There weren’t many A-games on the ice on Tuesday night, coach Claude Noel shrugged, not many players found their top level at all.
His rookies, though, they came out to play: there was Jacob Trouba, who led the team in shots after two periods and turned one of his mistakes into a dangerous scoring chance. He also gave the puck away three times, but hey, 19-year-olds will make mistakes. And then there was Mark Scheifele. "I thought Mark Scheifele was pretty good," Noel said after the game. "He created some chances. I thought he played a pretty hard game."
For this, Scheifele was rewarded. With 18 minutes and nine seconds on the ice, he trailed only Evander Kane for ice-time amongst Jets forwards, and his seven shot attempts — four on goal, one blocked and two that missed the net — matched Evander Kane’s shooting numbers exactly. They just couldn’t solve Carey Price, that’s all. "Other than the first 11 minutes, I thought we played strong," Scheifele said. "We got pucks deep, got shots to the net and we just weren’t able to capitalize."
About those first 11 minutes though, about those slow starts. It’s already been this team’s downfall more than once, but few games more obviously than Tuesday night. "It’s our been our starts that have been our downfall lately," Scheifele agreed. "We know we have to step it up. We came out strong the last five of the first and the rest of the game but we weren’t able to capitalize on our chances."
For how to fix that, Scheifele turned to some old hockey cliches, but it’s not like there’s a whole lot else to say. It’s a simple game, in that way. "The past few games, the other team’s gotten on us and been able to develop a cycling game on us early," he said. "I think we’ve got to come out and get pucks deep right from the start and go from there."
That goes right across the roster. It goes for everyone from Blake Wheeler, off to a slow start this year as the offensive sparks of the last two seasons seem to be fizzling — "He’s not playing very well," Noel said bluntly — to Zach Bogosian, who looked to seethe with frustration after taking a late first-period tripping penalty on Tuesday. (The evident tripee, Lars Eller, did get called for taking a dive.)
"It’s a problem but you can’t get too frustrated," blueliner Bogosian said of the team’s first frames. "You’ve got to change it. Obviously those starts have to get better but it just doesn’t come from one or two guys, we have to collectively go through it as a group and the whole team has to be ready to play."
In other news, the Jets took one dubious league lead on Tuesday night: they are now the most penalized team in the NHL.
Winnipeg has been shorthanded 35 times now this season, more than any other team in the NHL, passing the angelic Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday with their five minor penalties against the Canadiens. With a four-for-five effort on their penalty kill — spoiled by Daniel Briere’s power-play empty-netter late in Tuesday’s game — the Jets have posted an 80 per cent success rate on the penalty kill so far.
— With notes from Tim Campbell