ST. LOUIS — They still have their flaws and some nasty warts. And the identity they want to create — a lickety-split quick team that is a beast to play against — isn’t consistently revealed enough yet to slap them with the label permanently.
But the Winnipeg Jets that head into the Olympic break today look a heckuva lot different than the crew that christened 2014 with five straight losses. And that was never more evident than in today’s 4-3 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues in front of 19,052 at the Scottrade Center.
Playing against one of the NHL’s real heavyweights, the Jets stepped into the middle of the ring and traded blow after blow, rallying three times to tie the contest and killing off eight power-play chances en route to picking up a coveted single point.
The Jets finished their road trip 2-1-1 and improved to 9-3-1 under new head coach Paul Maurice — a man who was positively beaming afterward.
"We played a hell of a game in here on the road," said Maurice. "Down three times and battled back, good power play, big power-play goal (to tie the game at 3-3), fantastic penalty killing and they got a few lucky hops around the net.
"We had some good looks. We played a real solid game. I was happy with it. We played a hell of a game in here. I don’t put any stock in the shootout deciding how we played. We played a great game."
THE SPECIAL TEAMS STORY
The Blues entered the game having gone 0-for-10 on the power-play in the team's two previous games but still sporting one of the loop’s deadliest units — tied for second overall. But the Jets' penalty-kill crew killed off eight advantages totalling 11 minutes and four seconds — including a 61-second two-man power-play — while limiting St. Louis to just 10 shots during that stretch.
As well, the Jets’ own power-play, which hadn’t scored in four games, got a critical marker from Dustin Byfuglien with 6:17 remaining (Mark Scheifele’s first goal came just as another Blues’ penalty expired) and showed some life against what had been the NHL’s fourth-best PK.
"Our power-play, I thought, did a good job tonight and did a good job when we needed to," said Jets’ centre Bryan Little. "It’s something we might have been missing in the past... it basically got us one point tonight."
"We were trying to do things faster," added Maurice. "We changed some personnel as we went on. But I liked the looks we were getting. That’s a real good penalty-killing team that we faced. The power play is getting faster."
THE SHOOTOUT STORY
The Jets fell to 5-5 in the shootout as T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko scored in the skills competition while Brian Elliott bested Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd. Winnipeg opened the season absolutely loving the shootout, going 5-1 in its first six opportunities, but has since gone 0-4. More telling: in the last three shootout losses the Jets are just 1-for-8 in attempts, the lone goal by Little against the Minnesota Wild on Nov. 23.
So while they were praising the format earlier in the season, the same tune wasn’t being sung late Saturday afternoon.
Mark Stuart: "It always sucks losing in the shootout. It’s kind of a kick in the nuts."
Little: "It’s never fun losing that way. I felt like we worked hard all game, battled to stay in the game and fight our way back. Those are the times you hate a shootout, when you lose a game like that and you feel like the team really worked and played a good game. I feel like we deserved to win."
Scheifele: "It definitely sucks to lose in a shootout after a hard-fought game like that. But we know we played a good game and to have it end in a shootout is a tough way to end it."
THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR AND THE ROAD AHEAD
The Jets rebounded after a sloppy and sluggish effort in Thursday’s 4-2 loss in Washington to grab five of a possible eight points on the trip. Just as important, they head into the break still in the playoff discussion.
When the Jets do return to action on Feb. 27, four of the team's next five will be at MTS Centre.
"We’re in every game," said goaltender Al Montoya, who stopped 23 of the 26 shots he faced. "We’re bringing our game every single night. There may be times in the game where you’re not making things happen. But that’s going to happen. You hang in there, you battle and we did that on the road trip."