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Parade to penalty box kills Jets momentum

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They’ve had less trouble with this as the season’s progressed, but the Winnipeg Jets were bitten by penalty trouble again Saturday when they lost 3-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes at the MTS Centre.

In particular, what looked like a game-changing push in the second period turned into a game-changing parade to the penalty box.

Olli Jokinen had scored early in the period to make the game 2-1 Carolina but the home team was on the attack until the glitches began.

Dustin Byfuglien was sent off for cuffing Carolina’s Jeff Skinner in the head. Grant Clitsome created a brief five-on-three for the Canes when he flicked the puck over the glass late in that kill, and a second five-on-three came when Alex Burmistrov was called for kneeing Riley Nash late in Clitsome’s sentence.

Late in the period, Jets’ right-winger Blake Wheeler was sent off for roughing Brett Bellemore after a whistle near the Carolina net.

That made for 7 minutes 34 seconds of shorthanded time of the period’s final 9:46.

And the end of Winnipeg momentum.

"That’s pretty much it," said Jets’ veteran Olli Jokinen, who noted that the four successful kills might have done the team better had there been some time left to play in the period once the fourth kill was made.

"That’s the way it was going in the second period. We had some big kills and then had a penalty again. It’s too much to ask from our top players to play shorthanded all night. When you have to do that, penalty-kill after penalty-kill, it takes energy out of those guys and we need those guys to play five on five."

The calls provided fodder for the conspiracy theorists but there is never any comment from the NHL or its referees — in Saturday’s case Ghislain Hebert and Kelly Sutherland — on plays.

The unknown is this: Did Thursday’s incident in Pittsburgh, in which Jets’ winger Evander Kane delivered a hard slapshot in an odd direction on the ice, possibly attempting to injure an opponent or referee Steve Kozari, who was felled by the puck, cause any ripples?

Might there be more ripples to come?

Kane was not penalized Thursday. League sources say the play was not written up. Jets coach Claude Noel would not confirm the content of the conversation with the officials after that play on Thursday night.

You could be forgiven for wondering if Byfuglien was the only guilty party on the Skinner roughing call Saturday.

Burmistrov’s penalty? At best it was a good hip check; at worst tripping but unlikely kneeing. And Wheeler for roughing? Fans thought Bellemore’s feet went awfully high in the air.

And in the third, in a fifth straight penalty against the Jets, Byfuglien took quite a cross-check from Joni Pitkanen before he did catch Pitkanen with a high stick.

"If you’re asking me if I want to comment on officiating, I don’t," Noel said Saturday. "So I’ll just leave it there, how it comes out in the wash I don’t know."

Jets players preferred the ebbs and flows of any game as explanation.

"They were calling pretty much everything all night and we should realize the situation and try to stay out of the box," centre Olli Jokinen said.

Wheeler said the momentum or loss of it, was more the issue.

"I think what it did was slow our momentum," he said. "Before that (first penalty), I don’t know how many Grade A scoring chances we had but I don’t remember our team having more in a 10-minute span we had there at the start of the second after we got on the board."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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