This was a game the Winnipeg Jets desperately wanted to win, if only for sentimental reasons. After all, the sold out Jobing.com arena was packed with hundreds of Winnipeggers who had made the trip to Phoenix, arriving by the plane load all week, eager to jeer the city they believed poached their NHL franchise 15 years ago.
But the extra support didn’t help. The Jets couldn’t deliver and lost 4 to 1 to the Coyotes, leaving them without a win in three games. The Jets not only have the worst record in the NHL, they are the only team not to record a single point. In fact, the team hasn’t even won a period this season.
The Jets got off to a bad start when centre Mark Scheifele lost the opening faceoff. Within 34 seconds the Coyotes Daymond Langkow was alone in front of the Winnipeg net, took a short pass and shot it over Jets goalie Chris Mason.
The Jets had their chances with three power plays in the first period alone, but none of them connected and the team ended up with just five shot in the period. They ended the game out shot 34 to 19. Overall, the club has not scored on 13 power plays this season.
Head coach Claude Noel expressed bafflement after the game at his club’s inability on the power play, noting that on the during Saturday’s game the Coyotes actually out shot the Jets during the first two power plays. Overall he said he still can’t figure this team out.
“You’ve got a franchise that is not used to winning and it shows,” he said. “This group has gone into a market that is frenzied, and frenzied for winning, and they’ve decided that this is what they are going to show them, so I don’t know.”
He added that for some reason the Jet players can’t seem to get motivated.
“It looks like our team thinks we have a free pass to fail. I’m not sure what the wake up call is.”
The team certainly didn’t wake up during Saturday’s game and by the mid-way point of the second period Oliver Ekman-Larsson had scored twice for the Coyotes, including a sharp shot from near the blue line that Mason didn’t see.
The Jets finally got a break toward the end of the second period when Coyotes goalie Mike Smith let a puck slip by him behind the net. The puck ended up on the stick of Jets forward Blake Wheeler who passed it to Tobias Enstrom. He shot it from the point and Andrew Ladd made a nice deflection to get it by Smith. Another chance came in the third when Nik Antropov was pulled down on a break away while the Jets were killing a penalty. Antropov was awarded a penalty shot, but he gave a half-hearted effort and missed. And later, forward Chris Thorburn fired the puck into an empty net after Jet forward Evander Kane had flattened Smith. However, Kane had already been called for an interference penalty on another play and the goal didn’t count.
Among the Jets many problems during the game were winning faceoffs, something Noel has stressed. The team won less than 40 per cent of the faceoffs through the first two periods, compared to more than 60 per cent for the Coyotes. The team has also given up at least one power play goal in each game this year and the streak continued when Coyotes forward Ray Whitney scored in the third period as Ladd served a penalty for slashing.
One player especially eager for Saturday’s game was Coyotes captain Shane Doan. He spoke this week about his fondness for the Jets, the club that drafted him in the first round in 1995 before it moved to Phoenix the next year. Doan managed two points in the game on two assists. But he didn’t score and failed to reach the 300 goal mark despite a frantic effort by the Coyotes to feed him the puck toward the end of the game.
As for Noel, before the game he said he still loved his players talked boldly about making the playoffs. “I think we can have success,” he said.
He said that prior to the game he had talked to his top line of Ladd, Wheeler and Bryan Little about boosting their production. He also took Scheifele aside and tried to calm him down. But none of that seemed to work much Saturday. While Ladd did manage to score, with Wheeler assisting, Scheifele was not a signficant presence.
Noel also changed goaltenders saying his decision to put Mason in net instead of Ondrej Pavelec, who had started the first two games, wasn’t a comment on Pavelec’s performance. But he was hardly encouraging of Pavelec saying his play so far this year “was okay.”
Mason made a number of saves, but likely did not do much to justify Noel’s decision to switch goalies.
The Jets headed back to Winnipeg after the game and now have to prepare for Pittsburgh on Monday and then a road trip to Toronto, Ottawa and Carolina next week.
“The things that we need to work on are pretty simple,” defenceman Mark Stuart said after the game. “We are aware of them. I think every guy knows what we are doing wrong.”
When asked what was going wrong in particular, he added: “Just winning battles, winning races to the puck. It’s a mind set more than anything. do you want the puck or not?”