First they win a game 9-8, then they lose the next game 1-0. It has certainly been a strange couple of days for the Winnipeg Jets.
After beating the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday in a game that saw 17 goals and 15 different players score, the Jets lost 1-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday.
“It’s kind of strange, you go from a 9-8 game to a tight-checking 1 to nothing game,” Jets' forward Bryan Little said afterward. “These are kind of the ones that sting the most. It felt like we were robbed a bit of 2 points.”
Unlike Thursday where it seemed almost every shot went in the net, Saturday night was all about goal tending and missed opportunities.
Tampa Bay in particular was stymied, often. Before the game was half over the Lightning had a pair of two-on-one breakaways but couldn’t score.
On the first, Steve Downie missed a wide open net and on the second, Ryan Shannon couldn’t put it past Jet goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Lightning forward Martin St. Louis also had several chances along with Steve Stamkos who seemed to plant himself in front of the Jet net without much trouble.
“It’s a question of confidence,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said after the game explaining why his team has had so much trouble in recent games taking advantage of opportunities.
“Goals are like bananas, they come in bunches. We want to make sure that we stick to what we are doing. We’ll bury them. We’re still top three or top four in the league for goals five on five.”
Pavelec kept the Lightning at bay for most of the first two periods and he didn't look at all like the same goalie who had been pulled from two games this season for letting in quick goals. At the end he stopped 26 of 27 shots.
“Pavelec was outstanding,” Noel said afterward. “I thought he was great.”
But it was Tampa Bay's Dwayne Roloson who stole the show on the goaltending front and got the shut out. He looked transformed from the last time he started in goal for the Lightning. That was Oct. 17 and he let in 7 goals on 33 shots in a 7-1 loss to Florida.
On Saturday he managed 28 saves, including one on a breakaway by Jet forward Evander Kane. He also had several game saving scrambles in the third period when the Jets came to life and pounded shots on the goalie. It was Roloson’s first shut out of the season and the near capacity crowd at the St. Pete Times Forum chanted his name as the clock wound down.
“He bounced back, absolutely no surprise,” Boucher said afterward. “I can certainly vouch for his character. He’s proven it over and over again last year, bouncing back after he wasn’t happy about some of his performances.”
The Lightning got the only break they needed near the end of the second period when Jet defenceman Mark Stuart got called for holding. Less than 30 seconds into the power play, Pavelec gave up a long rebound on a hard shot by Stamkos. The puck ended up on the stick of Vincent Lecavalier who was standing almost parallel with the Jet net near the far corner of the rink. He shot the puck toward Pavelec and somehow it flew past him.
The shot “surprised me,” Pavelec said afterward. “I made a rebound. I didn’t know [the puck]went to the corner. I thought it went a little bit on the boards closer to the blue line. So that’s why I stayed there and there were two guys in front of me so I didn’t see him at all.”
Boucher said he has told his player over and over to take shots from bad angles.
“The more bad angle shots you get the better, because they bounce where the goal tender is not used to,” he said. “Last year we made a trade mark on that.”
By the end of the second, the Jets were being out shot 24 to 17 and facing a long climb back into the game. Coming into Saturday the Jets had been outscored 14-4 in the third period.
Nonetheless the Jets looked inspired at the start of the third period, taking the play to Tampa Bay and dominating at times. Noel started mixing his lines, putting Alexander Burmistrov, the team’s best player so far this year, on the first line with Little and Andrew Ladd. Then Noel replaced Burmistrov with Blake Wheeler. Then he went back to his original lineup.
The Jets out shot the Lightning 11 to 3 in the third period, but Roloson stood firm.
One bright spot for the Jets came on the penalty front. Coming into the game, the Jets had averaged five penalties per game, something that had Noel fuming. Before the game he said the team’s goal was to cut that number to three. The players didn’t manage that target, but they took just four which was far fewer than the last three games.
But that wasn’t enough since Tampa Bay scored on one power play and took just two penalties, leaving the Jets with only four minutes for their own power play.
Despite the loss, Noel said he was happier with the way his players played on Saturday than on Thursday, even though they lost.
“I think that we recognize that we are not going to have the ability to score 9 every night,” he said. “I thought we played hard, I thought we played responsibly... I thought we had enough good chances to win the game.”
As for the Lightning, Noel said: “The experience of wining shows.”
That’s an experience the Jets, now 3-6-1, will have to keep looking for.