It wasn’t very pretty. Nor was it terribly entertaining. In fact, the best thing that can be said about the six-game pre-season slate for the Winnipeg Jets is that it has mercifully come to an end.
With the curtain set to rise on a new NHL season next week, the final dress rehearsal came Friday at the Scotiabank Saddledome where the Calgary Flames rode a pair of early power-play goals to a 3-1 victory. Winnipeg finishes with a 2-3-1 record, but don’t go drawing any major conclusions or reaching for the panic button. This entire exercise, a necessary evil of sorts, is all about process, evaluation and working off the rust before the games hit the big stage. Results really are secondary.
Towering defenceman Logan Stanley, who never met a puck he didn’t like to shoot, scored the Jets’ only goal. Connor Hellebuyck made 20 saves and had little chance on the three pucks that beat him. The club’s youngest player, Cole Perfetti, had himself a nice outing. As for the rest of the Jets, the majority appeared to simply be going through the motions and trying not to get hurt. And who can blame them, really? With few roster decisions to be made coming into training camp, the stakes weren’t exactly high.
Unfortunately, high-flying winger Nikolaj Ehlers didn’t emerge unscathed. He had a tough second period that included crashing hard into the end boards, then later getting involved in a net-front pile-up. Officially, the team said he was out with an upper-body injury, although when last spotted on the ice he was sharing a laugh with several players, so there’s reason to believe this was more precautionary than anything.
The Jets, who held their morning skate at Bell MTS Iceplex and then boarded a charter for Calgary to arrive just a few hours before puck drop, left captain Blake Wheeler and alternate captain Josh Morrissey at home. Coach Paul Maurice wanted to use their spots to get a closer look at a few other players still on the proverbial bubble to break camp with the big club.
One of those is certainly Perfetti. The 19-year-old first-rounder, a natural centre, was bumped to the right-wing by Maurice in an intriguing pre-game development. If there is a job or two to be won with the Jets, it would appear to be in that very spot. Centre is set with Mark Scheifele, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Adam Lowry, Riley Nash and versatile veterans such as Paul Stastny and Andrew Copp, but much of training camp has been about finding someone to step into the third-line right-wing role, besides Lowry and Stastny.
On Friday, that assignment went to Perfetti. He did not disappoint. Highlights included drawing a pair of penalties with his notable puck-handling skills, a few perfectly executed passes and a terrific third-period backcheck that will score him some brownie points with the bench bosses.
Winnipeg still has 28 players in camp. Three of them — defencemen Nelson Nogier and Dylan Samberg and forward C.J. Suess — are injured and destined for the Manitoba Moose once healthy. Of the remaining 25, it’s notable who didn’t play on Friday.
Wheeler and Morrissey’s spots are obviously secure, but what to make of the fact 21-year-old David Gustafsson wasn’t in the lineup for a second straight game? That’s probably not a good sign for his immediate prospects of making the team. Kristian Vesalainen, who has gotten an extended look on that third-line right-wing spot, was also scratched. Same with winger Evgeny Svechnikov, who dressed for the first five pre-season games and took the pre-game skate Friday but ultimately was scratched as Maurice opted to dress just 11 forwards and seven defencemen.
One thing that has become painfully clear in the pre-season is how much a premium there may be on special teams, especially with the NHL instructing officials to crack down on cross-checking. There were three of those penalties called in the opening 20 minutes Friday as players struggle to adhere to the new standard. The Jets went 0-for-4 with the man advantage Friday — not having stalwarts Wheeler, Morrissey and, later in the game, Ehlers, didn’t help the cause. The penalty kill, which struggled mightily at times last year, killed only two of the four infractions.
Andrew Mangiapane opened the scoring just 40 seconds into the game, 13 seconds into a Pionk tripping minor. Sean Monahan cashed in later in the first period with Dominic Toninato serving time for, you guessed it, cross-checking. Elias Lindholm had Calgary’s other goal in the third period, 76 seconds after Stanley had brought the Jets to within one. Jacob Markstrom stopped 22 of the 23 shots he faced.
The Jets flew back to Winnipeg late Friday night. After a day off, they return to practice on Sunday to get ready for a season-opening road trip which begins Wednesday in Anaheim. They will also have to cut down to a maximum of 23 healthy skaters by that time, although it’s possible salary-cap constraints may constitute carrying only 22 players.
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.