WINNIPEG - Two early penalty kills may have disturbed the Winnipeg Jets rhythm in their home stand finale against the Los Angeles Kings, but head coach Paul Maurice felt something was off even before the first penalty was called 81 seconds into the game.
"I didn't like our forecheck on our very first shift," said Maurice. "We were behind it. Whether you like the calls or not, you get the kills and nothing changed. We were absolutely not moving our feet at all and were pretty stubborn with the puck at the same time."
The Jets were able to kill off those two penalties and fought back from two one-goal deficits throughout the night, but couldn't get the third as they ended the home stand with a 3-2 loss to the Kings.
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
Nikolaj Ehlers had a goal and an assist for his third multi-point game of the season, while Kyle Connor added a single - his fourth of the campaign.
Connor Hellebuyck was sensational throughout the evening making 38 saves, 20 of which came in the opening 20 minutes.
"He was the best player out there for sure, head and shoulders," said Blake Wheeler. "That was a great effort from him to give us a chance tonight."
The Jets were under siege early, killing off penalties to Ville Heinola and Connor in the first half of the opening period. But as sharp as Hellebuyck was, even he couldn't rebound from a stick blade - which turned out to be Dmitry Kulikov's - clipping him under the mask during play. As a result, the Jets goaltender wasn't able to get across his crease to get in position for the rebound, which was tucked away by Austin Wagner, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead.
But Connor helped the Jets respond before the end of the first. His line with Bryan Little and Ehlers won a couple puck battles in the offensive zone, the second of which, led to Little feeding Connor in the high slot where the Michigan native made no mistake.
Video: POSTGAME | Blake Wheeler
Back-to-back power plays to open the second came up empty for the Jets - and the Kings took advantage, though it took a review.
Kurtis MacDermid - fresh off a retaliation roughing penalty - corralled a loose puck in the slot after a rebound was cleared from the Jets crease. His shot hit Hellebuyck's right pad just beyond the goal line putting the Kings back in front.
The play had continued on for close to a minute before the horn sounded, indicating a closer look was needed.
"I knew I was close. I knew I was on the line. I got a good kick out but the recoil on my foot had me guessing," said Hellebuyck. "I had a thought that if that was the moment, that would have been it. I still don't see how it went in because my foot was only an inch behind the line, but the puck probably turned up on it."
Yet again the Jets would answer. Shortly after Maurice shuffled his lines one of the new combinations - Ehlers with Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine - would produce. Scheifele won the offensive zone draw, then Ehlers tipped home the Neal Pionk point shot to even the score at two apiece.
"It's only been a couple games for Bryan, but I wanted to make a change at times because Patrik, he moves sometimes a bit better on the right," said Maurice, who also put Wheeler with Little and Connor. "I liked Nik's game. Those six players will change spots. We'll look for some chemistry now."
Video: POSTGAME | Connor Hellebuyck
Los Angeles continued the back-and-forth affair by taking the lead back 5:52 into the third. Anze Kopitar took a pass from Drew Doughty with speed in the neutral zone and got a step on Josh Morrissey coming down the right-wing side. Kopitar's backhand slipped through Hellebuyck to give the Kings a power play marker, their first of the night on four total opportunities.
"I don't understand how the third one goes in. I played that perfectly in my books. I guess it was just an unlucky night," said Hellebuyck.
"I thought we fought hard. I think everyone was working hard and trying to do the little things. I think the third one just kind of killed it."
Next up, the Jets head to Regina to take part in the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic on Saturday.
"I'm not in a panic about what's going on here. We're eyes wide open on what we have to get better," said Maurice.
"We signed up for these things because we have a good young, fast team. The NHL likes that kind of hockey on TV. It will be a spectacle and it will be fun. As a group, we'll learn how to handle this and get our practices right, get feeling good, get in there and play a hell of a lot better than we did tonight."