ST. LOUIS, Missouri – Close, but not enough.
If the Winnipeg Jets were going to break out of a five-game funk, it wasn’t going to happen by chance. After a slow start Monday, trailing the St. Louis Blues by two after 20 minutes, the Jets back got back to the game that made them successful in the past.
The Jets battled back from a 2-0 deficit with a strong start to the middle stanza, but couldn’t finish the job. David Backes’ goal at 4:24 – the second of two for the Blues captain – proved to be the difference in a 3-2 decision at Scottrade Center.
Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little scored for the Jets, while Michael Hutchinson made 25 saves in a losing effort.
Vladimir Tarasenko continued his rise to the top of the scoring chart, tallying his 11th of the season early in the first period.
“Based on the beating we took in Nashville, we did a lot of good things,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We made plays, we moved the puck, had some quickness, had some chances and played a darn good road game in here. That was a long way to come from that game and it wasn’t easy for them to do, so you’ve got to give those players credit.
“It was absolutely a bounce back. We needed a better result to feel good about it, but certainly we know it’s there.”
With the loss, the Jets fall to 8-9-2 on the year.
The Blues opened the scoring five-and-a-half minutes in as Tarasenko jumped a loose puck in the slot and fired a shot top shelf on Hutchinson. Colton Parayko recorded the assist and is now tied with the injured Connor McDavid with 12 points in the rookie scoring race.
The Jets have now given up the first goal in 15 of their 19 games this season, for a record of 5-8-2.
Backes put the Blues up by two with a power-play goal at 14:13. Evading the check of a defender, Backes – now one-on-one with the goaltender – easily converted the feed from Kevin Shattenkirk in tight, sliding a shot into the open side.
“I thought we played pretty well,” Hutchinson said. “We had some great energy and jump all night. It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to score a couple more goals, but if we come out with that effort on a consistent basis, we’re going to win a lot of hockey games.”
Blake Wheeler and Drew Stafford engineered a beautiful play on a 2-on-1 moments later, but Allen kicked out the right pad to keep the Blues in front 2-0. It was one of just three shots in the period for the Jets, who faced 11 from the home side.
“I had the (scoring) chances at 5-3 us after one,” Maurice said. “It was just the way it was going, and it was another test, because we’d played a good period but were down two again.”
Goals 36 seconds apart early in the middle frame brought the Jets back on level ground.
Byfuglien potted the first at 2:16, blasting a long shot from the right point off the skate of Jay Bouwmeester, giving the big man five on the year. Then, at 2:52, Little fired a shot from the bottom of the circle off the post and in, tying the game with his team-leading ninth.
“It was a better effort, but that doesn’t make it easier to swallow,” Little said. “We skated much harder tonight, we were competitive, we stayed in the game when we were down and we stuck together as a team the whole game.
“Sometimes it’s not enough.”
Undeterred, the Blues regained the lead just a few minutes later. It was Backes, again, pointing a beautiful backhander over the glove arm of Hutchinson.
That was it for the offence.
“We’re just fighting for some more confidence,” Maurice said. “We got a little bit back here today and when we become that confident team, we get our jump going, our speed going.”
Midway through the period, Jacob Trouba went toe-to-toe with veteran Troy Brouwer. The bout lasted for nearly a minute with a number of bombs landing on both sides.
After playing nine games in different cities over the past few weeks, the Jets will now return home for three straight, beginning Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks.
“We’re looking forward to playing at home,” Little said. “We’re looking to get some confidence and some momentum back. Tonight was a step in that direction. We’ve got to figure out how to be even better.”
LATE HITS: Adam Pardy was back in the lineup for the first time since Oct. 18. Pardy played 15:09 alongside Dustin Byfuglien on the back end. Ben Chiarot was scratched.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com