Sometimes, you just get whipped.
There is no excuse. There is not even a rational explanation. Just an answer.
Why did the Winnipeg Jets lose 4-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night? Because the Pittsburgh Penguins were a superior hockey team.
This one had nothing to do with the fact the Jets were playing on back-to-back nights. It had even less to do with bad bounces or a great effort by the opposition’s goaltender. This one had everything to do with the unalterable fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins, even without Sidney Crosby, have a better team than the Winnipeg Jets.
Midway through the third period, shortly after taking a 4-1 lead, Pittsburgh had outshot Winnipeg 36-12 (it finished 39-19). There are nights when I agree with Jets head coach Claude Noel when he says that "shots on goal is a stat for losers," but on Friday night in Winnipeg, the shots on goal were simply an example of how dominant the Penguins actually were.
They were better. Way better. Period.
"That’s a very well-coached team," said Shane Hnidy, the recent Stanley Cup champion with the Boston Bruins who handles the color commentary on TSN Jets Radio. "Dan (Bylsma) knows exactly how to handle his guys. He knows when to be friends with the players and he knows when there has to be a separation and he’s the boss. He’s respected by his players and they do exactly what they have to do to win. He makes it fun, but he also gets the respect he demands and deserves.
"They’re playing without the greatest player in the game today (that No. 87 guy) and yet they still do just about everything well. Tonight, they scored early, took the crowd out of the game and after the Jets tied it up, they came out in the third and got the job done. That’s a very, very good hockey team."
Going into Friday’s game, the Pens had won two straight and were fifth in the East with a record of 19-11-4. The Jets were 16-13-5 and were just five points behind the Pens in the Eastern Conference standings. However, any thought that the Jets were in the same league as the Pens was extinguished early in the third period when James Neal (0:22), Jordan Staal (4:14) and Pascal Dupuis (4:54) scored to make it 4-1 before the five-minute mark.
The Penguins played an almost perfect road game. They shut down the Jets speed, didn’t let Winnipeg get any clear shots at Marc-Andre Fleury and forced them to shoot wide or not shoot at all.
"I thought in the first period we had a lot of chances," said Evander Kane. "But we scored in the second and had a chance in the third. We knew we had to bring our game and step up, but then getting scored on on the first shift was tough. Still, we have no one to blame but ourselves."
Even the Jets vaunted crowd, probably the loudest crowd in the NHL, threw in the towel. Not only was it eerliy quiet after Pittsburgh scored the first goal, it was the first time this season, that die-hard Jets fans walked out of the building well before the third period had ended.
Pittsburgh was simply too good, and after the Pens made it 2-1 in the third, there was no reason to believe that the Jets were about to come back anytime soon. Hence, a run to the exits.
The Jets are now 7-3-1 in the month of December (7-2-1 at home). They’ve grabbed 15 of a possible 20 points at home this month and they play three times next week: Tuesday in Colorado and then Thursday at home against Los Angeles and Saturday at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They must win two of those three games because in January they head out onto the road and don’t come home very often over the next month and a half. This is a team that is 12-6-1 at home and 4-8-4 on the road. They must make some noise this week or else they’ll have to improve dramatically on the road if they intend to make a dent in the playoff hunt.
"I’m not going to criticize my team," said Noel. "We were tied 1-1 going into the third period? Could we muster enough to win the game? Obviously, we couldn’t. I’m looking at the big picture. We’ve had a good month and we just need to rest during the break and come out after the holidays and play well again. We’re at Christmas, we’re over .500. That’s good. The loss doesn’t sit well with me and it doesn’t sit well with the players, but you have to let it go. I’m not going to drag this one with me. But I am also not going to criticize my team."
He’s right not to say a discouraging word. His team isn’t stupid. Those guys know that against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they just aren’t good enough.