Ondrej Pavelec has not won a game in his last two outings but can argue he was the best goaltender in the NHL over that period.
Once again, the Winnipeg Jets’ offence fizzled in front of Pavelec and they lost their second consecutive game, 3-0 to the New York Rangers, who played a strong game at both ends of the ice. The Jets are now 3-2-1 on their seven-game road trip.
“We’ve got to get back to what we were doing earlier in this road trip,” Jets forward Chris Thorburn said. “We’ve got to get pucks through the middle.”
The Jets squandered their best stretch in the game, killing off a five-on-three Ranger power play early in the third period that lasted one minute, 33 seconds. Pavelec was brilliant in that stretch, making several big saves. His best one was a reaching glove save on Marian Gaborik.
“Yeah, it was huge,” Thorburn said. “We were excited on the bench. Pavelec made some huge saves.”
The problem was, shortly after the last penalty expired, Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, whose play is maddeningly inconsistent, made a bad decision. He tried to pinch on a Jets rush and was caught up ice with Gaborik and Derek Stepan of the Rangers flying the other way on a two-on-one rush.
Gaborik scored off a two-on-one rush with a precise pass from Stepan at 8:31 to put the Rangers up 2-0 and the Jets out of contention. Gaborik added an empty-net goal in the last few seconds. Stepan scored the Rangers’ first goal.
“We didn’t have to pinch there,” Jets head coach Claude Noel said. “We still had time. If you keep it 1-0, you’ve got a chance.”
It was the second game in as many nights for the Jets and sixth of their seven-game road trip. They looked every bit the travel-weary group but had to leave right after the game for Buffalo where they end the trip Tuesday night against the Sabres.
But the schedule does not get much easier because they play one game at home Thursday and then head back on the road again, although they get to play the woeful Columbus Blue Jackets.
“Our biggest task right now is we’ve got to find some energy,” Noel said.
The Rangers took a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal midway through the second period and held it into the third. It was a familiar story for the Jets, who did manage to create a little more offence than in their past two games but still had to depend on Pavelec to keep the score close.
Centre Nik Antropov (hand) missed his second consecutive game, as did defenceman Randy Jones (foot), although defenceman Mark Stuart was able to come back from a one-game absence. Without Antropov, the Jets’ attack loses much of its bite.
After a slow start, perhaps to get accustomed to the slushy Madison Square Garden ice, the Jets came on strong over the last half of the first period. However, Ranger goaltender Martin Biron, enjoying a rare home start over Henrik Lundqvist, was solid in earning the shutout for the Rangers’ fourth win in a row.
“I think the team is playing with a lot of confidence now,” Gaborik said. “It wasn’t a pretty game but we managed to win.”
Special teams, something else that has troubled the Jets this season, were initially a problem against the Rangers. They failed to score on two power-play opportunities in the second period and gave up a power-play goal to Derek Stepan.
Then the Jets killed off the five-on-three, which should have given them a chance to pull out a win.
“Our special teams helped us out a little bit but I thought we looked tired,” Noel said.
The Jets’ best skater on that penalty kill was Burmistrov, who singlehandedly kept the puck away from the Rangers as the five-on-three wound down. He also made a couple of good hits earlier in the game.
“He’s very engaged physically,” Noel said. “It’s pretty impressive to watch.”
The Jets made a couple of awful giveaways in the first 40 minutes and were fortunate they were only down 1-0 going into the third period even though the play was fairly even.
First, defenceman Johnny Oduya fired a long pass up the middle of the ice and hit Rangers forward Ruslan Fedotenko right on the tape. Fedotenko took the gift and roared in alone but Pavelec bailed out Oduya with a big save. Then, in the second period, Bryan Little handed the puck to Ranger forward Ryan Callahan. He made a nice deke on Jets winger Kyle Wellwood to get in alone on Pavelec but once again the goaltender made the save.
The best hits were by the Jets, who showed some grit in the Garden’s hostile environment. Tanner Glass made the first one, drilling Ranger defenceman Jeff Woywitka hard enough on the chest to knock his helmet off and send him aching to the bench. In the second period, Burmistrov, who is having an excellent road trip, dropped Ranger defenceman Dan Girardi with a body check. Girardi also wound up staggering to the bench and missed a shift.
Without Pavelec, this road trip would seem a lot longer for the Jets. Stuart, who played well in his first game back from an injury, said the entire team gets a lift from Pavelec’s play.
“We have a lot of confidence in him, Stuart said. “It causes you to have a lot more confidence in your game. He makes the first save and it’s just a matter of you picking up your man or a rebound.”