This was kind of like studying for your geography exam and arriving to find today’s subject is actually math.
The Winnipeg Jets, trying to find their legs in their new home in the Central Division of the Western Conference, have had all kinds of issues trying to develop a sounder game.
The angst has been high, the criticism sharp.
So they studied hard for a few days and then along came the Washington Capitals from their old Eastern Conference neighbourhood, bringing with them the good ol’ pond-hockey game.
On this test, the Jets were quick enough on their feet and scored a solid B in a 5-4 shootout loss, the point and the performance a big improvement on some of their efforts in the 2-3-1 homestand.
"I’m not a fan of usually saying that, but I think in this case, we can (like the way we played), especially coming off the game (against) Nashville," said Jets left-winger Evander Kane. "It’s nice to get opportunities and create. I think we just have to tighten up defensively and get some breaks and we’ll win some hockey games.
"They’re a dangerous team. They can create offence."
The white-knuckle, end-to-end night finished with the Caps scoring four straight shootout goals in six rounds of penalty shots, the killer by Martin Erat, offsetting three straight by the Jets and their final-attempt miss by Kane.
"I thought we skated and tried to be physical," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. "To me, that means we’re engaged in the game and ready to go."
Winnipeg rallied three times from behind, refusing to let the whiz kids just run away. Bryan Little’s second score of the game eventually tied it in the third period.
"I think this was a step in the right direction," Jets defenceman Grant Clitsome said. "We always come with the goal of getting two points, but we battled hard tonight, played physical and battled back in the game. That shows a lot from our team."
"We got some better play," Jets coach Claude Noel said.
And now the Jets should be prepared for that geography exam.
So, to the road: After the season’s longest homestand, Winnipeg swings out for four games through the Central, starting Thursday in Nashville and moving on to Dallas, Colorado and St. Louis.
The Jets are 1-1 this season away from home, having played the most home games in the NHL so far.
Not the West: This was not the way the Jets have found their new home in the Western Conference and Central Division.
The Caps and their high skill and fly-the-zone style made for more run-and-gun hockey than the normal Central clampdown.
Did it help?
"I don’t thing we look at Eastern Conference and Western types of games," said Noel. "We look at the opponent and say, ‘How are we going to beat this team?’
"It turned out to be a little bit of a trading-chances thing. but they’re a dangerous opponent. I thought we did the necessary things. You have an opponent and you play the way you need to play to win."
Wheeler strikes: Blake Wheeler, who has clearly been in a funk, scored his second goal of the season.
He looked wound up about his goal, a late-second-period deflection into just the right hole through Caps goalie Braden Holtby, tying the game 3-3.
"Shootout losses are tough, but I think the positives greatly outweighed the negatives tonight," Wheeler said. "We were kind of looking a little bit lost there for a while, but we had a lot of jam tonight.
"We played a good game. A couple of mistakes ended up in our net, but the body of work was more of what we were looking for."
— with files from Gary Lawless