Following a win over the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks Sunday, the Jets returned home to the MTS Centre Tuesday feeling pretty good about themselves — about as good as you could imagine for a team that’s hovered around .500 hockey for the better part of four months this season.
It was a good win over a great team in a tough rink — the first in four tries against Chicago this year and a major stepping stone in the Jets uphill battle to salvage the season.
So it came as no surprise that following Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators, a team that heading in to the game was a single point behind Winnipeg in last place in the Central Division, the mood was one of collective disappointment.
A hard battle
What was most difficult to swallow for head coach Paul Maurice, though, was the fashion in which the loss unfolded.
For Maurice, the Predators played the kind of game identical to the one he and his team had expected from their division rival.
'They gave everything they absolutely had. There was nothing easy [about that game]' - Jets coach Paul Maurice
“I thought we had a good understanding on the way [the game] was going to look and it looked exactly how we thought it would at the start and really right through,” he said after the loss, just his second in eight games since taking over from Claude Noel.
“It’s just such a hard, grinding game and it was a battle. You could see it in their faces coming to the bench.
"They gave everything they absolutely had. There was nothing easy [about that game].”
Easy hasn’t exactly been a common word used to described the Jets tenure in Winnipeg since their relocation from Atlanta in 2011.
Even Sunday’s win was anything but. The Jets were outplayed, outshot and outscored for the first two periods against the 'Hawks only to be rescued by stellar goaltending — from their backup no less — and a third period that was arguably their best 20 minutes of hockey this season.
It was an early power play goal — Devin Setoguchi was in the box for slashing — by the Preds in the third period Tuesday, just 42 seconds in to the frame, that proved to be the difference.
“It was a penalty that we can’t take,” said Maurice. “That was addressed, and disciplined.”
A tough transition
It’s a struggle the Jets have become accustomed to since their move to the west in the offseason.
The transition from those less physical, slower paced games commonly played in the east to fast paced, physical hockey in the west has been a tough one. In the west, no wins come simple, and losses, like the one Tuesday, will only get harder and harder to swallow as the season ticks down.
“Coming in you felt like it was going to be a real tough game,” said Blake Wheeler, who scored late in the second period to make it a 3-3 score heading in to the third.
“They play an extremely structured, disciplined game and it can be frustrating. You definitely have to give these guys credit for the way they came in and played.
"With that said, I still would have liked to see us do a little bit more and get the win. I thought that was one we could have taken.”
The goal from Wheeler was number 22 on the year, which marked a new career-high for goals in a season by the Jets winger. But none of that mattered, at least not on a night where his team fell back to a .500 — now 25-25-5 with five games left before Sochi, where Wheeler will represent Team USA at the Olympics.
“There’s no gratification contributing to losses,” Wheeler said. “Maybe at the end of the year you can give yourself a pat on the back if you’ve achieved some of your goals but you want to contribute to wins.”
And right now, wins are all that matter.
- Chris Thorburn scored his first goal this season, tipping a Mark Stuart shot from the point in the first period to open the scoring for the Jets.
- Evander Kane missed the game with an infection on his hand, the same hand that kept him out four games earlier this month. Kane won’t be expected to be back until after the Olympic break, according to Maurice.
- The Jets honoured former NHLer Rick Rypien as part of a campaign to raise awareness for mental health by wearing his No. 11 jersey during the pre-game warm up. Rypien, who played for the Manitoba Moose and Vancouver Canucks for the better part of seven seasons, signed as a free agent with Winnipeg prior to the 2011-12 season.
- Rypien succumbed to his battle with depression and was found dead in his Alberta home in August, having never played a game for the Jets. He was only 27 years old.
First: Seth Jones, NSH
The 2013 first round draft pick opened the scoring with a nifty wraparound goal on Ondrej Pavelec less than four minutes in to the game. Jones finished a plus-1 in 24:13 of ice time.
Second: Mark Scheifele, WPG
The Jets rookies scored his 11th of the season, beating Preds’ goalie Carter Hutton with a circus shot from behind the net. His line was the Jets best unit, evident from his plus-3 rating in the game.
Third: David Legwand, NSH
The veteran forward added an assist on the Preds’ prettiest goal of the game. Legwand made the final pass in a four-pass highlight reel goal 42 seconds in to the second period.