TORONTO — It was the kind of game that can give coaches ulcers and owners migraines. And if the Winnipeg Jets’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs was described metaphorically, it would look something like a big, fat shiner under the squad’s eye.
Playing a textbook road game for the better part of 47 minutes in front of 19,154 at the Air Canada Centre, the Jets unravelled during a 27-second span in the third period and gift-wrapped a come-from-behind victory for the Leafs.
In the process, this occasionally intriguing but often-frustrating squad to watch has fallen to 1-3-1 on the season while Toronto improves to 4-0-1.
"I liked our game tonight, we just didn’t manage it and we’ve got to close those things out," said head coach Claude Noel. "Winning’s a process and it takes time. It takes time to understand your group, it takes time to see who can react and respond in certain situations. A lot of it’s the same... you want to make sure they care and I see that all the time.
"You’ve got to learn how to win and that’s what we’re going to try to do. As long as they give 100-percent effort I don’t have any problem with them. We are what we are."
What the Jets are right now, it would appear through five games, is much the same team we saw in Atlanta last season. They can be dominant at times — as they were through the first two periods in building a 3-1 advantage — but then unable to answer when momentum shifts against them. And that’s a habit that happened from game to game, week to week last year for a Thrashers side that led its’ division at one point last November, but then faded and missed the post-season.
Winnipeg had built a 3-1 advantage on goals by Tobias Enstrom, Alex Burmistrov and Mark Scheifele — two of the goals coming on the power-play — but took two costly penalties in an ugly stretch in the third and were victimized by Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. The Jets managed to avoid the knockout punch through the rest of the third and OT, but in the shootout Lupul and Matt Frattin scored while Kyle Wellwood and Alex Burmistrov were stoned by Manitoba’s James Reimer in the Leaf net.
And — POOF! — just like that the Jets’ had blown a glorious opportunity to pick up their first road win of the 2011-12 season.
Asked to comment on the iffy interference penalty he took to set up the Leafs’ second goal, Jets’ defenceman Zach Bogosian offered a polite; "I’m not going to comment on that."
"In the third we started to turn the puck over again and their power play... they have good players," said Jets’ netminder Ondrej Pavelec. "They can score goals... Kessel and those guys are on fire right now. If you go to the penalty box twice in two minutes it’s probably going to hurt you.
"For two periods we played great defensively. It seems like we are not able to put together 60 minutes of effort. We got a point, so at least that’s good. We’ve got a bunch of great guys in this room, but now we have to learn to win hockey games. That’s the most important thing."