The honeymoon is over, folks

By: Adam Wazny | Saturday, January 19

Ottawa Senators' Milan Michalek celebrates his goal against Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec at the MTS Centre on Jan. 19. The Jets lost 4-1 to the Senators. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Let's begin with an obvious takeaway from the Winnipeg Jets' home opener, a 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators at a sold-out MTS Centre:

Any pre-game talk of organized rebellion among the hockey fan ranks, any premise of anger due to the 113-day collective bargaining impasse between the NHL and the players' association, was gone hours before the contest, replaced by the excited buzz of a game day in downtown Winnipeg.

No kidding. Oh, look, there's Jets governor Mark Chipman greeting fans as they poured into the arena. Thank you, nice to be here.

Half-price beers? Sure thing. Not that anyone was surprised.

And when Dustin Byfuglien blasted a one-timer past Sens goaltender Craig Anderson six minutes into the game, the building, as anticipated, was in full throat, just as it was most times last season.

The Jets crowd is like any other crowd; a reason to cheer is all they need.

Again, that initial reception was expected.

Building from the warm welcome, though, we see that definitive answers regarding the on-ice product remain relatively unknown at this early juncture of the 48-game season.

However, we did get a glimpse as to what the Jets face moving forward, and what the expectation is from the crowd.

Boo-birds directed at the Jets from the home crowd in the home opener? No one would have predicted that, right?

Yes, the honeymoon is over, folks.

Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Senators showed the Jets will require a game or three to get some cohesion throughout the lineup.

The game was a jumble of bouncing pucks, poorly placed passes and scrambled defensive zone coverage: no doubt a product of a short training camp and no chance to work out the kinks through exhibition play. One can assume the flow will catch up to the hustle once the routine of a season settles in.

The most glaring issue facing the Jets, one that followers circled with a bright red marker to signify their worry, is the lack of depth on the blue-line.

For the most part, they kept things clean, but there were a few too many times the Jets found themselves in recovery mode following an errant breakout pass or an ill-timed decision to hold onto the puck.

Exhibit A: the first two Ottawa scores. The goals, scored by Milan Michalek in the first and Chris Neil in the second, came off turnovers from Paul Postma and Ron Hainsey, respectively, proving (for this game at least) the concern valid.

But again, it's early.

It wasn't all bad on the Winnipeg blue-line. Toby Enstrom ate up a lot of minutes (a team-high 25:13), as did Byfuglien -- a guy the Jets need to be efficient and effective every night.

Byfuglien's first period goal garnered all the attention, but don't overlook how he spent his time on the ice Saturday. He picked his spots when to jump up into the play; a "less is more" approach that seemed to work out well for Winnipeg.

Head coach Claude Noel called Byfuglien his best player afterwards and anyone who witnessed the game would find it difficult to disagree with his assessment.

Looking ahead to the next game, a Monday afternoon affair in Boston, Noel's primary concern -- a worry shared by Jets fans with brand-new expectations coming into the second season of this town's hockey renaissance -- will be with the rest of the defence and the play in their own zone.

Yes, that could qualify as another obvious takeaway.

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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