Jets fall 4-3 in shootout to Wild

- September 22nd, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Despite falling 4-3 in a shootout to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night, the Winnipeg Jets accomplished their primary goal — which was to significantly raise their level of play after a lacklustre 4-1 defeat (including an empty-net goal) to the Wild on Thursday in the front half of the home-and-home series.

Since the game doesn’t count in the standings, the fact Jason Pominville was the only one of six shooters to score in the penalty-shot contest, was of little concern to Claude Noel and company.

“We were a lot better, way better than we did the other night,” said Noel. “Right from our effort to our team play, we defended way better. Our power play helped us out and we didn’t get discouraged being down 2-0.

“I like the resiliency of our group, they really stuck to the plan. They thought, ‘let’s just be patient, there’s a lot of hockey to be played and go from there.’ It speaks volumes for the guys that were in the lineup.”

The Jets came out relatively strong and then the air was let out of their balloon a little at 6:34 of the opening period when a long shot by Brandon product Carson McMillan snuck through a screen and past Ondrej Pavelec, who didn’t see the shot through Wild C Zenon Konopka and Jets D Mark Stuart, who was battling with him in front.

The Wild made it 2-0 on a goal by Charlie Coyle, who was Johnny-on-the-spot after Keith Ballard’s shot from the point went off the skate of Justin Fontaine and landed right on the tape of Coyle.

Coyle was Paul Postma’s man in front and while it was a bad bounce, the Jets blue-liner was unhappy about the fact he was on the ice for both Wild goals in the first period.

“With those bounces on those two goals, that was pretty frustrating but one of the things is that you’ve got to battle back and keep playing consistently,” said Postma, who is in the group battling for regular work among the defence corps. “Definitely played better after that, but got to work on it and continue to get better.”

Postma responded well, producing a power-play goal with 17.7 seconds left in the middle period on a rocket of a one-timer and then clamped down nicely, especially in overtime, to play his best pre-season game to date. He needed a big effort and got one.

I wrote extensively on the strong player of several players on the bubble in my game column, so I’ll basically leave that topic alone here. Spoiler alert, I also liked the play of Jacob Trouba, who played a team-high 25:41, Eric O’Dell (one goal, one assist), Patrice Cormier (one goal, two shots, one hit, one blocked shot).

Trouba was excellent and has improved steadily in each of his two contests since last Saturday’s rough debut against the Washington Capitals.

As an added bonus for Trouba, his younger brother Christopher and his team from Detroit was in Minneapolis for a hockey tournament, so they were able to catch the game, along with Trouba’s parents.

Trouba looked good on the power play and had a couple of chances, though one sailed wide and the other was tipped by Jets captain Andrew Ladd in front. The 2012 first rounder also drew an assist on Postma’s blast, feeding a perfect pass from the one-timer.

Pavelec was pretty sharp in goal in his second pre-season appearance, making plenty of dynamic saves. I don’t really fault him on the first two, given the circumstances, and the game-tying marker was a blistering one-timer by Ryan Suter after a sensational cross-ice feed from Zach Parise.

Speaking of great passes, the move Bryan Little made to buy time and get to the net before rifling a backhand right onto the tape of O’Dell for a tap-in on the far post was also a thing of beauty, which led to Jets’ first of two power-play goals and sparked a three-goal second period.

O’Dell praised Little for the sweet dish after and said he’s simply trying to improve.

“Little gave me a good pass there and it was a pretty easy goal for me,” said O’Dell, who led the St. John’s IceCaps in scoring last season. “I’m just battling shift by shift here and hoping that I can make the team.”

While it’s clear O’Dell has his work cut out to be the 13th forward, it’s efforts like Saturday’s that keep him in the conversation.

The Jets survived a scare when D Dustin Byfuglien went crashing into the end boards during the first period, but he didn’t miss much time and finished the game, playing 25 minutes and 39 seconds and finishing with a game-high six shots on goal.

Winger Matt Halischuk used his speed to create another shorthanded breakaway, but he was denied by Niklas Backstrom as he tried to slide a shot through the five-hole. Halischuk had a partial breakaway earlier in the contest but the puck seemed to roll off his stick as he was hooked just before he planned to shoot. He continues to look good in the battle for work on the third/fourth line.

As for the Mark Scheifele watch, it was a pretty uneventful game for No. 55, as he generated no shots on goal in just under 20 minutes of ice time, playing mostly with Halischuk and James Wright and seeing some time with the man advantage.

Ladd, Little and Blake Wheeler were all stopped by Backstrom during the shootout.

As the geographical rivalry between the Jets and Wild grows, it’s worth noting that there were hundreds of fans with Jets’ jerseys in the stands and they were vocal in the contest, something that caught the attention of Noel and several players.

“I noticed the Winnipeg fans in the stands, leading on the cheer,” said Noel. “I don’t usually pay much attention to that or hear it but I did here.”

The Jets flew back to Winnipeg following the game and their two groups will skate Sunday morning as they prepare for the pre-season game against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night at Rexall Place.

I’m staying in Minneapolis and making my way to Edmonton tomorrow night, so Kirk Penton will be handling the Jets’ workout tomorrow.

Categories: Hockey

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