The Pittsburgh Penguins can feel pretty good about how well they played during the final two periods in Winnipeg Saturday night.
How they controlled play against the Jets, who are one of the top teams in the Western Conference, for most of those 40 minutes.
But that solace is all they took out of the game at Canada Life Centre, because Winnipeg beat them, 2-1.
It was the Penguins’ second excruciating defeat in two days, coming less than 24 hours after a 3-2 loss at Minnesota.
The loss snapped the Penguins’ four-game winning streak in Winnipeg, ended their 6-0 run in the second game when playing on consecutive days and, most importantly, dropped their record to 23-19-7.
The Jets’ victory pulled them out of a 0-4-1 skid.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby was held without a point for the first time in 10 games.
John Ludvig, who had not played in the NHL since being injured Dec. 31, replaced P.O Joseph alongside Chad Ruhwedel on the Penguins’ No. 3 defense pairing.
Winnipeg, meanwhile, played without defenseman Brenden Dillon, who served the second game of his three-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Penguins center Noel Acciari four nights earlier at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins’ fourth line manufactured a good scoring chance just under two minutes into the opening period, as Jets alum Jansen Harkins set up Colin White near the right hash, but Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck responded with a good glove save.
A few minutes later, Harkins was shaken up when he absorbed a hard hit from Jets captain Adam Lowry. He did not, however, have to leave the game.
Winnipeg opened the scoring at 10:20, as Mark Scheifele capped a 2-on-1 break with Nikolaj Ehlers by driving a shot past Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry from inside the left dot. The scoring sequence began when Ehlers, who appeared to have his back to the play, picked off a cross-ice pass by Jake Guentzel in the Winnipeg end.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ hole got deeper when Nino Neiderreiter backhanded a shot past Jarry from the right side of the crease at 15:39. Neiderreiter got the puck after a Nate Schmidt shot caromed off the boards behind the Penguins’ net.
Hellebuyck preserved the lead by stopping Harkins as he drove to the net in the waning seconds of the period.
The Penguins got the first power play of the evening when Winnipeg defenseman Logan Stanley was sent off for interference at 2:30 of the second, but they managed only one shot on goal while he was in the penalty box.
Stanley gave the Penguins another chance with the extra man at 7:27, as he was penalized for roughing Evgeni Malkin. They again failed to capitalize on the opportunity and were credited with a single shot.
Nonetheless, the Penguins were rewarded for a generally strong period by cutting Winnipeg’s lead in half at 14:08.
Bryan Rust was cutting across the slot and deflected an Erik Karlsson shot from along the right-wing boards past Hellebuyck for his 13th of the season. Ryan Graves picked up the second assist.
Schmidt interfered with Drew O’Connor at 12:45 of the third, but the Penguins’ power play did not generate the tying goal.
Fourteen seconds after Schmidt’s minor expired, Malkin was called for high-sticking, giving Winnipeg its first chance with the man-advantage. The Penguins held the Jets without a shot until Malkin returned.
The Penguins could not, however, get the goal that would have forced overtime, even after Jarry was replaced with an extra attacker.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will have a scheduled day off Sunday. They will practice Monday at 11 a.m. at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.