The euphoria from the Winnipeg Jets’ first win of the NHL season may not have lasted long but they left Toronto with the hope that better times lie ahead.
Even though the Jets blew a two-goal lead in the third period and lost 4-3 in the shootout to the Maple Leafs, there were finally signs of progress Wednesday night. The power play managed its first two goals of the season against the Leafs and the Jets' offence in general looked sharper for the second game in succession.
“It was a good effort, a good defensive effort,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “But [winning]is in the details.”
However, with Toronto in the rear-view mirror, the Jets can think about just playing hockey and taking care of some of those details, like shutting down a team once you have the lead. The trouble was, too many of their first five games were big events, not just another night at the office.
Until this week, the Jets were obviously having difficulty dealing with an extended turn in the NHL spotlight thanks to their move to Winnipeg. After years of playing in front of a few friends and relatives in Atlanta, the former Thrashers were not equipped to be the centre of attention, not just in Winnipeg, but everywhere they went.
Opening night at the MTS Centre was the most-anticipated event in Winnipeg in the 15 years since the former Jets bolted for Phoenix. Then it was on to Chicago where the predictable fuss was made over former Blackhawks Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd. There was also much made about Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, a Winnipeg lad.
The next stop was Phoenix, where the old Jets played host to the new Jets. A few thousand Jets fans also made the trip so the party atmosphere continued. After that loss, Noel aired out his troops, wondering about their sense of entitlement now that they had a city, a province and even parts of a country loving them unconditionally.
Finally, those around the team say, the Jets had just a regular hockey game on Monday night. The Pittsburgh Penguins were in town but without superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. All the Jets had to worry about was playing hockey and it produced their first win.
This was a huge step for them and not just for the obvious reason. Their next outing was Wednesday night in Toronto and everyone knew that would never be an ordinary hockey game.
But with a win under their belts, the Jets were able to hit Hogtown feeling loose and it showed against the listless Leafs. The hosts were kind enough to stand still as soon as the puck was dropped and the Jets easily took the play to them and took a 3-1 lead with two power-play goals. Those two goals were their first with the man advantage after 17 missed opportunities.
Granted, the Jets sagged in the third period as the Leafs came on with two power-play goals of their own in 27 seconds, but it could have been much worse. Another loss against the Penguins on Monday and the Jets could have been so tight the Leafs may have rolled even with the sub-par effort they put in over the first two periods.
For most visits to Toronto are a big deal for a lot of NHL players. And we’re not talking about the large media presence, which was especially omnipresent on Thursday.
A lot of players come from Southern Ontario, so visits here are busier than the usual bus from the airport to the hotel to the rink and back that makes up the average NHL road trip. It is family and friends that provide most of the distractions for players, such as the 13 relatives and friends who made the one-hour drive from Kitchener on Thursday to watch 18-year-old rookie centre Mark Scheifele score his first NHL goal.
The Jets will find out quickly if they are putting the circus behind them. They left Toronto right after the Leaf game for Ottawa, where they will play the Senators on Thursday. Then it’s back home for a meeting with the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.