Archive for January, 2013

Panthers 6, Jets 3

- January 31st, 2013

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers snapped a five-game losing streak in front of family and friends on Thursday night, and the Jets helped them out.

The Jets gave up three power-play goals two nights after giving up two against the Montreal Canadiens. They now have the worst penalty killing rate in the league at 63.6%, and it’s why they’ve lost two in a row.

They can’t do that again on Friday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have way more snipers than the Panthers and boast one of the best power plays in the league.

A few other post-game thoughts …

• Florida’s first power-play goal was on a 5-on-3 in the second period, and teams are usually going to score when they have that kind of edge. The second was on a bad rebound by Ondrej Pavelec, and the goaltender looked to be screened a bit on Alex Kovalev’s PP tally, which proved to be the winner. Head coach Claude Noel said the penalty killing was actually better than it was in Montreal, and he might have been right, but it doesn’t look that way when you give up three.

• Something’s weird about Dustin Byfuglien’s injury that forced him to miss the game against the Panthers. Noel said he got hurt before the morning skate. As in, between getting out of bed and before the team hit the ice at 11:30 a.m. He’s day-to-day, which means he could play against the Lightning.

• It was a decent debut for defenceman Zach Redmond, who went into the lineup with Byfuglien exiting. Redmond looked a little shaky in the early going, but he settled down after that. The worst part of his night would have been the four-minute high sticking penalty he received when his follow through on a pass hit Jonathan Huberdeau in the face and drew blood.

• Noel was so mad after the game that he even vented at the media for “singing the praises” of his team last week during its three-game winning streak. But they were a good team last week. I guess Noel knew something the rest of us didn’t.

• Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler and Toby Enstrom all extended their point streaks to five games against the Panthers.

Canadiens 4, Jets 3

- January 29th, 2013

MONTREAL — The Jets could have and should have won this game. All they had to do was kill off one or two of the basically three power-play goals they gave up. That needs to be fixed pronto, because the calls are going to even out over the season.

A few other thoughts …

• Nik Antropov thought Brandon Prust must have done a wonderful acting performance on his hit in the third period. Prust ended up getting an unsportsmanlike penalty after playing dead following Antropov’s check, which was right in front of the Montreal bench. “I would never hit a guy from behind,” Antropov said. “I just pushed him. I know his head was over the boards, so I knew exactly what he was doing. I didn’t really see what he did after, but I just turned around and he was lying on the ice. I’m not sure what he did, but I don’t think I had a boarding penalty.”

• Kyle Wellwood will be having nightmares tonight. The Jets winger was the lucky recipient of Carey Price’s mishandling of the puck late in the first. He was right beside an empty net but — in one of those moments where your mind is moving faster that your hands — he couldn’t find the handle and put it in. Habs defenceman Josh Gorges came to the rescue to keep it a one-goal lead for the home side after 20 minutes.

• The Habs have scored eight power-play goals this season, and defenceman Andrei Markov, who has missed most of the last two seasons due to knee injuries, has seven points on those eight goals. He’s a huge part of this team.

• Olli Jokinen wasn’t celebrating his first goal as a Winnipeg Jet — at all. “It was tough,” he said. “We lost the game, so it don’t really matter.”

• Head coach Claude Noel wasn’t happy with the interference penalty Paul Postma received in the first period that led to Montreal’s first power-play goal.

• Nor was he happy about his own team’s performance on the power play in the third period. “I didn’t particularly care for some of the calls, especially the first one against us. But that is what it is,” Noel said. “We had an opportunity to make it a game with two power plays in the third period and never really got anything. We hardly got it in the zone for possession.”

• Montreal youngsters Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, who both had two-point nights, looked pretty darn good. Meanwhile, Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele was a healthy scratch for the third straight game. It’s time for the Jets to make a decision there. Either play him or send him back to the OHL.

• The Jets had fired 10 shots at Carey Price through two periods and the score was 3-3. I’m no hockey genius, but maybe they should have shot more.

• The Jets will take their time getting to Florida on Wednesday, where the temperature today was a comfortable 26 C.

 

Jets defeat Islanders in OT

- January 28th, 2013

Well, that one was certainly interesting.

Or a little more interesting than the Winnipeg Jets would have cared for, if you will.

It was almost a tale of two games at MTS Centre on Sunday night as the Jets earned a 5-4 overtime victory over the New York Islanders.

Despite giving up the first goal on a 2-on-1 rush that saw David Ullstrom pick-pocket Jets D Toby Enstrom at the far end of the ice and blast a shot past Al Montoya at 2:34 of the first period, the Jets stormed back and took a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.

Both goals featured smart passing plays, with Kyle Wellwood finding Alexei Ponikarovky at 10:15 of the first period and Andrew Ladd, Nik Antropov and Bryan Little connecting for a tic-tac-toe beauty at 5:13 of the second.

Enstrom fell down on the opening shift, allowing John Tavares to walk in alone and beat Montoya 22 seconds in to even the score.

Thanks to a nifty redirection from Matt Moulson and a power play marker from Mark Streit, the Islanders had taken a 4-2 lead before the third period was 10 minutes old.

Just when it looked like the Jets might not be able to recover Ullstrom was called for hooking and the Jets needed only 44 seconds to strike as Dustin Byfuglien beat Evgeni Nabokov with a slapper for his third power-play goal of the young season.

Alex Burmistrov then played the role of maestro and worked his way around Tavares and Moulson before getting off a shot that handcuffed Nabokov at 14:04 and evened the score.

Burmistrov said after the game that his inability to find the back of the net had been weighing on him a bit.

Then in overtime, Olli Jokinen was streaking down the left side and unloaded a heavy slapper that Nabokov couldn’t handle and Kane just slid over the line to give the Jets a third consecutive victory.

“I knew Olli had it (puck) and there was nobody in my way, and I was actually looking for the breakaway,” said Kane, who has scored in three consecutive games and has five points in five games. “But Olli kept it and I knew he was shooting it when I saw the big wind-up and he has a really hard shot, so I almost flew by (the net), because I thought he was going to bury it. But thank goodness I didn’t.”

Here are a few other storylines that caught my attention:

* Full marks to the Jets for bouncing back after a lousy ten minutes to start the third. Instead of being down and out, they rallied from a two-goal deficit for the second time in as many games, following up Friday’s emotional 4-2 triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s early obviously, but winning breeds winning and the Jets will feel a lot better about their game at 3-1-1, than they would have at 2-2-1. “The Pittsburgh game helped us get to this point. The belief system is stronger from that Pittsburgh game. We got down and we came back… we feel we can do these things if they happen. We recognize, certainly, it’s not the way we want to play but we’ll take what we can out of it,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “What I like is the leadership group has taken the room and has grabbed it, and is trying to change things. Let’s put it this way: we’re happy to be 3-1-1. We’re happy to be able to get through this. We know we’re going to hit adversity at times. It’s just how we fight through that, and right now we’ve managed to go through it pretty good.”

* Montoya holds the fort: plenty of debate about when was the right time to play Montoya and despite the four goals, I thought the backup did what he was supposed to do: give the Jets a chance to win. He wasn’t outstanding, but he wasn’t bad either. For his first start of the season, Montoya battled hard and got the job done. Although we expect Ondrej Pavelec might play all three games on the upcoming road trip, Montoya took the first step toward instilling confidence in both his head coach and new teammates.

*On the board: Several Jets were able to register their first goals of the season, including Ponikarovky, Little and Burmistrov. Tough to overstate the importance of this group finding the back of the net. The Jets got a goal from the second line, two from the third line, a power-play marker from Byfuglien and then Kane and Jokinen combined for the decisive marker. That represents a strong, balanced offensive attack. Jokinen led all players with five shots on goal and the top trio seems to be finding some chemistry. Kane said after the game he thought they could have scored five or six goals alone, given the quality chances they produced.

The Jets are back in action on Tuesday as they face the Montreal Canadiens to open a three-game road trip that includes includes back-to-back games against the Florida Panthers (Thursday) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Friday).

It will be another good test for the Jets as they try to keep up their play on the road.

Colleague Kirk Penton will be on the road trip and I’ll monitor from the home front and help out with the Snap Shots.

Jets set for date with Islanders

- January 27th, 2013

The significant news at MTS Centre on Sunday morning was that backup Al Montoya would be making his first start for the Winnipeg Jets.

The fact that start comes against his former team, the New York Islanders, could make for an interesting evening at MTS Centre as the Jets close out a two-game homestand.

There were plenty of complimentary things being said by both sides about Montoya.

“I don’t have too many (secrets), but the one thing I can tell you about Al is that he was a good teammate, he’s a competitive kid and he battles,” said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano. “I expect him to do that here tonight.”

After some serious thought and occasionally flip-flopping, I’ve come to the conclusion that starting your backup goalie in a game like this makes an awful lot of sense, especially considering one of the major topics of conversation the past two days was about the Jets needing to buck a trend against possible letdowns.

What’s the best way to prevent that possibility?

How about throw in your backup.

Since guys know that it’s his first start of the season, might they pay a little closer attention to detail rather than maybe expecting Ondrej Pavelec to bail them out if they happen to make a mistake.

Just a theory.

Besides, the Jets have said all along they brought in Montoya as a free agent to get him some work.

Imy early projection of double digit starts has any chance to happen, getting in for Game 5 is as good a time as any.

Montoya is eager to show his new team he can be counted on and facing his former team is as good a time as any to try and show that.

The Jets won’t make any other lineup changes, sticking with the group that put together the impressive 4-2 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

That means the scratches will be Mark Scheifele, Anthony Peluso and Zach Redmond are out for the Jets, who dropped three of four against the Islanders last season.

“(The Islanders) have got some speed up front, they can play a good transition game,” said Noel. “We’re aware of what they are. It will be interesting to see how we prepare ourselves to get ready for this game.

“For me, we got into a little bit more of a race against them than I would have liked too. I would have liked to tighten things up a lot more than we did. We were way too loose and I don’t think we showed them and gave them enough respect.”

Noel and the players made it sound like that wouldn’t be the case this year.

“We all know the Islanders have some guys that can hurt us and we kind of struggled against them last year,” said Jets forward Bryan Little. “We’re not taking them lightly, by any means. We know it’s going to be a tough game and we have to play smart.”

The Islanders will start Evgeni Nabokov in goal.

This will be a special game for St. Malo product Travis Hamonic, who attracted quite a crowd at his locker after the morning skate.

Hamonic showed off his sense of humour, but was excited for his second chance to play at MTS Centre (he missed the Islanders’ second game last season with an injury).

“Winnipeg is a great hockey market. I grew up in this province and obviously it’s nice to have a lot of family and friends be able to come out and get a chance to experience getting to see me play,” said Hamonic, who got his hands on 30 tickets of his own and expects roughly 75 friends and family members in attendance. “There was a lot of emotions running through my head in that first game (in December of 2011). I thought I did a really good job of settling myself in nicely. I played upwards of 30 minutes that night and probably had one of my better games as a professional. Hopefully, I can do that again tonight and help the team win.

“It’s cool for me to have a chance to play in my home province, but you can’t forget that there’s a game and a task at hand and I’m going to do everything I can to get on that plane back (to New York) and hopefully have a big smile on my face.”

Hamonic is renting out his Winnipeg condo to Montoya and joked that the Jets’ goalie was a little late on rent, so he might let him hear about it during the warm-up.

“I’m a landlord now,” said Hamonic. “(Montoya) is a good goalie, but an even better friend. This is his first start and it’s a big task for him. He’s a competitor and he’s a guy that likes to work hard. It will be fun. Maybe I’ll try to put one off his head early on. I think he’s actually a couple days on his rent right now, so I might have to give him the gears a little bit in the warm-up.”

Speaking of Islanders’ D-men, Thomas Hickey, who was claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings, will make his NHL debut on Sunday.

Here’s how we expect both teams to start Sunday’s game:

Jets

Evander Kane-Olli Jokinen-Blake Wheeler

Andrew Ladd-Nik Antropov-Bryan Little

Alexei Ponikarovsky-Alex Burmistrov-Kyle Wellwood

James Wright-Jim Slater-Chris Thorbrun

Toby Enstrom-Dustin Byfuglien

Mark Stuart-Ron Hainsey

Grant Clitsome-Paul Postma

Al Montoya (Ondrej Pavelec)

Islanders

Matt Moulson-John Tavares-Kyle Okposo

Michael Grabner-Frans Nielsen-Brad Boyes

David Ullstrom-Keith Aucoin-Colin McDonald

Eric Boulton-Marty Reasoner-Matt Martin

Andrew MacDonald-Travis Hamonic

Mark Streit-Brian Strait

Thomas Hickey-Matt Carkner

Evgeni Nabokov (Rick DiPietro)

Jets set to battle Penguins

- January 25th, 2013

Sidney Crosby is about to play his first NHL game at MTS Centre on Friday night and naturally, that alone created quite a buzz at the morning skate.

Crosby spoke fondly of his previous experience in the city, from when Canada’s world junior camp trained here and even spent a couple days in Gimli, prior to coming away with a gold medal in Grand Forks, N.D.

“I have great memories of playing here, I remember the crowd, just for an exhibition game and how exciting that was, the environment,” said Crosby. “Playing in North Dakota, it felt like it was a home event for us, with so many people coming down from Winnipeg.”

Despite the -25 C temperatures, Crosby bundled up and decided to walk from the hotel to the rink in the morning so he could experience some genuine Canadian winter weather.

“Believe it or not, you miss it,” said Crosby. “You miss seeing the snow, it’s hockey weather. It was nice to get out.”

It should be interesting to see how the crowd responds to Crosby, given the Crosby’s better chants directed at Alex Ovechkin last season. Crosby doesn’t know what might be coming his way, given the captain’s and star players often get the boo-bird treatment.

Crosby did produce the Golden Goal that gave Canada a gold medal in the Olympics in 2010 after all.

“In this type of environment, it’s exciting to be playing in a new place,” said Crosby. “Playing in Philadelphia has pretty much prepared me for anything, at this point.”

The Jets, meanwhile, are hoping to build on a solid road trip that saw them come away with three of a possible four points against the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals.

They’re also hoping to erase the memory of getting blown out twice by the Penguins at the end of last season.

“You have to have respect for other teams, but you can’t give them too much respect or they’re going to walk all over you,” said Kane. “We definitely respect the Pittsburgh Penguins, but at the same time, we have to play like we can beat them on any given night. We’ll see what happens here tonight.

“It’s always good to challenge yourself against the best players in the world. It’s going to bring the best out of us, especially in our home building.”

Jets head coach Claude Noel told reporters he thought it was too early for this to serve as a measuring stick of any kind, but you can be sure he’s curious if his group can continue to show the commitment to defence they had in their past two games.

Noel will make one lineup change, inserting Kyle Wellwood for youngster Mark Scheifele, who has played three games and has two more to enjoy before the Jets need to decide whether or not he’s going to remain in the NHL or be sent back to the OHL’s Barrie Colts.

Wellwood was a healthy scratch against the Capitals and is eager to get right back in the lineup.

“Certainly I was surprised,” said Wellwood, when I asked him if he was surprised to be a healthy scratch on Tuesday. “Of course, you’re off for nine months and you do everything you can to be prepared to play and you try to have success. You just want to get up to your top pace as fast as possible.”

Former Jet Tanner Glass attracted a large scrum at his locker following the morning skate, perhaps even a little bigger than Crosby’s (since it was broken up into print and broadcast separately).

“This might be the one and only time, so I’m going to enjoy it while I can,” said Glass.

He’s curious about the reception he might get and wondered if there might be any G-S-T chants in the crowd, should the trio get on the ice together.

Perhaps a Slater or Thorburn is better chant?

Unlikely but you never know.

“Maybe a little cheer but then probably some rousing too, they’re great fans so I don’t know what to expect really,” said Glass.

Ondrej Pavelec makes his fourth consecutive start for the Jets, while the Penguins counter with Tomas Vokoun.

Here are the projected lineups for both teams, at least to start:

Jets

Evander Kane-Olli Jokinen-Blake Wheeler

Andrew Ladd-Nik Antropov-Bryan Little

Alexei Ponikarovsky-Alex Burmistrov-Kyle Wellwood

James Wright-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn

Toby Enstrom-Dustin Byfuglien

Mark Stuart-Ron Hainsey

Grant Clitsome-Paul Postma

Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)

Penguins

Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Pascal Dupuis

James Neal-Evgeni Malking-Tyler Kennedy

Tanner Glass-Brandon Sutter-Matt Cooke

Eric Tangradi-Joe Vitale-Craig Adams

Kris Letang-Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik-Paul Martin

Ben Lovejoy-Deryk Engelland

Tomas Vokoun (Marc-Andre Fleury)

Jets leftovers from Washington

- January 23rd, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Wednesday was a day of rest and re-energizing for the Winnipeg Jets.

There’s no doubt they earned it after securing three of a possible four points on a road trip that featured games against the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals on consecutive days.

The sample size is obviously small, but the statement was a loud one for the Jets, who looked nothing like the team that was outplayed in a 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators in their home opener and often battled with their mental toughness and preparation in road games last season.

Dealt with a lot of things on the blog following the game, but here are some leftovers that didn’t make the paper.

* Newcomer James Wright, claimed off waivers from the Florida Panthers last week, made his Jets debut on Tuesday, playing just over eight minutes on the fourth line with Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn. Thought he fit in nicely as he replaced Kyle Wellwood in the lineup. Was on the ice for the first goal against as the Jets got caught flat-footed on the goal by Matt Hendricks (after nice passes by Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom). Wright should have been credited with one hit and he showed his skating is his best quality. Noel said he liked Wright’s game, thought he used his speed well.

* On what Evander Kane saw on the play that led to Blake Wheeler’s goal:

“A lot of D try to step up on me and try to take my speed away, sometimes you’ve just got to chip it by him and go around him,” said Kane, who pushed the puck around Caps’ D John Carlson and created a 2-on-1 rush. “I knew Wheels was there because he’s a fast guy. I just threw it across and he was able to put it in the open net.”

Jets head coach Claude Noel called the pass to Wheeler “a heck of a play” and Wheeler tipped his cap to Kane as well for the crisp feed.

We’ve been critical of Kane’s ability to distribute the puck on occasion and he’s not going to turn into a playmaker overnight, but his passing during the past two games has shown improvement.

Aside from the sweet set-up to Wheeler, Kane also made a nice pass to spring Kyle Wellwood for a breakaway against the Bruins on Monday.

Kane has spoken often about working on his consistency and he put together two solid showings after a rather nondescript home opener.

“Him and I didn’t think he played a very good game in the first game, but he really got back to doing the things that make him a good player,” said Noel. “He’s been getting more shots, he’s gone good with Jokinen and the addition of Wheeler seems to have fit that line.

“The other thing is he’s really skating well, chipping pucks and getting to them and now he’s making plays. These are the types of things that give him confidence. These last two games here, back-to-back, you’re starting to see the player we saw last year, which is really good for us.”

* Wheeler was excited to get on the board and you can’t blame him. It took him nearly a quarter of last season (Game 19) before he scored his first goal last season and still managed 18. After sitting down with Wheeler in September during the lockout, I had a pretty good feeling he wasn’t going to endure a similar drought this season. He didn’t have a good start against the Senators, improved a bit against the Bruins (despite being on the receiving end of a big hit from Zdeno Chara) and took another step forward against the Capitals, with two points. Wheeler still has another gear to get to and admitted it’s taken him a bit of time to get back to the North American style of play and spending some time playing in Germany during the lockout with the Munich Red Bulls of the DEL.

“Maybe a little bit. On the big sheet over there, you can get lost and play in your own little world sometimes. In this league, you need to support each other, play with speed and I was kind of getting caught flat-footed and not getting across and supporting my (linemates),” said Wheeler. “Little things like that can make a world of difference and we’re starting to get better at it.”

* Mark Scheifele has three games of his five-game audition under his belt and hasn’t looked out of place. He played in a bit more of an offensive role on Tuesday, skating on a unit with Alex Burmistrov (the Barrie Colts connection) and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Scheifele had two shots on goal in 8:40 of ice time and had a glorious power play chance that was snared out of the air by the glove of Braden Holtby. It’s getting closer to decision time for the Jets and these next two games should make for fascinating viewing. I’m still on the fence regarding what direction the Jets are to go. I thought Scheifele would have to make an offensive impact to nail down a full-time roster spot, but I’ve liked how aware he’s been while playing more of a checking role and playing out of position. I’m starting to see the value of keeping him around the Jets even if it’s in a fourth-line role that could grow into something else. I’ll delve more into this topic before the weekend is over.

* Winnipegger Derek Meech was chosen to replace fellow defenceman Zach Redmond in the AHL All-Star Classic. Meech lost the seventh D-man spot out of Jets’ camp to Redmond and has three goals and 18 points in 36 games with the St. John’s IceCaps this season.

As for our coverage, my main story is on the new line combination of Kane, Wheeler and Jokinen, while the sidebar deals with the emerging shutdown defence pairing of Ron Hainsey and Mark Stuart, who have been excellent so far, filling in extra minutes during the absence of Zach Bogosian.

Noel spoke to reporters in Winnipeg on Wednesday and columnist Paul Friesen handled that availability as I was traveling.

Be sure to check out our entire package in Thursday’s paper and online at www.winnipegsun.com

The Jets return to the ice on Thursday, in preparation for a two-game homestand that includes a game against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

Jets earn first win of season, 4-2 over Caps

- January 22nd, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Winnipeg Jets wrapped up their first road trip of the schedule in impressive fashion, carving out a 4-2 triumph over the Washington Capitals before a Rocking the Red crowd of 18,506 at Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

The strong showing by the Jets spoiled the Caps’ home opener. Winnipeg has now won five of the past seven meetings between the two Southeast Division rivals.

It was a rather workmanlike effort from the Jets, but you can’t discount the importance of the Jets getting three of their big guns on the board and snapping an 0-for-9 drought on the power play after falling behind 1-0 on a goal that caromed in off the skate of Matt Hendricks after a slick, one-touch feed by Nick Backstrom (Hendricks didn’t deliberately kick it in, so it was indeed a good goal and counted after a video review).

The Jets got a fortuitous bounce on their first goal as Evander Kane rifled what looked to be a pass in front from a sharp angle (basically at the goal-line) but it grazed ever-so-slightly off the skate of Caps D John Carlson and slid between the pads of goalie Braden Holtby.

Nik Antropov feed Andrew Ladd for a one-timer in the slot at 16:26 of the first period to put the Jets on top with a second PP marker.

“We were a little bit fortunate. I thought (Kane’s) goal was a bit lucky, but that’s what happens when you put pucks to the net. The other (power play) goal, I thought it was a really good play. It’s a matter of time, they usually go in waves and we’ll take them when we can.”

The goals were the first of the year for both Kane and Ladd.

“Special teams are such a key, especially against a team like this. (The Capitals) power play is one of the best in the league,” said Ladd. “You have to be able to counteract that with a good one yourself. It’s always good to get one early and it’s going to be big for us going forward.”

A third member of the Big Three followed suit at 14:32 of the second as Blake Wheeler got involved in the action, one-timer a perfect pass from Kane to make it 3-1.

Kane made a heads-up play to chip the puck off the left-wing boards and move around Carlson, who was trying to stand him up on the blue line. A nifty pass followed.

Jim Slater scored the Jets fourth goal with just over 45 seconds left in the second period, redirecting a point shot from Dustin Byfuglien.

The Jets did a lot of things well and didn’t look like a tired team, despite playing for the third time in four days.

Their team defence was excellent and special teams were sound — despite allowing a late PP goal to Troy Brouwer with 1:16 left in regulation.

Ondrej Pavelec stood tall in goal once again, starting for the third consecutive time.

“I thought Pav was outstanding. He was in a real groove,” said Noel.

Rather than be down after a 2-1 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday, the Jets showed plenty of hunger and ultimately came away with two big points to give them three of four.

“Every point is important and it feels like in the Boston game, we were moving in the right direction,” said Jets defenceman Toby Enstrom. “Coming out with two points in this game makes me happy. We have to keep building from last year and keep building (and) it feels like we’re doing that.”

The Jets inserted James Wright for Kyle Wellwood to try to add some speed to the lineup and he played alongside Slater and Chris Thorburn, finishing with 11 shifts for 8:22 of ice time. The scouting report was accurate as Wright showed he was indeed a strong skater.

Noel juggled his lines, putting together a unit I had suggested prior to training camp (don’t worry folks, Noel wasn’t taking my suggestion, he came up with it on his own), moving Wheeler with Kane and Olli Jokinen.

That moved Nik Antropov to the middle with Ladd and Bryan Little and Alex Burmistrov at centre with Mark Scheifele and Alex Ponikarovsky.

Thought the moves worked out pretty well and am quite intrigued to see what Wheeler, Kane and little can do together if they’re kept together.

Enstrom was outstanding for the Jets, picking up three assists, while D-partner Dustin Byfuglien had two of his own.

Speaking of defence, Ron Hainsey and Mark Stuart had another solid night, keeping Ovechkin and Backstrom in check.

Ovechkin had an assist and Backstrom had two of his own, but none of those helpers came with Hainsey and Stuart on the ice.

Will expand more on that pairing and on the Kane/Wheeler/Jokinen line on the travel day.

Be sure to check out our coverage in the print edition and at www.winnipegsun.com

So the Jets are 1-1-1 as they return home to face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night at MTS Centre.

Jets drop shootout to Bruins 2-1

- January 21st, 2013

BOSTON — The Winnipeg Jets are still searching for their first victory of the abbreviated 2013 season, but you can be sure they’re feeling much better about themselves after a 2-1 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins in a Monday matinee at TD Garden.

After coming out flat in their season opener against the Ottawa Senators, the Jets had much more jump, got brilliant goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec and all in all, came up with a workmanlike effort against one of the Beasts of the Eastern Conference.

The Bruins were full marks in this one, but the Jets certainly impressed me with the way they absorbed some early pressure — Pavelec was under siege at various points but came up big — and jumped out to an early lead on a goal from Chris Thorburn, who pounced on a rebound chance and a blast from the right point from Paul Postma that Tuukka Rask couldn’t corral.

Thorburn needed 50 games to score his first goal last season, but he won’t be on the receiving end of abuse this time around.

“I know my role,” said Thorburn. “It’s always nice obviously to chip in offensively. It always feels nice to score, especially when you can help your team get a lead or get back in it.”

Thorburn praised all of those on the ice with him for paving the way to make the goal happen.

“I just went to the net and got a lucky bounce, was able to get it by (Rask),” said Thorburn.

It was just the second goal in two games for the Jets, who got a little more offence generated by the newly-formed unit of Olli Jokinen, Evander Kane and Bryan Little, who shifted over from centre to play right wing and fared quite well.

“I thought he did pretty good, it’s a tough transition when you’re in a heated game like this,” said Noel, when I asked him about Little playing the wing. “I thought that he handled himself well, so that’s something we may consider.”

Meanwhile, Jokinen and Kane were finding each other a little more in their second game together.

“It’s just about getting more familiar with each other,” said Kane, who had four shots on goal and missed the net on several other quality scoring chances. “I think the communication is definitely there and I think we enjoy playing with one another, which also helps.

“I think he’s very underrated in terms of his vision on the ice and finding guys. The more we play together, the better (it’s) going to be. Those little bounces and those shots that are just missing the net, or just squeaking by, they’re going to start going in pretty soon.”

It was a very taxing game for the Jets’ defence corps, as Dustin Byfuglien played more than 30 minutes (a game-high 30:27) and Toby Enstrom was just behind him at 29:54.

Ron Hainsey took 30 shifts for 25:29 and was excellent, along with partner Mark Stuart. The duo moved the puck very well and were able to withstand the Bruins’ ferocious forecheck.

“You know what, I thought they played well,” said Noel. “I thought our defence as a whole was good.”

Other notes from the game:

* Postma collected his first NHL point and nearly added his first NHL goal when he stepped into a slapper and beat Rask, but couldn’t beat the goal post. Thought Postma looked better on Monday. He’s going to need some time to continue to work on his defensive game at the NHL-level but he has a strong skater and big shot, there’s no doubt about that.

* Mark Scheifele didn’t have any points, but finished the game plus-1 as he was on for the Thorburn goal. He took 13 shifts for 8:40 and four shifts in the third period for 3:17 of ice time, producing one shot on goal. Scheifele didn’t have nearly as many falls in this one, though he did have at least three (by our unofficial count).

* Noel cut his bench down to basically three lines in the third period, limiting the ice time of both Kyle Wellwood (three shifts, 2:11) and Alex Burmistrov (four shifts, 2:09) and trying out several combinations.

* It’s still very early, but Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler haven’t hit their stride yet, at least not together. Nik Antropov moved into the middle with them after Little was shifted to the wing. Antropov took 28 shifts for 20:47 of ice time, finishing with one shot on goal and two hits.

The Jets quickly shift their focus to the Washington Capitals, as they flew to Washington D.C. after the game and will serve as the visitors in the home opener at Verizon Center on Tuesday night, completing a stretch of three games in four days.

With two games under his belt in what is expected to be a five-game audition, I can’t help but wonder if the Jets might give Scheifele an opportunity to play centre on Tuesday, perhaps with Ladd and Wheeler to see if they can’t find a spark together. Pure speculation on my part, but with Little clicking with Kane and Jokinen, it makes sense to keep that trio together. And if you’re going to give Scheifele a shot on what would be considered more of a scoring line, why not doing on a night where you’re playing on consecutive days?

Curious to see if Noel makes any lineup changes. Might he look for fresh legs playing for the third time in four days to open the season or does he want to give Anthony Peluso and James Wright more time to integrate with the group. Given that Byfuglien and Enstrom played so much on Monday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see if the Jets consider going with seven D-men, which would allow Zach Redmond to make his NHL debut.

However, that could tax the forward group. Decisions, decisions…

And given how well Pavelec played, does Noel go back with him to end the road trip or is this an opportunity to give Al Montoya his first start?

If Montoya doesn’t start Tuesday, I doubt he gets the call against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday but could play against his former team, the New York Islanders on Sunday.

For the Capitals, there’s no word yet on whether or not Eric Fehr will be in the lineup against his former team.

Fehr, a Winkler product who spent last season with the Jets, was a healthy scratch in the Caps’ opener as Washington dressed seven blue-liners and only 11 forwards.

Caps centre Brooks Laich is out with a groin injury and D Jack Hillen is dealing with an upper-body issue.

It will be interesting to see if the Capitals have changed much under new head coach Adam Oates.

Be sure to check out our comprehensive package in Tuesday’s Sun and online at www.winnipegsun.com.

Jets prepare for Bruins

- January 20th, 2013

BOSTON — It was a bright and early start with a 3 a.m. wake-up call to make the first flight to Toronto on our way to Boston.

But a pretty full sports day here, taking in the Jets optional skate at TD Garden in the afternoon before making it over to Foxboro for the AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.

As you know this is a hockey blog and what you should know is that it doesn’t sound like Jets head coach Claude Noel is going to make any drastic changes to his lineup for Monday’s matinee against the Boston Bruins.

While it’s always subject to change, based on what was happening during the workout, it appears as though Noel will be sticking with the same line combinations and defence pairings against the Bruins, who are coming off a 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers in their season opener.

After he was claimed off waivers last week, most people figured enforcer Anthony Peluso might get a look but Mark Scheifele played well enough on Saturday that it wouldn’t make much sense pulling him out of the lineup.

Defenceman Paul Postma had a little trouble on Saturday, with one glaring turnover, but it makes sense for Noel to stick with him and give him a chance to rebound.

Regardless of what happens Monday, I’d expect we’ll see Zach Redmond make his NHL debut on Wednesday against the Washington Capitals.

The Jets road woes last season were well-documented and was a topic of conversation with Noel, along with Bryan Little and Kyle Wellwood.

The Bruins are a fun team to watch, especially live and we expect the atmosphere to be rocking. Wellwood also enjoys facing an Original Six franchise steeped in history.

“For sure, you know their building is loud and they have dedicated fans that are lifetime fans. It’s fun to come in here and play,” said Wellwood.

The Bruins are a very physical team with some serious skill both up front and on the back end.

This is a serious test for the Jets, who will be looking for a much better showing than they had against the Ottawa Senators in Saturday’s 4-1 defeat.

“I thought our will to win was there, but trying to get everybody tugging on the same rope was tough,” said Noel. “Our sense of purpose was good in the game but we played really unorganized. I don’t think it was a lack of effort but we didn’t have a lot of cohesiveness.”

Three Jets’ D-men exercised their option today, Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom and Ron Hainsey — three men who will be counted on heavily here with the Jets in a stretch of three games in four days.

 

Jets drop opener to Sens

- January 19th, 2013

Most people expected there would be rust to shake off as the NHL returned on Saturday.

Exhibit A was found inside MTS Centre as the Winnipeg Jets fell 4-1 to the Ottawa Senators in a game that wasn’t exactly spirited and pretty much resembled a pre-season game, but one with big-league rosters from both sides.

As head coach Claude Noel pointed out during his post-game presser, the Jets didn’t have many players provide A-games but a guy who did was D-man Dustin Byfuglien, who was outstanding at both ends of the ice and provided the lone goal for the home side on a booming one-timer from the left point.

Toby Enstrom and Andrew Ladd drew the assists on the first-period power play marker.

But a failed clearing attempt from Paul Postma allowed Milan Michalek to tie the game up late in the first and the Sens got the eventual game-winner from Chris Neil, who won a battle in front and slapped in a rebound on his backhand late in the second period on a marker that seemed to suck the life out of the Jets.

During the third period, Erik Karlsson made sure there would be no comeback, blasting home a slapper of his own (during a PP) from the left point that may have been redirected by Jets D-man Grant Clitsome, who at the bare minimum screened his netminder.

Karlsson’s goal came after Ladd took a slashing penalty in the neutral zone.

Kyle Turris rounded out the scoring with a long wrister that changed direction off the shin pad of Byfuglien.

It wasn’t a great night by Ondrej Pavelec by any stretch, but to lay the blame on him in this one would be a mistake.

The Michalek goal got through the five-hole but it was a bouncing puck that should have been cleared out of the zone.

Pavelec wasn’t making any excuses either.

“The third one (by Karlsson) was a nice shot. I didn’t see what happened or if it hit (Clitsome) or not. It was a perfect shot,” said Pavelec. “The fourth one was through (Byfuglien’s) legs. I think it changed direction a little bit. They made good shots and scored the goals.”

At the end of the day the Jets simply didn’t generate enough offence (outside of Byfuglien).

Plenty of eyes were on Mark Scheifele and he had what would best be described as a steady game.

Playing mostly on the fourth line, Scheifele was able to get a pair of shots on goal, including a pretty glorious chance during the second period that saw Sens’ goalie Craig Anderson come up with a glove save after a nice pass from Jim Slater.

Scheifele was rewarded with a couple of power play opportunities, along with the odd shift with Olli Jokinen and later with Alex Burmistrov as Noel looked for a spark.

The Jets’ 2011 first rounder wasn’t spectacular but he didn’t hurt his club either. His first game of the five-game audition was pretty decent and he’s sure to earn another look on this upcoming road trip.

One thing Scheifele needs to work on is being a bit stronger on his skates. We realize he’s a 19-year-old playing with men, but had getting knocked to the ice or falling an unofficial total of eight times in the contest.

The Jets looked like a team that had only been together for six days of training camp and had plenty of players who didn’t suit up overseas during the lockout.

There wasn’t a lot of chemistry among the Jets’ forward lines, but it’s early and there’s no time to panic.

It’s too early to abandon what Noel has put together. Look for a possible tweak, but don’t expect him to throw things in the blender and change everything.

The Jets face the Boston Bruins at noon CT on Monday and then the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.

My wake-up call is coming in three hours to get to Boston, so we’ll deal with a few more subjects on Sunday.