WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets return flight to the National Hockey League suffered some season-opening turbulence on Sunday.
The Jets dropped a 5-1 decision to the visiting Montreal Canadiens before an amped up capacity crowd of 15,004 at the MTS Centre to dampen the good vibrations the city has felt with the NHL’s return after a 15-year hiatus.
After the Canadiens built up a two-goal lead off a pair of miscues from Jets defenceman Johnny Oduya in the opening two periods, Nik Antropov gave his team life early in the third frame. The Kazak knocked in a rebound early to bring the crowd to life.
"It’s nice to score, but we wanted the two points," Antropov said. "I thought we had some momentum there."
Jets defenceman Mark Stuart followed up his team’s first goal with a booming hit on Montreal captain Brian Gionta on the next shift. The momentum, however, changed moments later when Winnipeg defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was whistled for a questionable interference call.
This put an end to a possible storybook comeback for the Jets because Canadiens defenceman-turned-forward Yannick Weber scored on the ensuing power play. This development put the Jets faithful in a nasty mood as they showered referees Rob Martell and Brad Meier with jeers.
"Over a course of 82 games you are going to get those calls will balance out," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "Tonight it was against us. That’s the way it goes. I didn’t like the call. Obviously you guys feel the same."
Montreal fourth-liner Travis Moen added a breakaway goal midway through the third period and Max Pacioretty fired a bullet to put the game out of reach. Their teammate Mike Cammalleri picked off an Oduya pass in the first period for a 1-0 lead and Tomas Plekanec forced an Oduya turnover in the second period for a 2-0 advantage.
"We gave up some free pizzas in the middle of the ice," Noel said. "The first [Canadiens goal] was a free pizza that we gave up, and that’s what good players do. Good players get once chance and it’s in the back of your net. If you have never been in the NHL, it’s a good lesson for young players. It wasn’t a young player who made the turnover, but it’s a game of mistakes."
Despite the 5-1 lead in the third period, not a single Jets fan left the MTS Centre.
Montreal goalie Carey Price was solid with 30 saves and was especially good in his rebound control. The Habs lost Jaroslav Spacek (upper body) and Cammalleri (laceration above his knee) to injuries in the first period. Cammalleri is expected to miss two weeks after he was sliced open by Weber’s skate.