Less than a week ago, Winnipeg Jets’ forward Evander Kane was a hero. He’d made a brilliant pass that led to the winning goal in overtime against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.
But by Tuesday Kane’s star had faded so much he’d been benched briefly in the Jets’ loss to the Boston Bruins and dressed down publicly by coach Claude Noel.
So all eyes were on Kane Thursday when Winnipeg played the San Jose Sharks at the MTS Centre. How would he respond? What would Noel do? Would anyone care by the end of the game? Probably not, especially since the Jets lost 2-0 and never posed much of a threat to the Sharks.
Both men took different approaches before the game. Kane acknowledged the need for improvement and vowed: “I need to be better, I know I can be better and I will be better.”
Noel blamed the media for the fuss, saying reporters exploited his emotions after the Jets’ 5-3 loss in Boston. But he also didn’t regret his comment and said he might do it again.
Kane seemed to take the controversy to heart, flying from his first shift Thursday. He managed a breakaway in the first period after poking the puck away from Shark defenceman Brent Burns. He missed on that try but got another excellent scoring chance a few minutes later and forcing Shark goaltender Antti Niemi to make a quick glove save.
The Sharks weren’t exactly easy targets. They arrived in Winnipeg having not lost in five straight games and with an impressive 9-4-3 road record.
San Jose got the first goal of the game half way through the second period when Logon Couture fired a quick shot by Jet goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
The Jets’ prospects didn’t look good entering the third. They had collapsed in Boston in the final period, giving up three goals. A similar meltdown happened last week in Montreal. Trying to get ahead of the Sharks in the final 20 minutes of play looked daunting.
The Sharks’ Brad Winchester scored less than three minutes into the period, giving San Jose a 2-0 lead for good.
Only Pavelec kept the score from going higher, making an incredible diving save with his stick to rob the Sharks’ Torrey Mitchell. San Jose forward Michal Handzus also hit the post.
Niemi picked up his second shut out of the season and the Sharks improved their record to 24-11-5 for 53 points.
“It was a night where we felt like we had control basically all the way,” said Sharks’ head coach Todd McLellan. “There was very little panic. When you're playing that way, you're usually doing a lot of good things.”
Indeed, the Sharks prevented the Jets from connecting on just about anything all night. The Jets had two weak power plays. They did poorly on face offs, winning just 33 per cent. And they were outshot 37 to 24.
“We didn’t deserve to win,” Pavelec said bluntly afterward. “We have to figure out what we have to do and be ready by the next time.”
Team captain Andrew Ladd blamed the team’s inability to follow the game plan, saying: “It’s laid out for us every night we have to follow that. We can’t be on a personal game plan and do what we feel is best.”
The Jets fell to 20-18-5 with 45 points. The team is now 1-4 in the last five games. Worse, the Jets lost at the MTS Centre, a place that has been more than friendly to the team. Given their poor road record, 6-11-4, the Jets can’t afford to lose many games at home if they hope to make the playoffs.
After the game Noel wasn’t talking about Kane, who finished the game playing decently but with a plus-minus of minus one for the game.
Noel had more important things to consider, such as how to deal with his team’s crumbling morale.
“The team isn’t going to be feeling very good right now,” he said. “That will be one of the issue we are going to be dealing with.”
Thursday’s game, he added, was a “bump in the road.”
“It’s going to be interesting to see how we do,” he said. “We are going to face adversity right square in the face.”