A rough loss for the ‘Peg early on, with the national media having descended upon Winnipeg and the hockey world, lovers, haters, it was probably tough to find a TV this thanksgiving in a Canadian home not tuned into the Jets first game back in Winnipeg. Montreal jumped out ahead early and won quite decisively 5-1.
-I’m always wary of games like this for the home team. Distraction plays a major part when there’s an event surrounding the game that’s bigger than the game. The press suggested that the Canadiens were in tough because this would be a loud crowd in Winnipeg, but, they’ve already played this season and can approach this game like any other. It’s just another road game in a loud building. For the Jets, you have to deal with questions pre-game from Scott Oake such as “what’s it like to finally play in a building that cares?” (I’m, of course, paraphrasing the wooden CBC personality’s god-awful question to Evander Kane) and I have to think the players think about that a little too much. Outdoor games tend to favour the road teams (the home team is 2-4), as do home openers (the home team is 9-10 so far this season).
-All that in mind, Winnipeg came out skating and got some good chances early on, but they were gripping their sticks pretty tight and looked inept inside the perimeter. The lacklustre powerplay didn’t help and Montreal did a good job at taking away Dustin Byfuglien’s shooting space. He had just six attempts at net in the game when normally he’d have 10 or 11 last season and a lot of that came because he only got a couple of shots on the powerplay, both outside efforts. He’s a versitile guy who can move up and down the zone in with the extra man but nothing was available to him. His best chance of the night, by the way, came in the second period when Alexandr Burmistrov deked around his man and tried to pass it to Brett MacLean, but the puck ricocheted off Gomez and landed right on Byfuglien’s stick in the slot. It looked like even Byfuglien was surprised it came but he got a good shot away anyway. Carey Price was surprised it came, too, but it caught him right in the middle.
-Winnipeg’s goal itself was pretty sloppy, but who’s kidding? Most goals in this game are. Mark Stuart tossed it at the net and Brett MacLean ran some borderline goalie interference as Nik Antropov of all people started hacking away at it and it got by Carey Price. It wasn’t a real thing of beauty, but the blue-collar goals count just as much on the scoreboard as the ones that ripple the twine in a way that makes it visible all over the rink. Interestingly with this workmanlike goal is that it’s in the spirit championed by Canadian hockey players, but a Kazakh, an American and a Russian figured in on the official tally.
-The worst call of the game, and the possible end-point to any hope the Jets may have had was when Byfuglien “interfered with” Brian Gionta while crossing the ice in front of Tobias Enstrom to set up a one-timer. That said, Montreal’s excecution on the ensuing 4-on-3 was surgical and there was absolutely nothing Ondrej Pavelec could do on that shot by Yannick Weber. No relation to Shea, but you wouldn’t have known it on that play.
-Blake Wheeler drew a penalty on a breakaway that he created for himself out of nothing. Receiving the stretch pass and knowing he didn’t have enough space to free himself up, Wheeler flipped the puck forward, knowing he could out-skate anybody ahead of him. He rushed onto the puck and moved in, but, a recurring problem from Sunday afternoon, he completely lost control of it when he made his deke. Montreal defenseman Weber was penalized on the play for holding, but it looked like he had made a pretty strong hockey play and pushed Wheeler off the puck. Regardless, you could see some of the speed and skill that Wheeler has and he will score a lot of cool goals this season.
-Finally, just a word on Pavelec. He allowed the second shot of the season and looked shaky in the first period, giving a lot of pucks just a little bit more life around the crease before smothering them. He didn’t get a lot of help from his defense, particularly Johnny Oduya, but he has to play better. I won’t fault him on any of the goals except on Max Pacioretty’s, but a good goalie needs to come up with at least one more big stop to give his team a chance. He wasn’t the reason they gave up five goals but has a lot of room to be better.