ANAHEIM, California – The goal was to carry over the momentum of a big win 24 hours earlier. Unfortunately, the Winnipeg Jets were unable to ride the wave and make it two in a row on the road, dropping a 4-1 score to the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center.
“We were the slower team on the ice from start to finish,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We had a few good chances and their guy made some good saves, but not enough to warrant us being tight to that game.
“We didn’t play very well tonight and that’s the first (game) in an awfully long time where we weren’t as good as they were. … They were better and they deserved to win. We’ll leave that game here.”
The Ducks opened the scoring at 5:51 of the first period as Rickard Rakell controlled the puck down low, muscled his way through traffic and buried the bouncing puck, beating Michael Hutchinson glove side.
With Ryan Kesler providing the screen, Kevin Bieksa put the Ducks up by two with a blast from the far circle at 9:04.
The shots were 9-1 for the Ducks at this point, but the Jets finished the period on a 7-4 run – a stretch that included two unsuccessful power play attempts.
“In the first period I think I was just trying to force things a little too much and make things happen instead of letting the game come to me,” Hutchinson, who made 31 saves in his first start since Dec. 22, said post-game.
Looking for a spark following the intermission, Maurice juggled the forward line combinations and defence pairs. Joel Armia was promoted to the top line alongside Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler, Drew Stafford moved down with Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault, while Nikolaj Ehlers, Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn made up in the fourth line.
The line of Andrew Ladd, Adam Lowry and Alexander Burmistrov remained intact until the third period.
On defence, Mark Stuart was reunited with Jacob Trouba; ditto Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers, while Dustin Byfuglien anchored the right side with Ben Chiarot.
The shuffling continued in the final frame, with the Ladd, Little, Wheeler line getting back together, among other changes in an effort to create offence.
“We didn’t like the way the first went so that’s the time to start moving in and out of positions and try to look at different things,” Maurice said. “We didn’t have a whole heck of a lot going, so we thought we’d do a little experimenting with certain players that we don’t know particularly well because they’re still new to this league. We wanted to find out where they can excel.”
Corey Perry gave the Ducks a 3-0 lead just five minutes into the middle frame. Off the rush, Perry stepped into a shot from the top of the left circle, smoking it high over the shoulder of the challenging netminder.
The Jets got on the board at 6:56 as Carl Hagelin inadvertently tipped in a shot from Tyler Myers, ending John Gibson’s shutout streak at 184 minutes and 30 seconds.
That was all the Jets had in them, as the Ducks all but sealed it with 1:19 to play in the second. Ryan Kesler won a battle in front and roofed a quick shot over the goalie’s glove hand, putting the home side back in front by three.
“Anytime you lose a game 4-1 it’s obviously not a good feeling,” captain Andrew Ladd said. “We wanted to come out with a better effort but we just weren’t quick on pucks and they skated a lot better than us tonight.”
The Jets will now spend the night in Anaheim before traveling to Nashville tomorrow.
LATE HITS: Mark Scheifele returned to the lineup after missing four games with a concussion. Scheifele finished with four shots in over 17 minutes of ice time. “It took a little bit to get it all back,” he said. “When you’re out of the lineup there’s obviously a bit of an adjustment. I felt a little better as the game went along. Hopefully I can build off that. … Matt Halischuk was re-assigned to the Manitoba Moose earlier in the day.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com