And then it was four.
As in four consecutive losses (0-2-2 officially) for the Winnipeg Jets at a time when even two losses in a row can be critical in the playoff chase.
The latest blow came on Monday night in Denver as the Jets fell 3-2 in overtime to the Colorado Avalanche in what was easily their best effort since the Olympic break. The Jets were skating much better and tighter in the defensive zone, compared to several loose efforts of late.
Backup Al Montoya provided a solid outing in his first action since the final game before the Olympic break, giving head coach Paul Maurice at least something to think about when it comes to who starts in goal against the Vancouver Canucks as the Jets open a three-game homestand on Wednesday night.
The Jets took their mandatory day off under the collective bargaining agreement, so there was no access to Maurice or the team today. So we won’t know until the morning skate who is going to get the call between the pipes.
The crystal ball is a little cloudy on this one, you could make the case for either guy getting the start.
Maurice told reporters in Denver (including colleague Kirk Penton, who took care of the coverage from Denver and subsequent fallout – check out Wednesday’s paper and online at www.winnipegsun.com later today) that Pavelec was simply getting a one-game reset.
That might be the case, remember Pavelec has secured nine of the 11 wins since Maurice took over but Montoya was pretty sharp after another extensive break between games. With points so tough to come by, perhaps Maurice looked at Monday’s game from Montoya and wants to see him again on Wednesday as the reeling Canucks come to town for the third and final meeting this season (and on the heels of surrendering a franchise-record seven goals in the third period in losing to the New York Islanders on Monday).
Of the three goals Montoya allowed, he didn’t have much chance to stop the John Mitchell marker that went in off the skate of Jets D Zach Bogosian (Nathan MacKinnon was there for the tap-in if it didn’t hit Bogosian’s skate anyway).
The points shot from Andre Benoit made its way through traffic after the Avs won the draw cleanly in the offensive zone in the dying seconds of the second period to even the score 2-2.
And then in overtime, Matt Duchene came flying out of the corner before Dustin Byfuglien knocked the puck off his stick but it bounced off Jets D Toby Enstrom and ended up back on the stick of Duchene, who buried it to secure the extra point.
I’m not going to fault Montoya on that play, that’s for sure. Sure, he’d like to stop the long point shot but I doubt he saw it.
I’ll get to the Canucks in a second, but here are a couple of other things that stood out from watching from my couch on Monday:
* Byfuglien had an outstanding game and while some folks will think that Duchene beating him out of the corner ruins an otherwise great night, think again. Byfuglien picked up a goal at even strength (a lucky one that he banked off the post and then the leg of Avs G Semyon Varlamaov) another on the power play and was a physical force throughout. Byfuglien was noticeable several times on the backcheck and yes, while the speedy Duchene got past him, watch the replay to see what Byfuglien does with his right arm to prevent him from getting a clean shot initially. The puck could have been cleared by Enstrom and who knows what happens if overtime continues or the game goes on to a shootout. There have been times lately when I’ve wondered if Byfuglien was a bit uninspired up front or was hoping to return to full-time duty on the point, but Monday changed that. Keep him up front and see how the three home games this week go before the next move (if any) is made.
* Jim Slater looked good getting the extra work with Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler. Looking at the line combos after the morning skate, this grouping had many (including myself) scratching my head a bit but there was plenty of chemistry and they looked good together. Slater was involved throughout, finishing with five shots on goal and earning a penalty shot that was stopped by Varlamov.
* Is there anything Michael Frolik can’t do? After two strong games in the middle, Frolik made the seamless transition back to the wing on the top line and the unit with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little did a nice job against the Avs’ top line. Frolik’s versatility is just another reason the Jets should lock him up on a long-term extension (how does four years for $14 million sound?)
* As I mentioned on Twitter last night, the most important play of the game won’t end up on the score sheet. That’s when Avs F Ryan O’Reilly locked up/impeded Jets F Devin Setoguchi from getting out to prevent the point shot by Benoit that tied that game. Maurice was incensed and believed that interference should have been called and you could easily make the case for why the call would have been warranted. It seemed like an innocent play, but in a lot of ways, it was the turning point. I was a bit surprised that under the circumstances, the Jets D-man on the left circle didn’t lock up O’Reilly so Setoguchi could have a chance to either dig the puck out of the circle if the two centre’s tied up or to head straight out to the left point. Either way, the execution by the Avalanche gave them a big boost. And while the Jets didn’t hang their shoulders after giving up another late goal, there’s no telling how that third period goes if Winnipeg is holding a one-goal cushion and not even heading into the final 20 minutes.
* Evander Kane has now gone nine games without a goal. That’s too many for a guy the Jets are counting on to provide offence, especially with Mark Scheifele on the shelf, but I thought Kane was flying on Monday. He played a physical game, was on the edge, and used his speed to create several quality chances. If he keeps using his speed like he did Monday, the goals are going to come.
* Discipline nearly sunk the Jets again. The Jets’ padded their road penalty killing stats by going six-for-six but taking four minors in the opening period against a high-octane team like the Avs is a recipe for disaster. The Jets must limit the stick infractions or they’ll be in serious trouble.
* With John Albert going down with an upper-body injury during the second period, I wonder if Chris Thorburn will draw back into the lineup (possibly at centre) or if the Jets recall Eric O’Dell on an emergency basis? Rookie Adam Lowry is also playing well, but Maurice is more familiar with O’Dell so he should have the inside track if a recall is used. If not, Maurice does have Matt Halischuk at his disposal and he could slip in at centre as well. Either way, you can bet it’s going to mostly be a three-line game on Wednesday. I expect the Jets to provide an update on Albert (and the possible recall) in the morning.
After watching the Jets game, I tuned in for the wild period between the Canucks and Islanders. Wow. The Canucks blew a 3-0 lead by giving up seven in the third. Seven. Six on Eddie Lack, the former Moose netminder who is now the unquestioned No. 1 for the Canucks with Roberto Luongo joining the Panthers.
Does Canucks head coach John Tortorella go right back to Lack in Winnipeg, a place he’s comfortable or does he turn to Jacob Markstrom, who has played several games at MTS Centre during his career? It will be an interesting choice for Tortorella but Lack seems like the logical choice.
Both the Jets and Canucks need Wednesday’s game to keep hope alive, so it figures to be a spirited affair.
UPDATED Wild card standings after Tuesday’s action (remember that first time breaker is regulation and overtime wins or ROW):
Minnesota Wild: 65GP, 34-22-9, 77 points, 27ROW
Dallas Stars: 65GP, 32-23-10, 74 points, 29ROW
Phoenix Coyotes: 66GP 31-24-11, 73 points, 26ROW
Winnipeg Jets: 66GP, 30-28-8, 68 points, 24ROW
Vancouver Canucks: 67GP, 29-28-10, 68 points, 26ROW
Nashville Predators: 66GP, 28-28-10, 66 points, 27ROW