Jets reset for Rangers

- March 31st, 2013

NEW YORK — It was another glorious opportunity for the Winnipeg Jets to take a stronger grip on the Southeast Division.

Instead, it will be down as a missed chance for the Jets, who fell 3-1 to the previously-struggling Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon at MTS Centre.

But for those looking for similarities between the latest loss and the two miserable efforts against the Washington Capitals, the only real one is that the Jets fell behind in the first period in all three games.

After blowing a  3-2, third-period lead on Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, you knew the Hurricanes were focused on a fast start and that’s exactly what they got.

The Jets top line was caught on the ice for more than a minute and the Hurricanes made them pay, as Eric Staal won a battle down low and got the puck in front to Tuomo Ruutu, who fanned on his shot but found Alexander Semin alone on the backdoor for an easy tap-in.

Down 1-0, 66 seconds into the contest was not what the Jets were looking for.

With Evander Kane just stepping onto the ice after serving an offensive-zone hooking minor, Joni Pitkanen made a beautiful cross-crease pass to Jussi Jokinen, who buried the shot into the open net after missing one earlier.

2-0 before the first period was 10 minutes old was not how the Jets had drawn things up.

If you were thinking of trying to blame goaltending for the slow start, look elsewhere. Ondrej Pavelec didn’t have a chance on either goal and wasn’t at fault in this game.

At the other end of the ice, third-stringer Justin Peters — who is only playing because of injuries to Cam Ward and Dan Ellis — was rock solid throughout.

Plenty of pucks hit him in the chest, but to me, his positioning was sound throughout the game and he was forced to make some impressive saves.

The two biggest ones that stand out were a clear-cut breakaway for Bryan Little that saw Peters close the five-hole during the second period and a nice stop on Ron Hainsey on a partial breakaway during the third period.

Yes, Dustin Byfuglien rattled a point shot off the post and a pass from Antti Miettinen caromed off the skate of Olli Jokinen and into the crossbar, but the Hurricanes had two of their own shots go off the iron in the Jets end, so let’s call that a wash.

The only shot to beat Peters came 86 seconds into the second period, as Kane’s pass banked off the side of the net and in front, where Jordan Staal tried to clear it but it bounced off the stick of Jokinen and past Peters.

The Jets were able to produce enough quality chances to even the score in the second period but couldn’t find a way to get it done.

Then the Jets took a string of four consecutive minors between 10:14 and 17:29 — including a pair of brief 5-on-3s — but managed to kill them all off, causing the crowd to rise to its feet in a thunderous roar.

“Anytime you’re killing off so many penalties, it’s tough to score goals,” said Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian. “I thought we responded well and the effort was there.”

But before the Jets could try to capitalize on the momentum from the strong work on the PK, the period came to a close.

“When that second period was over, it was bad timing for us because we had a bunch of good kills there,” said Olli Jokinen. “You wish that would have been in the first half of the second. If we had 10 more minutes, maybe you had been able to build some momentum and go from there. It was tough for us that it was intermission.”

You could say the Hurricanes took the air out of the Jets’ balloon in the opening minute of the third as Eric Staal took a shot that changed direction off the skate of Bogosian and snuck through the legs of Pavelec.

Although the Jets mounted a bit of a charge, it was not enough and now they’ll be looking to try to snap a two-game losing skid against the New York Rangers on Monday night as they open a three-game road trip that also features meetings against the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens.

The Rangers are enduring a tough stretch of their own, with only one win during their past five games and coming off consecutive shutouts.

You know what that means, chances are the Rangers are going to play one of their best games of the season on Monday night.

Let’s see how the Jets, who already have two wins over the Broadway Blueshirts this season, respond to their latest challenge.

Since I was on an early flight, colleague Kirk Penton handled the Jets workout and was among the reporters who spoke with Dustin Byfuglien about his recent struggles.

Be sure to catch another comprehensive package in the Winnipeg Sun and online at www.winnipegsun.com.

Here are some other things that stood out from Saturday’s game:

* It was another mammoth effort from Bogosian, who had nine shots on goal to lead all players was a force at both ends of the ice. The shutdown-pairing D-man also had three shots blocked and missed the net twice. He’s skating incredibly well and showing signs that the offensive side of his game is coming along.

* Jets captain Andrew Ladd was on for all three goals against and has now gone three games without recording a point, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. It’s the first time this season that Ladd has gone through a quiet stretch offensively — up until Thursday he was one of only four players (Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and Marty St. Louis are the others) who hadn’t even gone two straight games without producing at least a point. The chances haven’t dried up either, as Ladd had five shots on goal and finished with six hits.

* After enduring a lengthy offensive slump, Jokinen now has two goals during the past three games. It’s clear the Jets are going to need secondary scoring during the final 12 games and I have to think that the chance to qualify for the post-season is going to drive Jokinen to play his best hockey of the year as the stakes continue to rise. These are the type of games where the Jets are going to need a veteran like Jokinen to provide leadership and offence, not to mention stronger defensive-zone play.

* I thought Jokinen’s left-winger, Kane, was involved again on Saturday. The Jets can’t afford to have his offence dry up either. By picking up an assist, Kane now has one goal and five points during the past three games. As Kane continues to push to take his game to the next level, these are the games he needs to be both a physical force and a key contributor.

* Byfuglien seems to have slipped back into a funk. After playing well when partner Toby Enstrom returned last Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Byfuglien was caught watching on the Hurricanes first goal and looks like the various lower-body ailments that ailed him earlier this season might be back. Riley Nash simply blew past him on a 1-on-1 rush during the third period. He also took two minor penalties and had three turnovers. There have been times when Byfuglien has been a dominant force this season, but he needs to get his level of play back up for the Jets to have a better chance to succeed.

* Tip of the cap to Jets winger Chris Thorbrun, who only had six shifts for 4:53 on Saturday but got into a scrap with Tim Gleason to try and spark the team when they were down 2-0 and provided some quality penalty-killing (1:35 of his total ice time) and added a shot on goal and a blocked shot.

* The Jets were soundly beaten in the face-off circle, as the Hurricanes won the battle 7 61% to 39%. Of the Jets who took more than three draws, Little was the best (13-for-27, 48%) and Jokinen was the worst, (3-for-14, 21%).

* Hainsey is still looking for his first goal as a Jet and I can’t remember a better opportunity for him in nearly two seasons. Hainsey jumped up on the rush with the Jets shorthanded, took a pass from Ladd and made a smart move to the backhand but once again Peters closed the five-hole in time. Hainsey had three shots on goal, one hit and four blocked shots on Saturday in 21:39 of action. The Hainsey watch is about to intensify during the coming days and like everyone else, we’ll be watching closely to see if the Jets decide to keep the pending unrestricted free agent or if he’s going to be on the move. I made my viewpoint fairly clear in Saturday’s Sun and I know that not everyone agrees with me. Ultimately, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has the final say and we’ll know be Wednesday afternoon, if not earlier.

Categories: Hockey

Subscribe to the post

Leave a comment

 characters available