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This article was published 23/10/2016 (1916 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
While the heroes from the past delighted local hockey fans Saturday afternoon, the latter day Winnipeg Jets left them completely dismayed just 24 hours later.
Sticking with a concerning trend of falling well behind in games, the Jets had no magic tonic to spark a comeback in the Heritage Classic outdoor NHL contest as the club looked disorganized and, at critical times, self-destructive, in a 3-0 defeat to the Edmonton Oilers Sunday before an announced crowd of 33,240 at Investors Group Field.
The game started nearly two hours late to allow for the sun to pass by. The NHL was concerned the glare on the ice could be a danger for players.
The Jets fell to 2-3 early in the 2016-17 season and share last spot in the Central Division with the Nashville Predators, while the surging Oilers are 5-1 and hold the top position in the Pacific.
The defeat came a day after the Jets’ alumni squad, led by Teemu Selanne, knocked off the Wayne Gretzky-led Oilers old-timers 6-5 at IGF. And it left the Jets and their fan base with a bitter taste after what had been a pretty sweet week in Winnipeg.
"It didn’t go the way we hoped, game-wise," said Jets centre Mark Scheifele. "Obviously, the experience was awesome, but at the end of the day it’s a hockey game and those two points were big and we lost out on them."
A decent start
The Jets came out with a spirited first period, firing 10 shots at Oilers goalie Cam Talbot, including blasts from Grade-A spots by defenceman Tyler Myers and forward Nikolaj Ehlers (and a shot by winger Patrik Laine from close range that sailed over the glass).
Indeed, the hosts were quick on pucks, won battles deep and managed to create quality chances. But they finished the first frame with nothing to show for the solid start.
"We played really well in the first. I liked our game. We played to our identity," offered Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler. "We’re a fast team and we didn’t take too many chances in the neutral zone and spent a lot of time in their zone."
Laine has been deadly accurate early in the season — scoring four times in five games, including a remarkable hat trick against the Toronto Maple Leafs last week — but couldn’t pull the trigger on a fine chance from the top of the right circle.
The 18-year-old Finn is showing he allows himself very little room for error early in his rookie season.
"I think it’s a prime spot for every hockey player and you should be able to score from those chances, and I didn’t and that was it," he said. "I just shoot it high. I don’t know what went wrong. I should have scored."
Winnipeg has faltered badly in second periods this season and playing outdoors didn’t alter things one bit.
The Oilers grabbed a 2-0 lead with a pair of goals just one minute and 46 seconds apart. With blue-liner Darnell Nurse off for cross-checking, centre Mark Letestu scored his second goal of the season on a short-handed breakaway at 9:24 after defenceman Dustin Byfuglien whiffed on the puck with his stick and his skate just inside the Oilers’ blue line. Nurse stepped out of the penalty box, joined the rush and then beat Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck after a perfect pass from centre Connor McDavid at 11:10.
Edmonton increased its lead on Zach Kassian’s second goal of the season at 17:16 of the second on a play that began with a turnover by Laine.
That’s 11 second-period goals allowed in five games.
"We got into a bit of a lull in that second period, maybe for both teams, the game kind of evened out, and then it’s just the three turnovers and they’re obvious and the result was emphatic," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. "We wouldn’t like to think that’s part of our game, we’re seeing that a fair amount early on.
"Those turnovers, on good ice, bad ice, whatever, they’re going to be in your net."
Hellebuyck, now 1-2 on the season, stopped 29 of 32 shots.
The Jets are giving up goals in bunches. They surrendered four straight to the Carolina Hurricanes before rallying for a win, yielded four in a row to the Minnesota Wild but couldn’t crawl back all the way, yielded four consecutive goals to the Boston Bruins in another loss and then four straight to the Toronto Maple Leafs before coming back to win a thriller in overtime.
Five games might be coincidental, or a treacherous habit forming that needs kicking in a hurry.
"We’ll have to take a look at ourselves in the mirror, have a talk and try to figure ourselves. It’s a tough league to win games and you can never lay back because every time we do it seems to bite us in the rear end," said centre Mathieu Perreault, who played in his third career outdoor game.
Veterans sit out
Two players in their sixth seasons with the Jets were excluded from the Heritage Classic lineup.
Defenceman Mark Stuart and right-winger Chris Thorburn were on the outside looking in as Maurice set aside sentiment and went with the same roster that earned a 5-4 OT win over Toronto.
Maurice said the decision was not made lightly.
"For these two men, what they bring is beyond play. They’ve come to camp, they’ve had good camps," he said. "At the end of the day I have leaned toward youth from the start of the season.
"They’ve handled it exceptionally well, not easily, but exceptionally well. It was a very difficult decision."
The Jets head to Dallas to play the Stars Tuesday and then host the Stars Thursday night at the MTS Centre.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).