Once the dust settles, this one will be filed under the category of a missed opportunity for the Winnipeg Jets.
Nothing more, nothing less.
It would be dangerous to draw many far-reaching conclusions from the effort that saw the Jets drop a 4-0 decision to the teetering-on-the-brink Washington Capitals on Thursday night before a rather dispirited crowd of 15,004 at MTS Centre.
With the loss, the Jets fall to 16-13-2 but remain in third place in the Eastern Conference and atop the Southeast Division by two points over the Carolina Hurricanes, who lost 4-1 to the New Jersey Devils in a game that saw goalie Martin Brodeur credited with a goal after Jordan Staal shot it into his own net.
The Jets are two points up on the Hurricanes, who remain in eighth in East but hold a game in hand on the Jets.
The theme brought up by reporters and for the most part deflected by players on both teams at the morning skate was about the opportunity ahead.
For the Jets, the chance to potentially sweep the two-games-on-consecutive-days series against the Southeast Division rival Caps and build their lead to 13 points would have all but sealed the fate of the visitors.
However, with Thursday’s result, the Capitals pull within seven points of the Jets and could get within five if they can win a clean game on Friday.
To be perfectly blunt, the Capitals found themselves in the more precarious position going into this one and it showed.
It was abundantly clear that the more desperate team won the hockey game. And this was one of the times when the score was indicative of the play.
“We just didn’t have the energy. We didn’t come out, we didn’t win battles and we know that’s not our team or how we can play,” said Jets forward James Wright. “It came down to them out-willing us, I guess.”
While the Caps played with desperation, the Jets were unable to mount much of a push-back.
“We should be thinking the same thing and have that desperation in our game,” said Jets winger Antti Miettinen.
The Jets have now been shut out twice in 32 games this season and Caps netminder Braden Holtby was between the pipes for both of those games.
Full marks to Holtby, who made 20 saves on Thursday, but he hasn’t faced a lot of taxing work in blanking the Jets the past two starts at MTS Centre.
Holtby faced mostly shots from the perimeter in the game on Mar. 2 and on this evening, it was Miettinen that had the two best scoring chances of the game (they might have been the only two prime scoring chances he faced).
The first one came on a nice pass from Olli Jokinen during a 2-on-1 rush, as Miettinen one-timed the shot and got a good one away, but was turned aside.
On the second, Evander Kane feathered a pass to Miettinen on a 2-on-1 and this time, Miettinen made a strong move to go to his backhand, but he couldn’t raise the puck enough and Holtby kicked out the right pad for the save that kept the game 2-0 for Washington.
The Jets didn’t really threaten again and at 14:06 of the third, Alex Ovechkin beat Ondrej Pavelec with a one-timer and it was all she wrote. Game, set, match for the Capitals, who added an insurance marker when Nicklas Backstrom banked his shot in off Jets D Derek Meech, who was trying to get out of the way of the puck that was sailing wide.
It was that kind of night for the Jets and head coach Claude Noel was in a foul mood after.
When I asked him about what the Jets needed to do to make life a bit more difficult on Holtby, he began an emotional rant.
“Well, we need to play better, that would be the first thing,” said Noel. “We’ve given up seven goals in two games and haven’t scored one. They’re playing chess, we’re playing checkers. You want another list?”
Sure, I was hoping that Noel would be a little more expansive but it was clear he was disappointed in how his team came out. But Noel also realizes that these games are going to happen over the course of the schedule and the most important thing is how his team will respond to the latest round of adversity.
Wright had a theory on what the Jets need to do better.
“Honestly, our work ethic needs to be there and we need to get more chances,” said Wright. “Holtby played well, but on our opportunities, we didn’t get traffic in front of him and he was able to see a lot of the shots.”
Wright did his best to try and give the Jets a spark late in the first period.
With 1:28 to go, Wright took exception to a hit laid on him by Caps D Steve Oleksy and the two engaged in a spirited scrap that featured some big punches landed by the two middleweights.
Speaking of Oleksy, I really liked the way he played and was tempted to give him third star in the contest. He was very involved physically and made life difficult on any Jets forward standing in front of the net.
Oleksy did take minor penalties for delay-of-game (shooting the puck over the glass in the D-zone unintentionally) and tripping but you wouldn’t question his effort or passion level, that’s for sure.
Speaking of passion, Alex Ovechkin played with plenty on Thursday and was clearly the best player on the ice.
The Great 8 played with the perfect blend of skill and grit, amassing five shots on goal and three hits — including a pair on the same shift late in the second period, lowering the boom on Bryan Little in the defensive zone and on Mark Stuart in the offensive zone when Stuart came down to pinch.
Washington Post beat writer Katie Carrera asked Ovechkin what he saw on the shift?
“Bodies,” Ovechkin said, before expanding on his thought. “Hit against Little, guy who pretty good skater and I saw he didn’t see me so I just hit him. Against Stuart I have to fight, battle for puck and it was pretty big hit. I think we both was feeling it.”
Ovechkin — who also showed great hustle to catch Little on the back-check on another play — had 19 shifts for 18:23, which was the most among Capitals’ forwards. This was one of those games where he was fun to watch.
His goal was the one that let the air out of the Jets’ tires and snuffed out any hope of a comeback, firing home a one-timer from the left-wing circle over the glove side and under the crossbar after a sweet cross-ice pass from Backstrom.
Ovechkin took advantage of a Dustin Byfuglien turnover on the second goal, picking the errant pass off the boards and then rifling a crisp pass through the skates of Byfgulien and perfectly onto the stick of Marcus Johansson for a tap-in at 16:22 of the first period.
Byfuglien’s defence partner Grant Clitsome coughed the puck up on the Capitals first goal, losing it to Troy Brouwer at the defensive-zone blue-line.
Brouwer got the puck over to Brooks Laich and then got it back behind the net before walking out and powering his shot thought Pavelec, who started his eighth straight game and 19th in the past 20.
To cap a three-point night, Ovechkin made a nice pass to Backstrom at the right point.
Ovechkin has four goals and seven points during the past five games and 13 goals and 27 points in 30 games and it was clear the Capitals’ collective spirits were lifted by the victory.
“It helps us right now. We know we can catch them,” Ovechkin told reporters.
Speaking of Stuart, he played only one shift in the third period (during a penalty killing situation) before returning to the Jets’ dressing room.
Noel didn’t have an update on his status when I asked him about it post-game. Looked like an upper-body injury, but don’t want to speculate on the nature or the severity.
If Stuart is unable to play, the Jets could choose to activate Toby Enstrom (shoulder) from injured reserve or insert Paul Postma after seven consecutive healthy scratches. Arturs Kulda could also be an option, though Noel likely would like to see him in practice before he gets a chance in a game.
The Jets won’t have a morning skate Friday (the Capitals will), but Noel is scheduled to speak to the media in the morning, so we’ll get you an update as soon as one becomes available.
Not sure what Noel is planning to do in goal, but my gut feeling tells me he will go back to Pavelec again on Friday and then give Montoya a shot against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday to close out the four-game homestand.
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