Oilers grease winless Jets

Winnipeg is painful to watch, but it's just the pre-season

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EDMONTON — Look, it’s still preseason hockey — a necessary evil this time of year that serves a purpose for coaches but can often be painful to watch for fans counting down the days until they start playing for keeps.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/09/2017 (1901 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

EDMONTON — Look, it’s still preseason hockey — a necessary evil this time of year that serves a purpose for coaches but can often be painful to watch for fans counting down the days until they start playing for keeps.

But we’ll give the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers this much: The two Western Conference squads came out with some fire in their bellies and some giddy-up in their steps Saturday in what began as a testy battle and turned into a rout.

After dropping a 6-2 decision, coach Paul Maurice has plenty to ponder. There was plenty of pugnacity, physicality, playmaking — not to mention a parade of penalties and even a touch of controversy — as his team seemed to recognize the urgency of the situation early in the game only to implode down the stretch.

JASON FRANSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS Winnipeg Jets' goalie Michael Hutchinson (34) makes the save on Edmonton Oilers' Patrick Maroon (19) during second period pre-season NHL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday September 23, 2017.

“There was good jump in the game until we ran out of gas there a bit in the third,” Maurice said following the loss, which puts Winnipeg at 0-3-1 through the preseason with three games remaining. Edmonton is a perfect 5-0-0.

Michael Spacek set the tone early, taking a healthy run at an Oilers blue-liner which ended with him making a loud splat into the boards.

Moments later, Spacek showed off the kind of hands which helped him score 30 last season with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. With the Jets enjoying a power play Spacek used a nifty backhand to put the puck over the shoulder of Oilers goalie Cam Talbot

Nic Petan and Brendan Lemieux drew the helpers with Lemieux establishing the kind of solid net-front presence which the Jets would undoubtedly like to see more of. Lemieux was noticeable all game — more on that in a moment — and fired a team-best four shots.

Connor McDavid dressed for his second exhibition game of the year and came out flying. Jets defenceman Dmity Kulikov made a fine poke check midway through the opening period to halt a scoring chance for a streaking McDavid.

The Oilers tied it just before the halfway mark of the opening frame, as Matt Benning’s point shot was tipped in front by Jussi Jokinen.

Just 17 seconds later, a turnover by Brandon Tanev quickly resulted in a pair of Oilers being left alone in front of Michael Hutchinson. Brad Malone finished it off for the easy goal.

Thing got chippy near the end of the period. JC Lipon took exception to a hit from Edmonton’s Jujhar Khaira and the two dropped their gloves, resulting in a lengthy, hard-hitting scrap.

The Jets earned themselves a five-on-three chance early in the second, but a Petan holding penalty quickly negated it.

Lipon used his hands for good instead of evil midway through the second, banging in his own rebound to tie the game. It was yet another power play tally, the fifth so far for the Jets in their four pre-season contests. The bad news is they’re still searching for their first even-strength goal.

Dustin Byfuglien caught McDavid with a hard shoulder check near the end of the second that sent the superstar to the ice. Patrick Maroon, playing the role of bodyguard, came over to express his displeasure and was flagged for roughing.

Byfuglien seemed especially engaged Saturday, throwing four hits.

JASON FRANSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS Winnipeg Jets' Tucker Poolman (3) and Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) battle for the puck during second period pre-season NHL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday September 23, 2017.

Khaira had a partial breakaway early in the third but rang it off the post while shorthanded. McDavid made no mistake moments later, turning defenceman Julian Melchiori inside-out and blowing by him, then sliding the puck past Hutchinson to put the Oilers ahead.

Tanev looked to have tied it with just over 13 minutes left in the third, but the goal was waved off due to a goalie interference penalty against Lemieux. Maurice challenged the call believing Lemieux was pushed into Talbot, but it was upheld after video review.

“I thought he had tried to stop a bit. There wasn’t a huge amount of contact,” Maurice said of the call. “It’s a tough play, but that’s where he’s at in his career. He’s got to learn to get to that net just as hard, and then expect something, expect a body coming in and be real strong when that hit comes so he can stay off the goalie.”

That marked a big turning point as Jesse Puljujärvi scored on the ensuing power play to make it 4-2. Malone then got his second of the game off a juicy Hutchinson rebound, and then Puljujärvi finished off the scoring with his second.

GREATEST HITS: The teams combined for 60 hits in the game.

HUTCH IN FLUX: Hutchinson, making his first appearance of the preseason, stopped 34 of 40 shots in going the distance. His fate is a bit unknown at this point, with Steve Mason and Connor Hellebuyck seemingly set in net for the Jets and Eric Comrie likely to get a majority of starts with the Moose. “He got a number of bad breaks around the net,” said Maurice.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Penalties continued to be a storyline, with NHL officials being told to crack down on a number of infractions. Winnipeg went 2-for-7 with the extra man, while Edmonton was 1-for-6.

UP NEXT: The Jets are off today, but there could be news coming down the pipe about a number of cuts, especially with the Moose set to begin their training camp on Monday and in need of some warm bodies. Maurice said following Saturday’s game he’d like to get down to the range of 26-28 healthy skaters. Winnipeg returns to pre-season action by hosting Calgary on Monday night at Bell MTS Place.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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