Jets fall to Senators

- March 8th, 2014

This was a streak the Winnipeg Jets had no interest in extending.

But thanks in part to a flat 10 minutes to start the second period, the Jets found themselves in a 5-2 hole and despite a furious rally that produced 22 shots in the third, they managed only one more goal, falling 5-3 to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday afternoon at MTS Centre.

That brought an end to the three-game homestand for the Jets that yielded just one point (0-2-1), in an overtime loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

Just as they did on Friday, the Jets continued to express confidence in their ability to right the ship after a third consecutive defeat.

A five-game losing skid last season essentially was the Jets’ undoing and it’s becoming clear that if the Jets don’t snap the skid in the next game or two, this already steep uphill climb is going to look like Mount Everest.

The task was already a big challenge and that was before the Dallas Stars rallied to defeat the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night, moving the Stars five points up on the Jets for the final Western Conference wild-card berth.

The Stars also hold a game in hand on the Jets, who face the Colorado Avalanche on the road and the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers at home next week.

Saturday’s game featured several interesting goals, including Milan Michalek’s lamp-lighter actually went off Jets’ Jacob Trouba and then Matt Halischuk before literally inching over the goal-line (confirmed via overhead view on the video review).

The Jets responded on a power-play marker from Bryan Little on a rebound after a point shot from Dustin Byfuglien.

It was Little’s 20th goal of the season, marking the third time in his career that he hit that mark, something that served as little consolation on this day.

“It feels good, but it’s hard to enjoy it right now. You’re not really focused on personal stuff like that,” said Little. “It’s nice, but it’s hard to enjoy when you’ve lost a few in a row and you’re trying to battle for a playoff life. It’s the last thing that you’re thinking about.”

Little’s goal tied the game 1-1 late in the opening period, but the Senators scored 38 seconds later, seemingly sapping the life out of the Jets’ balloon after a point shot from Jared Cowen changed direction off Jets’ winger Devin Setoguchi.

The Senators made it 3-1 on another bizarre play that saw Jets D-man Mark Stuart lay out to prevent a backdoor tap-in for Jason Spezza, but in the process of knocking down the pass he accidentally bowled over Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who was behind the net when Spezza found defenceman Eric Gryba in the slot for the open-net goal.

Jets D-man Toby Enstrom made it a one-goal deficit for the Jets after Evander Kane won the draw back to him after Olli Jokinen was tossed out of the circle.But that was as close as the Jets would come, as the Senators got goals from Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman (on the power play) 40 seconds apart before the midway point of the second period to pull away for good.

Turris’ goal came after Hoffman made a brilliant pass from the ice with Jim Slater draped all over him.Then Hoffman buried a one-timer on the backdoor, thanks to a deft pass from Jason Spezza, who had three assists in this one.Hoffman’s goal led to an early-exit for Pavelec, who gave up five goals on 20 shots.

A bar-down slapper from Dustin Byfuglien gave the Jets some life, but they were unable to get any other pucks behind Craig Anderson, who finished with 46 saves.

The Senators have owned the Jets, winning for the seventh time in nine meetings since Winnipeg returned to the NHL.

“I didn’t know the record. That’s something you guys would know,” said Byfuglien, who scored his 14th goal of the season. “It is what it is. We don’t look at them any different than any other team. That’s just the way it goes.”

The Jets were even in the special-teams battle, scoring twice on 17 shots during seven opportunities, including a five-on-three that lasted 69 seconds. They also gave up a pair of power-play markers.

“There were times that it wasn’t pretty but there were times when we looked really good out there on the power play. It’s been a while since we’ve had a couple goals in a game,” said Little. “There were other opportunities and it would have beene nice to get one on the five-on-three, it might have changed the momentum a bit. But a couple power-play goals was huge for us.”

The Jets hadn’t scored two power-play goals in a game since Jan. 25 when they managed a pair against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Plus, they were just two-for-26 in the 11 games after that contest (before today).

Aside from Spezza’s three assists, newcomer Ales Hemsky had a strong outing for the Sens’ by chipping in three assists of his own. My only question was why didn’t the Senators pick him up earlier?

One other player that was noticeable much of the contest was Zack Smith, who was a thorn in the side of the Jets’ throughout the contest.

For the Jets, Eric Tangradi had the type of contest GM Kevin Cheveldayoff had envisioned when he picked him up from the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.

Tangradi was promoted to the third line with Olli Jokinen and Byfuglien for the third period and was a physical force.Tangradi laid out Erik Condra with a massive check in the offensive zone.

Get this, Tangradi agreed with the charging call, even though he was adamant it wasn’t a dirty hit.

“It happened so quick. It was probably the right call. Going that fast and coming in (for the hit), I was focused on keeping my hands down. Fortunately, (Condra) was all right,” said Tangradi, who has been scratched in 12 of 18 games since Maurice took over as head coach. “I didn’t think the hit was dirty. But charging was probably the right call there.”

Here’s the issue, Tangradi needs to play like this all of time, not just once in a while. Otherwise, it will continue to be a battle for him to stay in the lineup.

Kane had a few dangerous chances, but he’s now gone eight games without a goal, dating back to Jan. 21 against the Anaheim Ducks. He did manage six shots on goal, but he missed the net on three other occasions and is among the go-to guys that needs to pick up some offensive slack with Mark Scheifele sidelined.

Maurice had some interesting things to say when dissecting the issues the Jets are having since the Olympic break.

“We have a real strong belief in the way the game’s going to be played here as this team grows and matures, and we’re going to work really hard at staying on that,” said Maurice. “We’ve got some issues off the rush a little bit. Most of what we’ve struggled with coming out of the break is what we’re doing with the puck. And it’s not all strange things that are happening or some decisions.

“It’s just execution and I can understand that for some players it’s going to be a little tougher just to get that execution just right, but I do feel strongly that we’re moving in the direction we want to move. There’s going to be bumps in that. There’s going to be times where it doesn’t look like it, but I truly believe they’re a willing and eager group. I’m still learning about them and how they are emotionally and when they need a bark and things like that. Those are things that we’ll learn together.”

Speaking of learning, seeing how the Jets react during the week ahead, especially against the high-flying Avalanche on Monday, might tell us a lot about if this group is ready to put the recent challenges (in terms of their 2-3-2 record) behind them in time to stay in the thick of the playoff race.

Here’s a look at the Western Conference wild-card standings

Minnesota Wild: 63GP, 34-22-7, 75 points (27 ROW)
Dallas Stars: 64GP, 31-23-10, 72 points (28 ROW)
——
Phoenix Coyotes: 64GP, 29-24-11, 69 points (25 ROW)
Vancouver Canucks, 66GP, 29-27-10, 68 points (26 ROW)
Winnipeg Jets: 65GP, 30-28-7, 67 points (24 ROW)
Nashville Predators, 64GP, 26-28-10, 62 points (25 ROW)

I wrote the game analysis column and a sidebar on Tangradi’s promotion, while colleague Kirk Penton did the snapshots.

Be sure to check out Sunday’s Sun and the online coverage at www.winnipegsun.com.

One last note, the Jets’ American Hockey League affiliate, the St. John’s IceCaps, got a goal from Adam Lowry with 25 seconds left in OT to extend their franchise-record winning streak to eight games on Saturday night.

The Jets are on the ice Sunday morning at 11:30 p.m. and then they’ll depart to the Mile High City. Mr. Penton is taking this road trip so he’ll be providing the coverage the next couple of days. @PentonKirk is his Twitter handle if you don’t follow him already.

I will check back with you next week.

Categories: Hockey

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