Jets struggle in first of three on the road

By: Adam Wazny | Wednesday, January 30

Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (73) is knocked to the ice by Winnipeg Jets center Jim Slater (19) during first period of Tuesday's game in Montreal.(The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz)

That bad habit the Winnipeg Jets have of falling behind early in games finally came back to bite them in the you-know-what.

The Jets spotted Montreal a two-love lead and eventually dropped a 4-3 decision to the Canadiens at the Bell Centre Tuesday night, halting their modest winning streak at three games.

It was the fourth straight game the Jets (3-2-1) fell into an early hole -- a situation that seemingly played into their hands. But unlike the previous three contests, games where they successfully chased the score right through to victory at the end, Tuesday saw their fortune run out.

Mounting a comeback takes a lot out of a team, and while the Jets get marks for bouncing back (they took a 3-2 lead midway through the game), the reality is they can't continue to fall behind in games and expect the score to fall their way at the end. Not in today's NHL, where the difference between a win and a loss is often as slim as a stick blade and based on the bounce of a puck.

Early deficits and the perils of playing from behind were bound to catch up with the Jets. To quote head coach Claude Noel in the post-game:

"It's a recipe for disaster."

Two more observations from Tuesday's loss:

1. Did anyone else notice the names involved on the Canadiens second goal?

Winger Brendan Gallagher scored on a rocket from the top of the face-off circle in the first period, a goal assisted by fellow rookie Alex Galchenyuk. When all was said and done, both finished with two points each.

It's no surprise they had a good game. Earlier in the day, the two freshmen were told that they'd be staying in Montreal for the duration of the season.

It's a decision that makes a lot of sense: if a young player is good enough to make the roster out of training camp and his game shows no signs of trailing off, he should be given every opportunity to stick with the big club -- regardless of contract implications.

In a related story, Winnipeg rookie Mark Scheifele was a healthy scratch for the third straight game. His NHL future, at least for the 2013 season, doesn't appear as bright.

2. Jets defenceman Toby Enstrom has seven assists and is tied with Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien for the club scoring lead with seven points.

Sounds good, right? Not quite.

The 28-year-old took two careless penalties in the third Tuesday, the first leading to the eventual Montreal game winner at the 5:31 mark of the period. These miscues come on the heels of crucial struggles against New York Sunday; two Enstrom errors led directly to two Islander goals.

Look, Enstrom is a talented, smart player with the puck; like Byfuglien, Winnipeg's offence usually starts via his stick. As mentioned, he's tied for the club lead in scoring and he is seemingly tireless, playing 26 minutes a night.

When he doesn't have the puck, though, he's a liability at times, his smaller stature (Enstrom is generously listed at 5-10, 180-pounds) coming into the equation when an opponent gets a step on him or the physical intensity increases.

Does the offensive payoff outweigh the defensive risk? Well, Winnipeg signed him to a five-year, $28.75-million contract extension in the off-season, so the club obviously believes it does.

It's a trade-off Jets fans are going to have to get used to.

Winnipeg continues this three-game road trip Thursday, when they face the struggling Florida Panthers (1-5-0). Game time is 6:30 p.m.

Opinion

Adam Wazny is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer who has covered sports in the city for over a decade. He has worked as a reporter for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, and now spends most of his time checking his Twitter. Did someone say Twitter? Find him here: @wazoowazny.

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