Let’s go at it this way:
Pre-season hockey is like an exhibition of abstract art — it’s not always pretty and a lot of it is confusing, but the colouring isn’t supposed to be inside the lines anyway and the best strategy for the average viewer is to just kind of let it wash all over you, warts and all.
So with that as your backdrop, let’s consider Sunday night’s pre-season contest at the MTS Centre between the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators, which went into the books as a 3-1 Senators victory:
Over before it began
The Sens iced something more closely approximating a regular-season team than the Jets did and Jets head coach Claude Noel was warning as early as the morning skate on Sunday that the team of mostly green prospects he was sending out last night was going to be in tough against what he called a "formidable" Sens roster.
Noel was right. Ottawa’s top line of Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Bobby Ryan — with assists to defensive stalwart Erik Karlsson — accounted for two of Ottawa’s three goals on this night and Ottawa netminder Robin Lehner, who played 12 games for the Sens last season, was solid in turning away 27 shots.
The Jets countered with their own top line of Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler for the second and third periods after newcomer Michael Frolik occupied Ladd’s place on the top line for most of the first period. The Little-Wheeler-Ladd trio showed flashes of mid-season form on a couple of rushes and accounted for 11 of the team’s 28 shots, but the fine finishing around the net that is NHL goal scoring was missing in what was the pre-season debut for the threesome.
"We’re still working out the kinks," said Little. "We haven’t played a game in five months or so and we’re trying to shake the rust off...
"It was the kind of game I expected — a little bit sloppy and quite a few mistakes. But I was hoping at least for a little bit better than that... We were just a little bit flat. They were better than us in pretty much every aspect."
Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson — a 2008 thirrd rounder of the Boston Bruins who is competing this month for a job in St. John’s — did not look out of place, turning away 29 of 32 shots and getting named the game’s second star.
The kids are all right
On a night that was mostly about giving the Jets braintrust a look at how some of their younger prospects played under duress, a few players stood out.
Topping that list was Jets right-winger Matt Halischuk, who blocked a couple of shots and accounted for his team’s only offence on this night, scooping up a loose puck at centre ice and scoring unassisted on a breakaway at 12:18 of the second period to get the Jets within one goal at 2-1.
"It was a tough flow tonight," said Halischuk. "But I thought we did some good things and we’ll just try to carry that on."
Me hitting you and you hitting the floor
Jets tough guy Anthony Peluso, who missed over half of last season after he broke his hand in a fight, made very short work last night of Sens defenceman Michael Sdao.
After the customary dance invitation was issued and accepted at 12:53 of the second period, the two players did the usual two-step for a bit before Sdao made the mistake of getting within punching distance of Peluso. Peluso’s first haymaker just missed the mark, but it knocked Sdao off balance and Peluso made no mistake with the second punch, finding nothing but meat and putting Sdao to the ice.
The crowd loved it — and then loved it even more when Peluso mugged for the fans, raising his arms in triumph.
"It’d been since March 2 that I played. I was getting pretty antsy — I wanted to make something happen," Peluso said after the game. "That’s my role and I’m happy with it. I love it. Whatever I can do to help."
The Jets — who dropped to 0-1-1 in the pre-season with last night’s loss — play again Tuesday night at the MTS Centre against the Edmonton Oilers. Not many of the players that played for Winnipeg in their two exhibition games over the weekend will be in Tuesday’s lineup, but veterans such as Dustin Byfuglien, Ondrej Pavelec and Olli Jokinen — who have all yet to play this pre-season — are expected to finally get their turn at some ice time.