PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The Winnipeg Jets came to the Saturday afternoon duel but only brought a plastic sword.
The Jets scored five goals for the first time in 25 games but were no match for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who subdued them easily, 8-5, at Consol Energy Center.
NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin had five points in the game, finding the open space, odd-man rushes and porous defence much to his liking.
"It wasn’t just one thing or one guy or the D or the forwards, it was everything," said Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler, who had two assists on the wasted afternoon. "We’ve been so good defensively. We haven’t been able to score goals and all of a sudden we score five and give up eight."
"It’s frustrating and it’s a mystery in that sense."
The last time the Jets gave up eight goals, they won 9-8 Oct. 27 in Philadelphia.
But Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey was in no mood for amusing facts or too much analysis.
"Let’s get past the b.s.," Hainsey said. "We got outplayed, didn’t do enough to win. It would be really hard to go over the whole thing.
"You just cut through most of the b.s. (and say) we just gave up way to much close to our net and gave up eight goals. Very difficult to overcome."
Winnipeg’s recent clamp-down had seemed entirely appropriate for this time of year, having surrendered 19 goals, — less than two per game — since losing 5-1 to New Jersey on Jan. 17.
"We’ve been grinding it out, taking crowds out of it and trying to win 2-1 or 1-0," Wheeler said. "It’s unacceptable the way we went about our business today."
It may remain a mystery why the Jets thought they could get into a high-offence game with the Penguins, even without the concussed Sidney Crosby.
But they did and it hurt, and it probably also made the Jets burn a little with envy, too.
The Penguins picked apart Winnipeg positioning and decision-making and scored some very pretty goals, with laser shots to corners, including James Neal’s first-period rocket from a faceoff, Kris Letang’s two-on-one with Malkin and Malkin’s in-alone second-period deke.
Even Richard Park’s deft third-period deflection goal.
They tried to make things difficult for a clearly struggling Marc Andre Fleury in the Pittsburgh net and had a goal jammed in at the edge of the crease by Kyle Wellwood, an Alex Burmistrov shot that deflected off the stick of defender Cal O’Reilly and a Tim Stapleton goal similar to Wellwood’s.
There wasn’t anything wrong with those plays — they showed some determination, in fact — but they’re a perfect exhibit for how the Jets don’t often match up in terms of pure skill and creativity on many nights.
And the Penguins put that difference on display on Saturday to soar nine points ahead of the Jets in the Eastern Conference standings.
Winnipeg, stalled at 58 points, saw Florida win on Saturday and pull five points ahead in the Southeast Division standings.
"They’ve got real skilled guys out there but I think it was more us than them, letting them play that way and come in on two-on-ones and three-on-twos and breakaways," Jets centre Jim Slater said. "That’s definitely more us."
Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian said he felt bad for goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who stayed in for all eight red lights.
"Any time you have four or five guys up the ice, you have to make sure you’re well-aware of where everyone is on the ice," Bogosian said. "Pav made a lot of big saves. They could have had more."
He just shook his head about the sum of the afternoon.
"It can’t happen, especially at this point of the season," Bogosian said. "Let’s not forget we’ve won two of the last three games. That’s not the game we wanted to have and it’s obviously embarrassing. And to leave your goaltender out to dry like that is embarrassing."