WINNIPEG – Some things never change.
Going way back to their days in the Meadowlands, the New Jersey Devils have enjoyed a reputation as one of the stingiest defensive teams in the National Hockey League.
It was more of the same for much of the night Saturday at MTS Centre as the Devils earned a 3-1 decision over the Jets, who have now lost three straight.
“It’s no different than it’s been all year,” the Jets’ leading scorer, Blake Wheeler, said. “I won’t stop believing in our group; I won’t stop believing in what we have in here until they shut the lights off, but I’m not going to pretend like it’s easy right now.”
Dustin Byfuglien broke the shutout with 5:09 to play as he flicked a backhand over the shoulder of Cory Schneider from his new spot in front of the net on the power play.
The Jets are now 21-24-3 on the year, nine points back of a playoff spot.
“The morale will be low. And it should be after you lose three (straight) games,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “The only other opportunity you have to change your fortunes is to just work a hell of a lot harder. We say we work hard and you know what, on most nights we really do. We’re going to have to find a different level of work and lather.”
The Devils opened the scoring at 11:41 as former Jet Lee Stempniak finished off a 2-on-0 with Michael Cammalleri after Blake Wheeler and Toby Enstrom collided at the blue line. With a clear lane to the net, Cammalleri fed a beautiful pass across the goalmouth, leaving Connor Hellebuyck little hope on the tap in.
“If you’re scoring and you’re winning and you’re feeling good about yourself, you laugh about it,” Maurice said. “It’s one of those things that happens every 40 games or so. When you’re struggling to score like we are…”
Shots on goal favoured the Devils 10-4 after one period of play. The Jets held them to just six shots the rest of the way.
The Jets had the Devils on their heels midway through the second, with the line of Chris Thorburn, Matt Halischuk and Alexander Burmistrov doing the bulk of the heavy lifting with a terrific show in the trenches. The trio did everything but score, manufacturing four hits and five shot attempts, including a pair of quality chances in tight.
With nothing to show for it, the tables turned.
“I thought we got outworked in the first period. We weren’t coming up with pucks in the battles along the boards,” Tyler Myers said. “I thought we had some good shifts in the second and we were in the O zone at times taking it to them… We need to get bodies in front, but we need to get pucks there, too. I didn’t think tonight was our best effort.”
The Devils got just one shot in the first three quarters of the middle frame. And wouldn’t you know it, that one tickled the twine on a power play at 15:49. Jacob Josefson fired a bullet bar down after receiving a pass at the top of the right circle.
On just their second shot of the third, the Devils put this one away as Stempniak tipped home an Eric Gelinas shot, putting the Jets down by three with 11:17 to play.
“We’re going through some adversity right now. We’ve let a few clip here,” Myers said. “We’ve got one (game) before the break. It’s all going to come down to how we take this mentally. Coming into the last game against Arizona, we’re going to have to come out with a big effort to get one here before the break. Then we’ll worry about the games after when we come back. We can’t let ourselves get too down. I’ve been in that situation where things were really tough and the last thing you want to do is get down on yourself. We’ve just got to believe in ourselves, we know we’ve got a good team, we’ve just got to go show it.”
LATE HITS: Mathieu Perreault left the game late in the first period and did not return with a lower-body injury. Perreault was involved in a collision with Devils forward Tuomo Ruutu, and while he did make it off under his own power, he was unable to continue. … Blake Wheeler moved to centre for the rest of the game.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com