Two scenarios: one game.
One team is losing their grip on the Wild Card race. The other is gearing up for the draft lottery.
Surprisingly, both of these positions could apply to the Detroit Red Wings and Winnipeg Jets, depending on your school of thought. If you’re delusional, you think the Red Wings are still in the playoff race. If you’re realistic, you know the Jets probably aren’t, either. Nevertheless, this game should paint a clearer picture for one and potentially muddy the other.
On the back of a back-to-back series, the Red Wings looked to continue the momentum from their big win against Boston. It’s hard to make heads or tails of the Winnipeg Jets. Are they good enough to make it in the playoffs? Or are they stuck in the mire of being too bad to be good, but too good to be bad? Are the Jets the mid-2010s Red Wings without the history of success? Am I putting too much thought into this? Time will tell the tale.
Early onto the game, the momentum pushed forth in favor of the Red Wings, who peppered the shots on net almost immediately. An Oskar Sundqvist penalty put the team on an early penalty kill. Fortunately, the Jets’ middle-of-the-road power play percentage was no match for Thomas Greiss and the defense. (No, you’re not dreaming). Larkin’s work on the penalty kill is just another notch in the captain’s belt on an outstanding season.
Jake Walman’s shoot-first mentality stood out in particular early on. Side note: the Jets’ alternate jerseys this game are exceptional and should be their main jersey. Watching the Jets speed through the neutral zone was a particularly frustrating endeavor — and an indication on how far the Red Wings have to go in their rebuild.
Fun fact: Connor Hellebuyck and Kyle Connor are both from Michigan!
Not so fun fact: the Jets doubled their shot count on the Red Wings in under 10 minutes.
For some reason, the crowd was especially quiet in Winnipeg. There seemed to be no signs of life from the audience at all. Speaking of especially quiet, the game itself was slow from the get-go. A near-tip by Marc Staal was the closest thing to energy the Red Wings had near the end of the period. Well, that, and a slashing penalty.
Sam Gagner scored...A SHORTHANDED GOAL? 1-0 DETROIT!
Gagner’s 500th career point capped off a first period that started slow, but picked up near the end.
The Red Wings killed their second penalty without much worry. For what it’s worth, it was more of the discombobulation of the Jets than it was the skill of the Red Wings. After all, before the game, Detroit had the worst road penalty kill in the league. In addition, the Jets were close to tripling their shot count vs. Detroit’s by the halfway mark of the second.
Unfortunately, the good vibes would not last. A rough deflection from Mark Scheifele, courtesy of a Nate Schmidt shot, tied the game up. 1-1 just six minutes into the period.
After a little bit of back-and-forth hockey, the Jets scored again — but the goal was quickly overturned due to a late offsides call. If Jeff Blashill can do anything, it’s Coaches’ Challenges. Speaking of incompetence, Danny DeKeyser’s game left a lot to be desired. When the Rasmussen-Larkin-Raymond line peppered on the momentum, DeKeyser was there to slow everything to a crawl.
On a lighter note, Michael Rasmussen and Lucas Raymond had very strong games. Rasmussen’s recent hot streak earned him top-line minutes this evening — an opportunity he relished. Several high-pressure sequences gave the Red Wings a handful of Grade-A scoring chances, topping off with Raymond hitting the post. Just a little under an inch away from a goal. Ugh.
There was an outstanding scoring chance by...Kyle Criscuolo? The Jets’ defense was inconsistent enough to make Detroit blush. At multiple times, Winnipeg looked ready to give up a huge goal, only for the Red Wings to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Taro Hirose’s great chance was stolen away by his soft wrist shot. Just a little bit of strength would’ve been enough to send it home.
Still, the change in momentum was welcome. The team matched their shot count and even made multiple efforts to shut down the Jets. Signs of life? In this economy?
A very late penalty call on the Jets ended the second, putting Detroit on the man advantage to start the third.
Capitalizing on Winnipeg’s inconsistent play would be key in the third. With how low the team’s energy was, and how low the audience’s energy appeared, this seemed to be a golden opportunity for Detroit. Filip Zadina had an amazing takeaway, stealing from one of the Jets’ forwards and nearly resulting in a Pius Suter goal. When Ken Daniels said “there’s not a lot of life in the Canada Life Centre”, it was hard to tell whether he was talking about the silent crowd or the perplexing team.
Watching Dylan Larkin remain the only person who stands up for the rookies is an exercise in frustration. Speaking of exercises in frustration, the Red Wings went on another power play with nothing to show from it. It was as unsurprising as Winnipeg’s crowd was snooze-inducing.
(Okay, I’ll stop the “Jets crowd quiet” jokes as soon as they sound less like a library).
With his fourth goal in his last five games, Michael Rasmussen cools the Jets, making it 2-1!
A second breakaway by Jakub Vrana almost created a scoring chance, followed by increased pressure from Zadina, Erne, and Gustav Lindstrom. Their efforts paid off with a penalty against the Jets as one of their players high-sticked Lindstrom in the head. The injury looked gruesome, but Lindstrom remained in the game despite the blood.
A VERY close shot by Larkin almost increased the lead. Were it not for Hellebuyck, the Red Wings would have likely scored several by this point. Far be it from the Wings to keep the momentum in their favor, though — a too many men penalty left the team at 4-on-4 later in the third.
The Jets pull a Blashill and take their goalie out for a 6-on-4 advantage as Detroit’s power play expires. Multiple minutes of high-stress sequence entered what I would call “Scary Hours”. It’s not every day you see Greiss stand on his head like that. The Red Wings increasing your blood pressure, on the other hand, is a fairly normal occurrence.
Tonight, however, the stress would wait. Sam Gagner jams the empty-net dagger into the Jets, making it 3-1 with his 501st career goal and/or assist!
Jeff Blashill earns his 200th career win, the Red Wings win, and the team can finally rest tonight — unless the snoozefest of a crowd already did that for them.