A five-game, nine-day road trip arrived just in time for the Winnipeg Jets, who went into Sunday’s game against the Boston Bruins at the MTS Centre with a 3-4 home record – which threatened to cast a shadow on their 17-month honeymoon with their fans.
Mind you, the Jets’ 2-3-1 road record is even worse, but with the losses mounting it was a good time for the eastern swing that begins Tuesday in Buffalo and ends Feb. 26 in New York against the Rangers.
But it does not promise to be a fun trip as the Jets are now without their points leader and best defenceman, Tobias Enstrom, who suffered a shoulder injury in last Friday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Jets have not said how long Enstrom will be out but it appears he could be lost for at least a week.
The Jets did get defenceman Zach Bogosian, who had off-season wrist surgery, back in the lineup at the same time as Enstrom was lost. Like Enstrom, Bogosian plays an offensive game but, at 22, lacks Enstrom’s experience and leadership.
While the Jets have not been much better than they were as Atlanta Thrashers until moving north in the summer of 2011, playing in front of packed houses allowed them to lead a charmed life at the MTS Centre. But that is evaporating as the list of underachievers – Olli Jokinen (no stranger to such lists), Nik Antropov, Alexander Burmistrov and Kyle Wellwood – is growing.
Despite the fact the Jets play in one of the noisiest arenas in the NHL, they do not use that to their advantage. Visiting teams are now prepared and the Jets invariably find themselves behind in the first period.
Special teams are also a big problem. The power play, which was ranked second at home last season, with a 22-per-cent success rate, is now 12th overall (18.8 per cent). But the big problem is penalty killing: The Jets are dead last in the NHL in that department with an embarrassing 67.4-per-cent success rate.
One of the reasons for the poor showing is goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who was one of the Jets’ better players last season. Currently, he has a 3.15 goals-against average and .890 save percentage and is not showing any consistency.
The Jets do have one small comfort: forward Antti Miettinen is back on the ice for the first time since he was hurt in training camp.
Then again, his injury says much about the Jets season so far. Miettinen was hurt when he tripped on some sticks and fell into the boards.
TORTORELLA NEEDS SHAKE AFTER LATEST SNAP
John Tortorella is in need of a dressing down from the NHL head office. It is one thing for the famously fractious New York Rangers head coach to spar with the reporters he despises, but quite another for him to refuse to recognize the basic function of journalists.
Before Sunday’s game against the Washington Capitals, ESPN.com reporter Katie Strang asked Tortorella about the status of forward Rick Nash, who was thought to be nursing an injury. “None of your business,” Tortorella snapped. Later, the coach said Nash, who did play, was “banged up,” but he again refused to discuss injuries.
Even for a league that encourages deception when it comes to injuries, this is too much. Reporting on the health of a star player to readers, viewers and listeners is one of the most basic functions of a journalist.
There will likely be a discussion between the Professional Hockey Writers Association and the NHL about this, and the sooner Tortorella – who likes to become one of the hated media between jobs – is straightened, out the better.
PLAYERS AND PROTECTION NOT ALWAYS A MATCH
A remark by a teammate of Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson after Karlsson was lost for the season due to a partially-severed Achilles tendon spoke loudly about the attitudes of NHL players to what is best for them even in the face of compelling evidence. A Kevlar sock would probably have saved Karlsson from serious injury, but don’t look for a rush to wear them among his peers. Even if wearing such socks are not a major adjustment, players still resist them for puzzling reasons, as Senators forward Stéphane Da Costa told the Ottawa Sun after trying a pair in practice. The Sens watched their best player helped off the ice in agony but comfort and familiarity are still king. “I have a routine, so I’m not sure,” Da Costa said of the chances of wearing the socks in a game.
FIVE GAMES TO WATCH
Sharks at Blues – The Blues show signs of regaining their reputation as a tough team to play against, and will need it against the Sharks, even though they are on a skid. Tuesday, 8 p.m., TSN2, NBCSN
Canucks at Blackhawks – Games between these rivals have been fun to watch since the 2010 playoffs, when Chicago knocked off Vancouver in a bitter series on the way to the Stanley Cup. Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific
Blues at Avalanche – The Blues need to win both ends of a back-to-back, home-and-road set to prove to the faithful they are back on track. Wednesday, 10 p.m., TSN2, NBCSN
Bruins at Lightning – Boston is sitting a little ways down the Eastern Conference standing than they should be thanks to a quirk in the schedule. They were fifth before Sunday’s game against the Jets but only because they had played just 12 games (they only had two losses). Thursday, 7:30 p.m., NHL Network U.S., NESN, SUN
Sharks at Chicago – When the Blackhawks beat the Sharks on Feb. 15, it was their second win against them in 10 days and kept the Sharks on a slide that started just before the first loss. That game also featured a fight between team captains Jonathan Toews of Chicago and Joe Thornton of San Jose, which shows just how much these teams like each other. Friday, 8:30 p.m., NHL Network U.S., CSN California, CSN Chicago
All times EasternReport Typo/Error