When you’re the Winnipeg Jets, battling to stay in the playoff race and fighting to win as many games at home during a 47-day stretch with 15 of 21 games on the road, it’s painfully obvious that indeed, you must win at home.
Saturday afternoon, the Jets lost their second straight game at home. Guess it’s time for Plan B: Learn to win on the road.
Two third period goals, one each by Patrik Elias (he could have had a second, but missed on a penalty shot) and one by Kurtis Foster (his second of the season) gave the New Jersey Devils a come-from-behind 2-1 win over the Jets. The Jets have been outscored 12-1 in the third period of the last three games and one supposes that is something that needs to be addressed.
It was Winnipeg’s third straight loss and their second straight loss at home. The Jets are now 20-19-5 on the season and 1-5-0 in January. They are now 14-8-1 at home, still a good record at MTS Centre, but at 6-11-4 on the road, they have some work to do heading into Ottawa on Monday and New Jersey on Tuesday.
The Jets are still 10th in the East, but they are falling farther below that elusive eighth-place playoff line.
"It was a much better effort on our part but we just couldn’t get pucks past (Devils goalie Martin) Brodeur," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd who scored Winnipeg’s only goal, his 15th of the season. "If we buried our chances we could have been in a different position.
"We had lots of chances, but we just couldn’t get one by him. We had great opportunities but we didn’t get any bounces. It’s part of an 82-game season. Sometimes you can’t miss and then sometimes you reach a point where the puck just won’t bounce for you. That’s what happened here today.
"The key now is to not get down on each other and get frustrated to the point we can’t win a game."
You could say .. "we didn’t get enough bounces," if you like, but if you look closely at the numbers, the Jets didn’t get a lot of real good chances. They finished with 22 shots against a once-great goaltender who came into this game with a shaky .891 save percentage (43rd in the NHL) and a lousy goals against average of 2.98 (39th). They got two shots on that goalie with six attackers in the final minute, but from the 13 minute mark of the third period to the 19 minute mark of the third period, the Jets did not get a shot on goal.
The Devils, who only had 24 shots at Ondrej Pavelec, scored on back-to-back shots in the third period — their 22nd and 23rd shots of the game.
Now, to be fair, the Jets played another game withoput their two most important defensemen — Dustin Byfuglien and Zach Bogosian. They also lost their most important forward, leading scorer and playmaker, Blake Wheeler. Wheeler left late in the first period when he was hit in the neck by a shot from the point. He played only nine minutes and 15 seconds and after he was taken to hospital for precautions, the Jets staff was not sure of his status
Meanwhile, Byfuglien told friends and teammates in the Jets press box on Saturday that he wasn’t feeling any better and would probably be out at least two more weeks. That’s another reason why Saturday’s game was so important. With Bogosian day-to-day and Byfuglien out at least two more weeks, the Jets have to win as many low-scoring, tight-checking games as they can just to keep pace. Yesterday, the Jets recalled young defensemen Paul Postma and he might get a shot in Ottawa on Monday night.
"You play with the hand you’re dealt," said Jets head coach Claude Noel, referring to the Byfuglien, Bogosian and Wheeler injuries. "We’re trying to deal with adversity straight on. When our team loses players with weight, it hurts us. But we’ll play with what we have. We’re going to battle through this thing. We’re going right at it, we’re not going around it."
Noel says his team will rally around each other and play well. He was pleased with the way his team played against a Devils team that now leads the Jets by seven points in the East. He might be deluding himself, but he does not want too miuch negativity seeping into the locker room.
"In some of the areas, we played a pretty good game, but we came up on the wrong side of the score," said Noel. "I thought our guys played pretty well. Our guys battled hard, but there wasn’t a lot of space. Chances were few and far between for both teams. We’re all disappointed in the result, but I was happy the way our team worked. They played with some will. I like that. These guys care. They care about each other and the results. They’re doing the best they can with what we have. They battled hard. They battled to the end.
"I’m not going to beat up my team. They play with purpose and they play with a will to win. This is not the time to start beating up on this team. You people can do what you want (referring to the press), but I’m not going to do it. We wanted effort today and we got that."