Jets goaltending struggles continue in loss to Kings

The first step of solving a problem is admitting you have one.
Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar and Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien battle for the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game at the Staples Center on Saturday in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/The Associated Press)

The first step of solving a problem is admitting you have one. 

But for Jets head coach Paul Maurice, when it comes to his current goaltending predicament, he’s not yet ready to make that step.

The debate on whether or not the Jets have a true No.1 guy between the pipes continued after Ondrej Pavelec, who made his return to action for the first time in more than two weeks, was relieved of his duties after allowing three goals on 16 shots in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the L.A. Kings.  

With the risk of things getting any worse, Maurice elected to go with backup Al Montoya to start the second period. 

"I understand what it looked like in the first period," said Maurice after the game. "But I'm not putting that one on the goaltender's feet. I'm not saying they weren't responsible for the pucks. They were as good as we were."

Shame on us’

How good were the Jets? In short, it was a bad effort from top to bottom against a very structured Kings team.

"Shame on us," critiqued Maurice of his team’s first period. "It's a 20-man group out there. Can our goalies be better in tonight's game? Yes. But that wasn't a goalie's issue that period."  

The Jets were all kinds of awful in the opening 20 minutes, and they paid for it, spotting a strong defensive team like the Kings a three-goal cushion heading in to the first intermission.

"We were taught a real good lesson in the first period about being ready to play a hard game," noted Maurice, whose team was also outshot 16-11 in the frame. "We just gave them so much ice to play on. We were looking for a smoother way to play that first period, and it just wasn't going to be there.”

It was a different team from the one fans witnessed in Thursday's win over the Sharks. The Jets were slow, outmatched in almost every battle, and were pushed off pucks at at both ends of the ice. 

And when it's against a team like L.A., who’re known around the league for giving very little breathing room, overcoming a three-goal lead is like climbing a mountain barefoot, in the rain.

No surprises

So surely something must have been said between the periods.

"Whatever you guys can imagine," said Evander Kane, who finished the game with an assist on the Jets opening goal. "I mean we had to be a lot better than that. We needed everybody going, and we didn't have that."

"They don't create a whole lot of offence. They have a lot of offensive guys, but they're a defense-first team and when you spot them 3-0 leads it's going to be tough to come back on. You know what to expect from the L.A. Kings, and we weren’t surprised."

As the season dwindles down on these last seven games, Maurice hopes to instill an identity for this team; something Claude Noel was unable to do during his tenure in Winnipeg.

Maurice knows this will take time and patience, but he believes it’s coming. He’s liked what he’s seen, even when the results aren’t there.

And right now, win or lose, it’s about learning. 

"There's the learning lesson in this one: how do you wind yourself back up to play the game as hard as we need to compete against that team, “ said Maurice. “That will be our focus heading in to next game." 

Slap shots

Bumped and bruised: Zach Bogosian missed his third straight game and fourth in the last five with an upper body injury. Mark Scheifele (knee), Chris Thorburn (ankle), and James Wright (ankle) were also out with injuries. 

Early exit: Defenceman Keaton Ellerby left the game in the second period and did not return. Maurice offered little about the his d-man’s status, only to suggest he was "a little banged up" and that he would be closer evaluated Sunday.  

Long time coming: Matt Halischuk opened the scoring for the Jets, converting on a no-look pass from Kane to end the shutout bid for Kings’ tender Jonathan Quick. It was Halischuk's first goal in three and a half months, dating back to Dec. 14. 

Hot hand: Blake Wheeler extended his hot play of late, finishing off an impressive rush, beating Kings’ defenceman Slava Voynov, and solving Quick on the short side. Wheeler now has 12 points (3g, 9a) in his last eight games. 

Three Stars

First star - Anze Kopitar, L.A. 

He scored twice in the opening period to help put his team 2up 3-0 after 20 minutes. Kopitar was buzzing all over the ice, finishing a plus-2 in 18:25 of ice time. 

Second star - Willie Mitchell, L.A. 

The Kings' defenceman finished with two assists and was a plus-2 in 19 minutes of action.

Third star - Marian Gaborik, L.A. 

Throw the puck on net and good things happen. Gaborik did just that, collecting an assist on each of Kopitar's goals. He too was a plus-2 in 17:32 of ice time.