It’s a popular axiom throughout almost every professional sports league around the world: any team can beat any team on any given night.
But on Saturday afternoon what was supposed to happen, just simply happened.
The Winnipeg Jets fell 5-1 at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks in a rare matinee game at the MTS Centre. It was Winnipeg’s third straight loss and a harsh reminder of what it takes to be the amongst the best in the NHL, provided by a team whose hoisted hockey’s greatest trophy twice in the past four seasons.
“The last two periods was just embarrassing,” said Jets net minder Ondrej Pavelec following the game. “Chicago won the cup for a reason. They’re ready every game and they know how to play those games.”
The Jets came out the gates strong, taking the lead just five minutes in to the opening frame with a goal from Tobias Enstrom. But it would be three unanswered goals, all within five minutes of the second period that would mark the end for Winnipeg.
Pav gets the hook
A goal by Hawks’ defenceman Nick Leddy would cap off the second period assault on the Jets and mark the end of Pavelec’s night between the pipes. The Jets keeper allowed four goals in just 14 shots; enough for Jets head coach Claude Noel to pull his No. 1 guy.
“Goalies are expected to make saves and I wasn’t able to make those saves today,” said Pavelec. “I wasn’t able to make any saves. I’m frustrated.”
It was the first time this season Pavelec had been forced from a game, and ninth time as a member of the Jets.
Asked whether he needed his goal to make a few more keys saves, Noel was quick to come to the defence of his goaltender.
“I’m not going to sit here and fault Pavelec,” said Noel. “Pavelec has made some huge saves for us that’s kept us in games.”
Unfortunately for the Jets, Saturday was not one of them. The loss drops Pavelec to 4-7-2 on the year, earning him a stat line that reads something like this: a .902 save percentage and 3.09 goals-against-average; numbers that put him in the basement amongst all NHL goalies.
His numbers don’t tell the whole story, as he’s been one of the Jets best players this season. But if Winnipeg plans to make it to the post season, they’ll have to rely on superior goaltending. And right now, that’s just not happening.
Winning, an uphill battle for the Jets
For Jets captain, Andrew Ladd, the loss at the hands of his former team was the result of the Jets inability to regain momentum after falling behind in the second period.
“There’s momentum in the game and you have to find different ways to get it back,” said Ladd. “You’re always going to be up maybe against a tough goal or being behind and you got to find a way to get yourself, your team some energy going the other way.”
The Blackhawks third goal — a highlight reel breakaway goal from forward Patrick Sharp - was the game’s turning point for many in the Jets locker room, including Ladd.
“They’re a team that if they get chances they have a high level of skill over there and they’re going to make you pay,” said Ladd. “[We] started the second well and all of a sudden it was 3-1 and we got outside our game trying to do some things that weren’t going to make us successful and then it was 5-1.”
The loss digs an even bigger hole for the Jets within the Central Division. Winnipeg is 2-6-1 against divisional teams this year, making the uphill battle to climb north in the standings that much steeper with another loss.
Welcome home JT
Former Winnipegger and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned home for his first regular season game against the team he grew up watching. Toews finished with two shots and was a plus-1 in 18:25 of ice time.
“It’s fun to play in this building,” said Toews. “The fans have a lot to do with getting them going like that especially in afternoon games. It’s fun to see what it’s all about and be back here in Winnipeg. Nice win for our team and all in all I definitely enjoyed it.”
Toews was given 20 minutes with friends and family after the game and then it was back to work, catching a flight to Chicago to prepare for a Sunday night date against the Calgary Flames.
The Jets put in a solid effort for the first 20 minutes and were able to generate some quality scoring chances. But when you don’t finish against a team like Chicago, you pay for it. Three goals in the second period proved too much for the Jets and their inability to push through adversity is troubling for a fan base eager to see improvement. Something needs to give or the Jets will be in for a long season ahead. A win Monday night at home against Detroit is a must at this point.
First Star - Patrick Sharp, CHI
He put the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Jets when he scored the prettiest goal of the game, beating Pavelec with a nifty breakaway move to give his team a two-goal lead. Sharp also added two shots, one hit and was a plus-1 in 18:31 of ice time.
Second Star - Jonathan Toews, CHI
Toews trip back home to Winnipeg wouldn’t have been complete without being named one of the three stars. Toews finished the game with two shots and was a plus-1 in 18:25 of ice time.
Third Star - Michael Frolik, WPG
Frolik was one of the better players for Winnipeg, helping set up the Jets only goal. He had two shots and one hit in 16:30 of ice time.