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The Winnipeg Jets Alexei Ponikarovsky (L) scores the only goal of the game on Ottawa Senators goalie Ben Bishop during the third period of their NHL hockey game at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, February 9, 2013. (Reuters)
The Winnipeg Jets Alexei Ponikarovsky (L) scores the only goal of the game on Ottawa Senators goalie Ben Bishop during the third period of their NHL hockey game at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, February 9, 2013. (Reuters)

Roy MacGregor

Fans pay the price as Jets edge Senators in lacklustre display Add to ...

The record will show that on Feb. 9, 2013, the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Ottawa Senators 1-0 in a regulation game at Scotiabank Place in front of 18,594 fans.

The fans were likely the better story.

“We were flat,” Senators head coach Paul MacLean said in an understatement.

“We didn’t have any zip, any jump.”

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The Jets, while better than the Senators, were not a great deal better – leading to a game in which the only praise possible went to the two goaltenders.

“Good solid goaltending,” said Jets forward  Nik Antropov.

“We didn’t have our heads and legs,” said star Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson. All the same, there is something about a single-anthem game – especially when played on Hockey Day in Canada – that forces the mind to contemplate a reality concerning the country that gave the world hockey, the country that gave the world the Stanley Cup…and the chances of those two gifts ever getting back together.

It is repeated ad infinitum that no Canadian team has won the NHL championship since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. It's shaping up to be a 20 anniversary that no one in this country wishes to mark, let alone celebrate.

The reasons range from blind bad luck to the difficulty Canadian teams have (and privately will concede they have) in attracting those blue-chip veteran Unrestricted Free Agents that, in the age of NHL parity, put clubs over the top come the playoffs. Canada gets second-tier UFAs and their spouses who accept the weather, the withering spotlight and the border hassles in exchange for big money they cannot command in sunny climates or prime American cities.

The Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets are middling teams already just hoping to reach the playoffs – something the Senators managed last year while the transplanted Atlanta Thrashers could not.

And that reality has its own effect, causing many Canadian fans hoping that any game between two of the seven Canadian franchises goes into overtime. Sharing in three points, given the difficulty of reaching the playoffs, is a better fate than one team skating off the ice with two and the other with none.

Perhaps this alone explains why many such games – and certainly this one – drag and bog down, usually in the neutral zone. They play for overtime. Once Winnipeg got the lead, late in the game, they played only for the win; once Ottawa fell behind, they played to tie.

Saturday afternoon, it was the Battle of the Backups, Ottawa starting Ben Bishop in goal while NHL player-of-the-month for January Craig Anderson rested, and Winnipeg going with Al Montoya in net rather than regular goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.

In Bishop’s only previous outing, against the Lightning in Tampa Bay, he had established an anemic .833 save percentage in a 6-4 loss. Montoya’s last game, he had managed his first win as a Jet, when Winnipeg defeated the New York Islanders 5-4 in overtime.

Both teams were missing key players – Ottawa’s Jason Spezza out following back surgery a week ago to repair a herniated disc, Winnipeg defenceman Dustin Byfuglien out with a mystery injury – but the more telling tale this afternoon was missed passes and missed opportunities.

Ottawa lost centre Peter Regin to an “upper-body whatever” injury, MacLean said.

“When you’re playing as badly as we did, you need everybody.”

Certainly if both the Jets and the Senators translated Saturday afternoon’s hockey into the full 48 games, neither Canadian team would see the playoffs.

To give credit where it is due, however, the play of Bishop was exceptional, given his only other effort this shortened season.

“He was outstanding,” said MacLean.

The Senators are believed to be open to moving the backup if they can get fair exchange, and the display Bishop put on facing 37 Jets shots was impressive. For his party, Montoya was also full value, facing 33 shots, though the Jets were by far the better team on the ice.

It was not until nearly the six-minute mark of the third period that a puck finally crossed a goal line. Winnipeg forward Kyle Wellwood flicked a harmless shot toward the Ottawa net from a long the right boards and Alexei Ponikarovsky was able to tip the puck over the left shoulder of the 6’7” Bishop.

Ponikarovsky from Wellwood – it sounded like one of the ancient Battles of Ontario when the Toronto Maple Leafs regularly crushed the Senators playoff hopes.

But this was far from playoff hockey, as the crowd was at times acutely aware. Were it not for scoreboard tips of the hat to various military personnel in attendance, and a few members of the women’s Team Canada, they would have found little to cheer about.

In fact, the one memorable crowd sound from the third period was a resounding “boo” for the Senators’ disorganized power play.

Being Canadian fans, they couldn’t even get an overtime to cheer.

 

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

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