Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Isles down Jets in shootout
How difficult is it to get into the Stanley Cup playoffs?
The Winnipeg Jets are finding out, even if the 75th day of the season is not the day that matters most.
An invitation to move over the line and up into one of the top eight places in the Eastern Conference was in play for the Jets all of Tuesday night but they simply could not push hard enough to make the jump, eventually falling 3-2 in a shootout to the New York Islanders before 15,004 fans at the MTS Centre.
The point doesn’t hurt the Jets, bumping them to 35 points and keeping them right where they started the night, in a tie for ninth place and oh, so close to a spot.
"It could have gone a different way again," said Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, clearly a front-and-centre player for his team once again. "We’ll see at the end of the season. The point is important."
In the conference, Ottawa and Toronto are tantalizingly close, holding down the last two spots this morning with 36 points.
Winnipeg has been behind the line every day of the season so far, in large part due to a poor start of 0-3-0 and 5-9-3.
"It was a point on a night where we could have used two," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "We’ll take the point. I thought we played careless in the first, turned the puck over. I thought we weren’t good in the D zone. I thought we were way better in the third.
"We played with a lot more energy and purpose. And I thought Pavelec was real good, he played real strong. He really helped us to at least get to a shootout. We can thank him for the point."
In the first extra-game of the season at the MTS Centre, the Jets never led. That included the shootout, when P.A. Parenteau and Frans Nielsen scored for the Isles on their first two shots, ending it quickly.
New York moved to 28 points with its second straight road win.
"There’s no easy games," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd, whose 11th goal of the season brought the Jets into the 2-2 tie mid-way through the second period. "I don’t care where the team is in the standings. Every team is a threat. They worked hard and they have skill up front and they can hurt you. We were too loose defensively and we made it hard on Pav.
"It’s better to have one than none but you want the two points in games like this. You want to be better than we were tonight."
And therein lies the debate over Tuesday’s outcome.
The Jets have wanted to be better since their poor start, and they have been on many nights in the last month.
But the issue is no longer about turning the corner, but what they will do now that they have done so.
On many nights, the theme seems to be relying on Pavelec.
"It’s not ever done by design," Noel said after Winnipeg’s extra-time record fell to 1-5 this season. The Isles are 2-6. " I don’t think we’re the only team that does that. That’s what goaltending brings for you.
"Right now when I look at our team play, we don’t have the chemistry we had before.
"That’s maybe because new people but it’s not like it was before, clicking-wise. Whether we’re playing thinking we can make more plays ... those are some of the mixed messages we’re sending ourselves and it puts a lot of pressure on our goaltending."
The Jets were without centre Bryan Little (foot) on Tuesday, moving youngster Alex Burmistrov into his spot with Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler.
And Tuesday marked the introduction of Antti Miettinen to the Jets lineup, causing another combination shift that put him with Jim Slater and Tanner Glass.
At 15-13-5, the Jets have now alternated wins and losses in their last six outings. They are 6-3-1 since their stretch of 13 of 15 at home began on Nov. 29 and the week gets tougher as as it moves on to Thursday and Friday home games against Montreal and Pittsburgh.
NOTE: With zero power plays on Tuesday night, that makes two games in a row this season against the Islanders in which Winnipeg hasn’t had a single man advantage. The Islanders went zero for two on Tuesday.
Excuse the Winnipeg Jets if they can’t do the festive thing in the days leading up to Christmas this weekend.
They have, after all, quite a bit on their plate.
The Jets play the first of three games in four nights Tuesday against the New York Islanders at MTS Centre followed by visits from the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. They will be off on the weekend, but back at work on Boxing Day in advance of a Dec. 27 date in Denver with the Colorado Avalanche.
So right now it’s head down and soldier on for the Jets, especially knowing a win tonight will push them above the eighth-place line in the fight for playoff spots.
“You’ve got to fight to get into the eight-man room of the playoffs, then you’ve got to scratch and claw to get to the middle of the room,” said Blake Wheeler. “We want to get away from the door as fast as possible, that’s our goal. There’s a couple points separating sixth-seventh place from 10th or 11th-place. You want to be on the upper end of that and go into a break feeling good about yourselves.
“We’ve learned from ourselves that if teams have taken us lightly we made them pay for it when we were lower in the standings. If we do the same thing, it would be a step in the wrong direction for us.”
The Jets, 15-13-4, face an Islander club that is 10-14-6 and 14th in the Eastern Conference but is also 4-1-1 in its last six on the road.
“Every game is crucial at this point in the season with how tight the race is,” said Zach Bogosian. “We have to make sure we keep climbing. They have some good players, so you have to be aware of guys like (John) Tavares and (Kyle) Okposo. Other than the Detroit and Washington games (both losses) we’ve had some pretty good games of late, so we have to make sure we keep climbing up the standings. Everyone in this room knew that December was going to be a big month for us, we have to keep moving forward and getting as many points as possible.”
Head coach Claude Noel did confirm that centre Bryan Little (foot) would not be in the lineup against the Islanders. His spot on the Jets’ top line would be filled by Alex Burmistrov.
Updated on Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 7:51 PM CST: Adds first goal
8:16 PM: Adds first period update
8:37 PM: Adds Isles second goal
8:48 PM: Adds Jets second goal
9:08 PM: Adds second period summary
10:18 PM: Adds final result
11:28 PM: Adds quotes, more detail
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