It wasn’t the best game the Jets have ever played, but no one on the Sabres was able to punish them for it, and Al Montoya led his team to a shutout win over the lowly Sabres. As it should be.
With order restored over the Panthers and Sabres, the Jets can retire 2013 with a smile, and Jets fans can usher in the new year with a joy we didn’t feel during the lockout.
It was a sloppy game for the home team. They were beaten on the shot clock without score effects, were out corsi’d at even strength, and took four penalties in the first period before the refs put their whistles away and the Jets started moving their feet. Montoya might be the team’s back-up on paper, but he earned first star in this one despite facing a league worst offence missing its top centre.
The Jets faced another backup netminder in Jonas Enroth, but one that many consider ready for full time NHL action. Mid-way through the first, Wheeler tracked across the ice to turn the puck over in the neutral zone, and Ladd and Little went on a 2-on-1 that ended up on the side boards from a missed pass. Little battled with Mike Weber, when Ladd charged in to take the puck and feed it back across the zone to Ellerby. Ellerby shot the puck wide to beat the block in front of him, and Enroth reached out to push the puck into the corner and prevent a rebound play off the end wall. Instead, the puck deflected off his arm and straight into the net.
The Sabres almost tied the game in the first when a goal mouth scramble ended up behind Montoya and Foligno laid out to tap it in. But the goal was called back for a loose net, and replays showed the net flinch just as the puck crossed the line. It was a call outside the spirit of the rule, as the puck was long in by the time the net was "off" in any meaningful sense, and it didn’t affect the fate of the goal. But we can forgive the league’s favourable review.
Buffalo actually out shot the Jets in the first and second periods, and Jacob Trouba had a give away that might have turned into a(nother?) goal for the Sabres. Out from behind his net, he performed a spin move in front of the crease and then lost control at the red line into Brian Flynn’s feet. The Sabres went 3-on-1 against Enstrom, but Flynn literally stick handled himself into the corner and stopped, never making a pass or shot. Thank the hockey gods we were playing the Sabres.
Trouba made a few errors with the puck during the game, and could be accused of over-handling the biscuit. But it was his hammer in the second that gave the Jets their only legitimate goal. A drop pass from Thorburn on an awkward break in found the space between Enroth’s pads via Trouba’s heavy clapper. Alternatively, it was dematerialized in front of Trouba and re-materialized in the back of the net. It’s hard to tell.
The Jets owned the flow of play, but mistakes led to fewer shots than we might expect. They came out strong in the third before going into a prevent defence about half way through the period. Somehow they still managed to out shoot the aggressor road team in that period, and a turnover created by Scheifele would send Kane and Peluso in on a two-man breakaway with an empty net.
The subtle racism of lowered expectations earned Kane accolades as ‘classy’ for feeding it to Peluso for his 1st of the
Montoya earned first star in this contest, and it wasn’t close. Second star went to young Trouba for a visible but uneven game, and third star went to Thorburn because it was his 500th game and he got an assist. He also flubbed a gift-wrapped goal from Trouba in the first and hit Enroth right in the chest on an open chance from the off-centre lane in the slot during the third period. Hooray…?
Yeah, so what’s the controversy?
Al Montoya was exceptional in this contest – his second start in a row and his third effective appearance since Christmas. He made saves on pucks he couldn’t see by being in position and not crouching lower and leaning around the legs that gets Pavelec into trouble. He dealt with the traffic and constant net presence of the Sabres, and turned their few chances into nothing. He struggled with one shot off the wing, and was beaten when Foligno pushed the puck over the line while falling over him – the goal that was called back.
Andrew Ladd was fired up early in this one, but faded as the game went on. He was much better than his linemates at even strength, and earned an assist on the Ellerby goal. He and Little played over 3 minutes a piece short handed, and a somewhat inept Sabres team generated next to nothing on four chances in the first period.
The star forward line was the Kane/Scheifele/Frolik line without a doubt. They and Jokinen were the only positive forwards in the corsi department, and Scheifele led the team with 16 shot attempts for and 7 against while he was on the ice. Kane and Frolik were also effective short handed. Kane had 4 hits, and the line had 7 shots combined.
Enstrom was an excellent baby sitter on the evening, and stabilized his pairing with Trouba. That’s not to throw Trouba under the bus. He’s starting to cut hard off the blue line to great effect, pulling apart defences as he blows by his check. His slap shot was great, and without getting into specifics, carrying the puck from the backend is good for this club. Bogo, Buf, and Enstrom create a lot by doing that. In this game, was just a bit over-excited and had some really awful turnovers to go along with his strong offence. A mixed bag and a bit of arrogant hockey against a poor club.
He wasn’t the only one playing that way, but I think he was the only one to still have a mostly positive impact.
Jeff O’Neill inspired a twitter rage storm by opening his face hole
Wheeler had 5 hits and created a little offence. But he also lost the puck twice while circling the zone and over-handling the puck. He was on his horse all night, but was just a bit chaotic on a line that doesn’t need his chaos. He took 4 minutes in penalties early in the game as well. He actually looked a little better in limited with Kane.
I thought Jokinen did some good things, including feeding Thorburn a few times. But he had a few shifts of brutal turnovers and disappeared for large stretches of a game against a large array of third line forwards.
I know Ellerby scored a goal, but he was brutal on the night. We rarely saw him involved in the play in a positive way, and was one for 19 shot attempts against. The Sabres only had 42 at even strength, and Ellerby was on for almost half in just 16 minutes. That’s not good. I thought D-Bufs had a strong night of quiet effectiveness and few errors (well, a few errors). He was on for two of the Jets’ goals. But the pairing together isn’t working as well as Pardy/Ellerby did earlier in the year. The team continues to struggle with too many good right handed defenders and too few left handed ones worth deploying.
I can’t give Thorburn a positive review, even on his special night and even with an assist. He’s just awkward, and it drags his line down. A Benoit Pouliot/Viktor Stalberg type would have buried at least one if not more of Thorburn’s great chances tonight. When players (like Setoguchi) create chances consistently, we can note that as a good thing in itself. But with Thorburn, it’s rare that he gets such chances, and I don’t think we can suggest he created any of them tonight – he was just the recipient, the place the puck died. And too often the puck dies on his stick. He adds nothing but a warm body on that line.
Jeff O’Neill told us tonight that the Jets better lock up Trouba and Scheifele because no one wants to sign in Winnipeg, and no one wants to live in Winnipeg. (Uh, oh) The most recent update on his status is that he’s out with a repetitive injury in his thumb from hitting ‘block’ on twitter several thousand times.
It wasn’t a great game from the Jets, but the Sabres are that bad and Montoya and a smiling NHL ‘War Room’ were the difference in this one. The Jets deserve a win for being the more talented club. They’re now on a three game streak, the second longest of the season.