No such thing as easy games for Jets in final stretch

With the Jets hot and the Islanders all but out of the playoffs, it was easy to believe the game was ripe for the picking by Winnipeg. But the Jets just weren’t ready from the opening puck drop.
Winnipeg Jets' captain Andrew Ladd scores on New York Islanders goalie Anders Nilsson during third period of Tuesday's game, to tied it up 2-2 and send it to overtime. The Jets lost in O/T 3-2. (Trevor Hagan/Canadian Press)

It was a message Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec drove home to media following the morning skate Tuesday, just hours before the Jets’ crucial game against the New York Islanders scheduled for later that night.

Pavelec, 26, repeated over and over to reporters that there are no easy games in the National Hockey League.

He brushed off the suggestion Tuesday’s game was ripe for the taking against a struggling Islanders club, which was nine games below .500 and all but out of the playoff talk.

Down and out

But it wasn’t just the record that had many believing this game to be a ‘gimme’ for the home team Jets.

The Islanders had just lost their best player in John Tavares, out for the season with a knee injury he sustained while playing for Canada at the Olympics.

Other key guys were missing from the lineup, too. Earlier in the day the Islanders started what appeared to be the early stages of a rebuild, dealing away defenceman and alternate captain Andrew MacDonald for a pair of draft picks just 24 hours away from the trade deadline.

Thomas Vanek, a player the Islanders acquired in a mid-season deal with Buffalo, that included piecing off Matt Moulsen to the Sabres, was a healthy scratch, rumoured to be the next piece to be moved out of Long Island.

If the Islanders weren’t already at a clear disadvantage, they opted for backup tender, Anders Nilsson instead of Evgeni Nabokov, their No. 1 guy.

Prior to Tuesday’s game, Nilsson, 23, had just eight NHL games under his belt and boasted a 3.68 goals-against-average and a .878 save percentage. Not exactly the kind of numbers that create fear in an opponent.

Out of sync

So it came as a surprise that given all that was in play leading up to the game, the Jets still fell short, losing the game 3-2 in overtime.

“Tonight would be a good example of our brains going 100 miles an hour and our feet not doing the same thing,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice, who is now 11-3-4 behind the Jets bench.

It was easy to see the Jets weren’t quite ready from the opening puck drop. It took more than five minutes for Winnipeg to generate their first shot. Breakdowns in the defensive end resulted in some early chances for the visiting team.

As for the Islanders, they played loose, like they had nothing to lose.

For captain Andrew Ladd, the Jets played a style they had strayed from for a majority of Maurice’s tenure with the team so far. But on Tuesday night, it was on full display. 

“I thought we were tight, from the first period especially,” said Ladd, who scored twice in the game including a late goal in the third period to send the game to OT.

“By the time we got a little looser playing, we were down 2-1. I thought we did a good job battling back to get it in to overtime and, at that point, it can go either way.”

‘One of those nights’

Recently, the Jets had prevailed when up against chance. The hockey gods have appeared to be on their side for the better part of the schedule since mid-January.

Not on this night, however.

“It was just one of those nights,” said winger Blake Wheeler, who logged a season-high 22:39 of ice time.

“[The puck] just always seemed to be in a bad spot. We had some good looks we missed the net on. We had some good opportunities we missed out on.”

“You’re going to have nights like that,” added Wheeler. “When you’re going through that you’ve just got to battle through it and we’re just thrilled that Laddy was able to put one in to get us a point.”

Scheifele shelved?

For another game, the locker room stayed focused on the positives. Collectively, players saw the game as a point earned, not lost.

But the game may have come at a greater cost than a single point in the standings.

Rookie Mark Scheifele, one of the Jets hottest players heading in to the final stretch, left the game in the second period after his leg collided with the knee of Islanders defender Calvin De Haan.

Maurice offered little about the injury after the game, saying the team would know more once further tests scheduled for Wednesday were complete. The outlook doesn’t look good, however, and the loss of Scheifele would mean a heavy demand at the centre position, especially now that James Wright has been placed on injured reserve with an ankle sprain.

What will this mean for the Jets and the trade deadline? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Slap shots:

Forward Matt Halischuk returned to the Jets lineup after missing the last 28 games with a broken forearm.

Maurice celebrated his 1,100th career game as an NHL coach. Maurice holds a career record of 471-460-168, spanning over 16 seasons.

Eric Tangradi has been listed day-to-day after tweaking something at practice Sunday.

Three Stars:

First: Andrew Ladd, WPG

The Jets captain scored twice, including late in the third period to send the game to overtime and salvage a much-needed point in the standings. Ladd finished with five shots and was a plus-1 in 23:20 of ice time.

Second: Anders Lee, NYI

Deceptively quick and aware around the net, Lee scored a goal and added an assist in the game. He was a plus-2 in just over 13 minutes of ice time.

Third: Blake Wheeler, WPG

Even when he doesn’t put points on the board, you know you’re going to get your best from Blake Wheeler. He picked up the slack, logging a season high 22:39 in ice time. He finished with five shots and created havoc for the Islanders' defenceman all night.

About the Author

Jeff Hamilton

Winnipeg Jets

Jeff Hamilton is an award-winning journalist born and raised in Winnipeg. Jeff is a graduate of the Carleton University journalism program and has worked for CBC in Ottawa and Manitoba. This will be his second year covering his hometown team. Jeff is passionate about hockey, playing and has studied the game his entire life.