Jets rally to defeat Oilers 5-4 on opening night

- October 2nd, 2013

EDMONTON — Wild one at Rexall Place on Tuesday as the Winnipeg Jets snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in a 5-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

There were some costly mistakes by both clubs, some of which led directly to goals, but ultimately the Jets overcame a 4-2 deficit to score three unanswered, including a pair from newcomer Michael Frolik.

As Jets head coach Claude Noel noted after the game, Frolik’s first of the contest, which came at 16:18 of the second period rally sparked the rally.

After a Zach Bogosian one-timer went off his pants in front, Frolik grabbed the rebound, took his time and beat Devan Dubnyk with a shot from the slot that seemed to give the Jets some life.

At 11:06 of the third, rookie Jacob Trouba delivered a knuckle-puck from just inside the blue-line that beat Dubnynk, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.

With overtime looming, Jets LW Eric Tangradi (getting a bump to the third line where James Wright spent much of the night) came up with a behind-the-back pass to Frolik, who put the puck into a yawning cage for the game-winner.

It wasn’t over there, as the Jets had to try and kill off a debatable bench minor for having too many men on the ice. Noel said after the game the change wasn’t smooth but the video evidence suggested that there were only five Jets on the ice.

Regardless, the Jets held on and won their opener for the first time in three games since returning to the NHL.

There was plenty of praise for Trouba after the game, from Noel and plenty of media folks in attendance or watching on TV.

The numbers were downright staggering.

As it turns out, there was no need to shelter Trouba on the third pairing. He played against the Oilers’ top guns much of the night and was used in all situations, even strength, power play and killing penalties, totaling 25 minutes and three seconds on 29 shifts in his NHL debut while being used mostly on a pairing with Zach Bogosian.

Trouba not only led his own team in ice time, he played more than any other player in the game (teammate Dustin Byfuglien was second with 24 minutes and 9 seconds).

It said a lot about how Trouba is progressing that he was on the ice protecting a one-goal lead late in the contest, but make no mistake, that ice time was earned.

I’m not ready to hand out the Calder or Norris Trophy as some overzealous fans were on social media following the game.

There are sure to be growing pains for the 19-year-old blue-liner, but this was a glimpse of how good he can be — and already is.

The one thing that might not make the highlight-reel was the run he took at Oilers F Taylor Hall in the open ice.

If Trouba had connected, it would have been a vicious shoulder-to-chin check that could have done some damage.

Trouba is known for his crunching hits, but during the pre-season he didn’t go out of his way to look for them.

Although it’s important to temper expectations, Noel is going to have a tough decision on his hands when Grant Clitsome is ready to return to action from a lower-body injury that landed him on the seven-day injured list.

Trouba will roll with the punches either way and said a lot about his priorities when saying after the game that he was happiest about the fact the Jets won the game in his debut, caring little about the fact he also scored his first NHL goal and added an assist for what was his first NHL point.

To review, here were some of the storylines I was intrigued by going into the contest and how they turned out:

* How will Mark Scheifele do in his first game as the 2nd line C with Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi?

I’d give Scheifele a B rating for his first game of the season. Impressive burst down left side and a quick, laser of a wrist-shot for a power-play goal  at 3:25 of the first, which came 64 seconds after the Oilers opened the scoring. The 2011 first rounder took 22 shifts for 17 minutes and 58 seconds and had four shots on goal, two hits and two giveaways while going 7-for-18 (39%) in the face-off circle. Scheifele seemed to get a boost of confidence from scoring against the Bruins in the second-to-last pre-season game and getting the promotion to second-line centre and told me afterward that he was feeling very comfortable out there. Scheifele also was the recipient of a hard check from behind by Ladislav Smid that left No. 55 peeling his chin off the dasher boards but he said he was fine.

* Will Jets top unit of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler continue to carry the load again?

Little scored an important goal that gave the Jets a 2-1 lead at 16:12 of the first period on a broken play that begin as a 2-on-1 rush with Wheeler. As the play was slow to develop and a back-checker appeared, Little showed good patience before ripping a shot past Dubnyk. Little played 20 minutes and 25 seconds, with three shots with two hits and two takeaways, while going 10-of-24 in the face-off circle. Ladd played more than 20 minutes and had two shots on goal, with three giveaways and three takeaways, while Wheeler was robbed by Hall on a rebound chance and had one shot on goal in 15 minutes and 23 seconds, with three giveaways and three takeaways. The top line was okay, but the best news for them is that the supporting cast helped push this team to win in this one. There will be plenty of nights the top unit supplies the bulk of the offence.

* Is Ondrej Pavelec ready to take his game to another level?

This question will continue to be an area of serious debate. Some will look at the lousy save percentage, but you can’t ignore the fact turned aside 14 shots during the third period to first keep his team in it and then help them lock it down. Of course giving up four is going to be too many on most nights. But coaches put a lot of stock into timely saves and Pavelec made plenty on this night. He was also the victim of a few tough bounces (goals by Luke Gazdic – whose shot went off the stick of Jets C Jim Slater – and a perfect tip-in from Boyd Gordon come to mind), plus Pavelec was screened on the third goal by Alex Hemsky and didn’t have much chance on the PP marker from Jesse Joensuu that came after two saves off Jordan Eberle at the side of the net before the puck landed on stick of Joensuu in front. Not saying Pavelec was great by any stretch, but he made 34 saves and was better than Dubnyk in this one.

* Will the Jets be tougher to play against and can they do a better job defensively against this high-paced Oilers’ lineup?

According to the stats, the Jets out-hit the Oilers 24-20 in this one but I wouldn’t call it an overly physical showing by the Jets. This element of the Jets’ overall game needs to ramp up a bit and it’s something that takes time. As for surrendering four goals against an Oilers club that was without Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, this aspect of the Jets game obviously remains a work in progress. They lost the special-teams battle 2-1 but did kill off three minors during the third period.

* How big an impact will Dustin Byfuglien have on this game?

I thought Byfuglien was quite engaged in this one, he threw some big hits (five in total) and was involved offensively as well, picking up three assists. Parter Toby Enstrom added a pair, leaving the Jets’ blue-liners with one goal and seven points between them. Byfuglien took a minor for interference after tripping Jesse Joensuu in front of the Jets’ net and it led to a PP goal, but Byfuglien limited his high-risk decisions and played a mostly steady game. Noel also thought Byfuglien had a strong showing when I asked him about it.

Anyway, I’m flying back to Winnipeg tomorrow and won’t be at the Jets’ skate but I’m sure there will be plenty more to dissect during the days leading into Friday’s home opener against the Los Angeles Kings.

Sports editor Ted Wyman is going to check in from there and I’ll also supply a notebook or a column when an idea pops into my head after a good night’s sleep.

Categories: Hockey

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