The Winnipeg Jets weren’t a favourite heading into their match-up with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon, to say the least.
It was a team on an 11-game home winning streak, facing a club that was below .500% on the road.
Some people changed their opinion, however, when the visitors ended the first period up 2-0.
The Jets silenced a rowdy Consol Energy Center crowd just under 2 minutes into the game, when Jacob Trouba scored his fourth goal of the season. Balanced play would follow, but just 3 seconds before the first period was over, Mark Scheifele gave Winnipeg the said two-goal advantage.
However, it wasn’t meant to be from there on in. If the first period was a look into Winnipeg’s future, the second period was a startling reminder of where the team is at right now.
Evgeni Malkin scored just 1:06 into the second frame, in his first game back after missing 10 with an injury. James Neal followed up on the power-play, and the floodgates were officially opened. Neal capped off his great shift with an unassisted goal 25 seconds later, and just 6:02 into the second, Blake Wheeler would tie the game with the fourth goal of the period. Jussi Jokenen gave the Penguins the lead once again, but Evander Kane scored twice (17:31 and 19:32), to give the Jets a 5-4 lead with the third period looming.
During the second intermission, many may have thought that Pittsburgh had all of the pressure on them. However, the Jets were expected to win just as much, with their fans hoping for one of the team’s first true complete games of the season.
That, however, wasn’t going to happen.
A Dustin Byfuglien turnover ended up on the stick of Malkin, who had no trouble tying the game at 5 mid-way through the third. Four minutes later, it would be Matt Niskanen with the game-winner, on a knuckeball shot that dipped its way into the back of the net.
Winnipeg goaltender Al Montoya was due for a stat deflation, after posting a .929% save percentage in 14 games before Sunday’s action. Montoya made 33 saves on 39 shots, and his save percentage now sits at .921, as well as a former GAA of 2.02 vanished into a mark of 2.31. At the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury did just enough to earn his league-leading 24th win, stopping 26 of 31.
In a game where two of the most explosive forwards in the NHL were a combined -3, (Sidney Crosby: -2, Chris Kunitz: -1), the Penguins’ depth shone through, at the same time, exploiting the lack of such by their opponent. The Jets’ top line of Bryan Little-Andrew Ladd-Blake Wheeler scored one goal, while the second line of Evander Kane-Mark Scheifele-Michael Frolik had a combined 3-3-6 on the score-sheet.
24 hours before, after a loss to the Boston Bruins (2nd in the East), it was widely known that the offense had failed them. This time, it was the defense, and not just the defencemen themselves, but the forwards playing defensively. Telegraphed passes, weak on the blue-line, and little forecheck gave the Penguins the puck too often, something that cannot be done against the Eastern Conference’s highest-scoring team.
There are positives to take from Winnipeg’s performance: Shutting down a team’s key players, youth playing a large role, and an offensive outburst are all things that Jets’ head coach Claude Noel can look back on fondly. However, in a results-driven game such as the NHL, a three-game losing streak isn’t going to cut it, and the Jets now sit at 19-21-5, 6th place in the 7-team Central Division.
Winnipeg wraps up a three-game road trip with the loss, and face the Tampa Bay Lightning back at the MTS Centre on Tuesday night.
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