineup.
“As we approach the trade deadline later this month and into the summer, we will be focused on adding young competitive players that combine speed, skill and character. This may mean we lose some familiar faces, guys we all care about and respect. While this is part of the game, it’s never easy,” they said.
Despite having lost 10 of their past 14 games — all in regulation, the Rangers woke up Sunday morning four points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
New York also will get left winger Jimmy Vesey back from missing three games with a concussion.