The Winnipeg Jets had one more chance Tuesday to crawl into a playoff spot. All they had to do was beat the New York Islanders, one of the worst teams in the NHL, at the MTS Centre where the Jets have won six out eight games this month.
But once again the Jets came up short, losing 3-2 in a shoot out in a poorly played showing that Winnipeg never really deserved to win. The one point the Jets got from the game gives them 35 and leaves Winnipeg stuck in ninth with Washington and Buffalo.
"It was one point where we could have used two," Winnipeg coach Claude Noel said after the game.
Winnipeg had seen all this before. Last week just before facing Washington at the MTS Centre the Jets were also in ninth place, just one point out of a playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Before that game many Jet players and Noel talked about watching the standings and the importance of claiming eighth spot. They lost 1-0.
This time there was little talk before the game about moving into eighth place or the standings in general. And maybe a lesson was learned.
Nonetheless, it was the Islanders who came out looking like they wanted a playoff spot, not the Jets.
Noel had fretted before the game about his players looking past New York and feeling overconfident. He had good reason to be concerned. Although they are mired near the bottom of the standings, the Islanders had been showing signs of life lately, going 4-1-1 in their last six road games and arriving in Winnipeg having beaten Minnesota 2-1 in a shoot out in Minneapolis.
New York is still basically a one-line team, consisting of John Tavares, Matt Mouslon and PA Parenteau. But that one line is potent and accounts for nearly half of New York's goals this season.
On Tuesday they showed why. The trio opened the scoring with a series of sharp passes from Tavares to Moulson to Parenteau who snapped a quick shot past Jet goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
The Islanders probably could have had four more goals in the first period if it wasn't for Pavelec. He made 12 saves before the game was 20-minutes old including several on point blank shots and near breakaways.
"Pavelec was real good," Noel said afterward. "I thought he really helped us. We can thank him for the point."
The Winnipeg goaltender lamented his teammates play afterward, saying they threw the puck away too much and failed to create traffic in front of the New York net. "It was a tough loss, but tomorrow is another day," Pavelec said. As for the shoot out: "it's part of the game."
Other than Pavelec, the rest of the Jets looked sloppy through much of the early going but managed to come together with two minutes remaining in the first period. Nik Antropov won a face off in the Islander zone and slid the puck back to defenceman Johnny Oduya. He fired a long shot from the point that Antropov deflected by Islander goalie Al Montoya.
Until then the notoriously noisy crowd at the MTS Centre had been largely subdued, at least by Winnipeg standards. Typically the fans pick on one or two opposing players and boo them incessantly. But they either didn't know the Isles' roster or couldn't decide who was worthy of booing, so they didn't jeer anyone, save for a few barbs aimed at Tavares. Instead they focused on Montoya, who had trouble holding on to the puck several times and did not look especially sharp.
New York kept up the pressure in the second period and scored less than four minutes into the period after a long shot from Travis Hamonic deflected off Jet defender Zach Bogosian leaving the puck at the side of the goal with Pavelec out of position. Michael Grabner just flicked it in to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead.
The Jets managed to come back a few minutes later when Andrew Ladd fired a long shot that somehow beat Montoya on the glove side.
That tied the game at two and seemed to invigorate the Jets and the crowd. With fans roaring, the Jets' top line of Alexander Burmistrov, Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane rained down shots on Montoya, sensing he was letting in soft goals.
But the Islanders weathered the storm. Then near disaster struck for New York late in the second period. Kane crashed hard into Montoya sending the goalie flying and landing hard on the ice. Kane got a penalty for goaltender interference and Montoya left the game, having stopped 17 shots.
"It's tough for a player when he is cutting in with that kind of speed," said Islander coach Jack Capuano who had no update on the goalie's condition. "I don't think he did that on purpose to go in the way he went in. When you look up and the goalie is right there, it's tough to stop. Hopefully Al will be [okay]"
He was replaced by Evgeni Nabokov who stopped all 19 he faced and shut down the Jets in the shoot out. He "did a great job," said Capuano.
Nothing changed in the third until Oduya took a hooking penalty with four minutes left giving the Islanders an opportunity to steal a win. It was only the second Jet minor of the game and Winnipeg managed to kill it off, thanks to more good saves by Pavelec.
The game went into overtime where Pavelec again bailed out his team. As did Nabokov who snatched one shot by Jet defenceman Mark Stuart out of mid air.
In the shoot out, Wheeler went first and missed. Parenteau was next for New York and scored. Then came Kyle Wellwood for the Jets who also missed. That left Frans Nielsen to win it for New York on a shot that got by Pavelec.
After the game Noel said his team has lacked chemistry in the last couple of games. That maybe because injuries have led to several players coming in and out of the line up.
"I would say the last two games we have not been good. There doesn't seem to be the cohesiveness that we're looking for, that we had before," the coach said. "It's interesting to see how and if we are going to able to get that back without practising very much. So that's what's going to be interesting here. And that's a challenge as we as a coaching staff face."
Noel said he might change some lines or move players around. "I have to find a way to get this team to understand who we were when we were going good and smoothly," he said. "We'll see how it all goes."
Winnipeg moves to 15-13-5 and continues its long December home stand with a game against Montreal Thursday. The Islanders, now 11-14-6, head back to New York to face the Rangers in Manhattan.