Ending the season on a four-game win streak wasn’t enough to improve the mood of captain Blake Wheeler and the Winnipeg Jets.
Kyle Connor’s 47th goal of the season at 9:05 of the third period rallied the Jets to a 4-3 win over the Seattle Kraken on Sunday.
Wheeler, Morgan Barron and Dominic Toninato also scored for Winnipeg (39-32-11), which missed the playoffs but finished a four-game homestand 4-0-0 and had fans giving them a standing ovation.
“We can no longer call ourselves contenders,” Wheeler said. “I think we are one of those teams that is a fringe playoff team now.
“It’s up to everyone involved to look in the mirror and say, `Why? Why did we get to where we’re at?’ Like I said, first and foremost, it’s our responsibility as players to bring that type, that quality of play to the ice that we have a chance to contend and compete for a championship.”
Goaltender Eric Comrie made 27 saves playing in his 19th game this season (10-5-1) as the backup to Connor Hellebuyck.
Alex Wennberg had a goal and an assist for Seattle. Daniel Sprong and Riley Sheahan also scored.
Winnipeg-born backup Chris Driedger stopped 23 shots for Seattle, which concluded its inaugural NHL season with a 27-49-6 record.
“There’s a lot of pieces to our game that we’ve really liked over the stretch here coming down the last two months,” Seattle head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Those are the pieces we will take. We will start to dig in, re-evaluate things, and that process starts (Monday).”
The match between the clubs was rescheduled following a storm in Winnipeg last month. It was the lone contest on the NHL schedule and officially ended the league’s regular season.
The Jets have had to deal with a number of challenges this season aside from weather and players missing games because of COVID-19 or injuries.
The biggest was a coaching change.
Dave Lowry was named interim head coach on Dec. 17, 2021, after Paul Maurice resigned. Lowry, 56, went 26-22-6 in his first stint as an NHL head coach.
“It’s definitely a year I’ll try to forget a little bit,” said Jets centre Mark Scheifele, who missed the final nine games with an upper-body injury but finished with 29 goals and 70 points in 67 games.
“It was a tough one from a lot of things – COVID, injuries, coach leaving, a new coach coming in, all that stuff.”
Scheifele is under contract for two more seasons, but has been mentioned in speculated trade talk. He wasn’t crystal clear about his future.
“I just have to know where this team is going and what the direction is and what the changes are going to be, if any,” he said.
“I have to think about my career and what’s going to be best for me. Those are going to be talks with my agents and everyone in my family and stuff like that and figure out what I really want. So, it will be a tough talk tomorrow.”
Players will have exit meetings with Lowry and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff on Monday.
Lowry said the team lacked consistency and changes are necessary.
“If I stay here and I stood up here today and said that we’re not going to make any changes, well, what we were doing didn’t work,” Lowry said.
“We’re going to have to make some adjustments. Do we need to completely overhaul everything? I don’t think so. But yeah, you’re going to have to make some changes.”
The Jets showed no quit after falling behind the Kraken.
Winnipeg led 1-0 after the first but Seattle went ahead 3-1 entering the third.
Jets centre Paul Stastny recorded his 800th career point when he won a faceoff and got the puck back to Wheeler, who sent a one-timer past Driedger at 4:49 of the third period. It marked the fourth straight game that Wheeler had scored.
Toninato added his goal at 7:16, with Barron earning an assist. Connor put in the go-ahead goal at 9:05.
Stastny sat beside Wheeler during the players’ last media availability after the game and was candid in his assessment.
“We’ve got to be held accountable – whether it’s player on player – and we’ve got to have more respect for each other,” Stastny said.
“When you don’t have that, when you don’t care about the teammate next to you – potentially – and you just care about what you’re doing or certain individual things, that starts bleeding into the game.”