The Winnipeg Jets may be single-handedly dragging the Washington Capitals back into the playoff picture.
The Jets have precisely zero goals against Washington in their last 120 minutes of hockey — on MTS Centre ice, no less — after last night’s 4-0 Caps victory before 15,004 disappointed customers.
Pretty much the same result as March 2, (3-0 then) and guess what’s up next for the Jets?
The correct answer is, a reason to be concerned. It’s the Caps again Friday night in downtown Winnipeg.
"We need to play better," said Jets coach Claude Noel, who did a slow burn behind his bench all night, then got a little snarly with reporters after Winnipeg fell to 16-13-2. "That would be the first thing. We’ve given up seven goals in two games and haven’t scored one."
"They’re playing chess. We’re playing checkers."
Via assistance elsewhere, the Jets at 34 points remained the Eastern Conference’s third seed and Southeast Division leaders and are are still seven points ahead of the Caps.
Toronto advanced to 35 points with a shootout loss in Buffalo and the Devils moved to seventh spot, with 34 points after a win over Carolina, leaving the Canes and Rangers, who lost against the Florida Panthers Thursday, stuck at 32 points and at the playoff line.
Not the start the Jets envisioned, a bit back on their heels and Washington’s Troy Brouwer found some room with a hard wrist shot that seemed to hit Ondrej Pavelec in the shoulder and then drop into the Winnipeg net at 3:06.
Late in the period, Marcus Johansson was in the right place at the right time to redirect Alex Ovechkin’s pass into the open side. The Jets had control of the puck behind their own net but a bank pass from Dustin Byfuglien to Evander Kane on the left side was not handled cleanly by Kane and went to Ovechkin.
"I don’t know if it changes anything," said Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian about falling behind early. "You still have to have the same game plan. We just didn’t execute very well tonight."
The second period droned on without much in the way of good chances either way — shots were 4-3 Jets — perfectly suitable for the visiting Caps, who had the lead and a good rhythm going.
Ovechkin thumped Winnipeg’s Bryan Little in the offensive zone after mid-period and then clashed hard with the Jets’ Mark Stuart in the Washington zone on the same shift. Stuart returned briefly in the third but left again and there was no post-game update on his status.
Winnipeg had two third-period power plays but had no answer for Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who had the shutout with 19 saves. It was a paltry total, but to Holtby’s credit, he had two excellent saves on Antti Miettinen.
"The way they play, you have to execute a whole lot better than we did tonight," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. "Our passes weren’t on the tape and it fed right into what they wanted."
After the buzzer
Noel, predictably, wasn’t in much of a mood for analysis after the game.
"What do you want to do, beat up on your players, and cut their heads off and their hands off and say, ‘You guys are bad." ’? he said.
"You think they enjoy playing like this? Have you ever been on a team like this? It is very frustrating. It’s not something you do by design as a player. It’s certainly not something you do by design as coaches. We’re all responsible."
Updated on Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 1:33 PM CDT: Writethru.
5:48 PM: updates before game time
7:52 PM: after 1 period
8:39 PM: after 2 periods
9:36 PM: game over
11:36 PM: rewrite game story with quotes