If only the final two periods of hockey counted in a game, the Winnipeg Jets may have walked away with a win against the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night at the MTS Centre.
Instead, a sloppy defensive effort in the first period led to Winnipeg trailing 2-0 after 20 minutes, en route to a 3-0 loss at the hands of a red-hot Montreal team that’s now won three straight road games.
For Jets head coach Claude Noel, the loss came down to his team losing the small battles right from the opening face-off.
“The momentum gets built, for me, off a good shift, off a faceoff, off playing in the offensive zone, off contact, off winning battles and that’s how momentum builds,” said Noel during his post-game press conference.
“When you don’t have that, you’re on your heels and that’s what we’ve done a fair bit.”
The Jets (3-4-0) outshot the Canadiens (4-2-0) in the final two periods but went unrewarded for their efforts thanks to the stellar play of Canadiens’ goalie, Carey Price, who stopped all 35 shots aimed his way.
The 26-year-old native of Anahim Lake, B.C., made a number of saves in close, including a pair of face-to-face stops against Jets captain Andrew Ladd.
“I had him on that one but the puck just rolled off my stick,” Ladd said after the game about a breakaway chance in the third period.
"We would obviously like to put a couple of those in the back of the net but sometimes they just don’t go in.”
There are three spots reserved for goalies on the men’s Canadian Olympic hockey team headed to Sochi, Russia in February and Price is considered an early favourite to make the team.
He’s being evaluated each and every game leading up to the Olympics and a shutout against the Jets only helped boost his stock.
Penalties are starting to become a major concern for the Jets.
Winnipeg has sent opposing teams to the power play at least five times in six of their first seven games this year. It’s a problem defenceman Zach Bogosian believes needs to be addressed.
“It’s tough when you’re killing penalties,” said Bogosian, who admitted he too had to work on staying out of the box. “We need to be better in that department for sure.”
Winnipeg was called for five penalties against the Canadiens, including a Bryan Little cross-checking call in the final two minutes of the game, marking the end of any potential Jets comeback.
“You can argue all you want,” said Noel. “When you’re reaching for people, whether you’re reaching with your hands or reaching with a stick you’re going to get called.
"These are things that we don’t need to do, to create problems. We did it a few times tonight.”
Wheels falling off
When the Jets brass signed Blake Wheeler to a six-year, $33.6-million contract in the summer, expectations were high for their top-line winger.
So after another disappointing game from Wheeler Tuesday night, coach Noel made no buts about the suggestion he needs to be better.
“He’s not playing very well,” said Noel. “We’re going to have to coach him and talk to him. I see the areas and I’ll discuss it with him. It’s not that he’s not trying but there are some areas that he needs to be better.”
In seven games this season, Wheeler has one goal; two assists and is a minus-1. Not exactly the kind of production one would expect playing on a line with Little and Evander Kane.
But it may not be time to push the panic button just yet.
In the first seven games of the Jets inaugural season in 2011-2012, Wheeler was limited to only two assists and was a minus-3.
He began to hit stride a couple of games later, scoring three points in a ridiculous 9-8 win over Philadelphia, and would end the season as the Jets top-scorer with 17 goals and 47 assists for 64 points.
The Jets came out flat in the first period and Montreal made them pay for it, scoring a goal just two minutes in to the game. Montreal was faster, played stronger defensively and rolled all four lines to tire down the Jets.
It’s clear better starts are top of mind for the Jets, but until they start executing those better beginnings, the end result will remain the same.
First: Carey Price, MTL — He was great when he needed to be, earning first shutout of the year.
Second: P.K. Subban, MTL — The 2013 Norris Trophy winner, awarded to the top defenceman in the league, had another stellar showing against the Jets. He scored and was a plus-1 in 25:07 of ice time. Subban has now recorded 5 points (4g, 1a) and is a plus-3 in three games against the Jets dating back to last season.
Third: Jacob Trouba, WPG — The Jets rookie defenceman was given the nod for third star, though it comes as somewhat of a surprise. The 19-year-old finished with three giveaways, one hit, and was a minus-2 in 23:14 of ice time.