With two goals in the opening eight minutes of Saturday’s afternoon affair against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Winnipeg Jets could not have asked for a better start.
Kyle Wellwood and Alex Burmistrov scored two early goals to give the Jets a 2-0 lead, but the picture-pefect way start to a road game quickly turned into a defensive nightmare.
In what became a comedy of errors, nearly all of Pittsburgh’s eight goals were the result of defensive miscues by Winnipeg players. On Dustin Jeffrey’s goal to cut the Pens deficit to one in the first period, Tobias Enstrom pinched past the blueline but failed to hold the puck in allowing Jeffrey to go in uncontested and put a perfectly placed shot past goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
Pittsburgh’s second goal came off some extended pressure in the Winnipeg zone which resulted in an iceing and thus some tired Jets forwards. Jim Slater cleanly lost the ensuing face to Evgeni Malkin who drew the puck perfectly back to sniper James Neal who whistled a shot past Pavelec to tie the game.
Winnipeg’s poor decision-making continued in the second with some untimely pinches by defenceman Dustin Byfuglien leading to a number of two-on-ones; and with the likes of Malkin (5 points in the game), Neal (two), Chris Kunitz (four) and Kris Letang (three) buzzing around, those pinches proved to be costly. Second period goals by Malkin, and a Tim Stapleton goal sandwiched between tallies by Kunitz and Letang staked Pittsburgh to a 5-3 lead heading into the final frame.
Despite the high number of breakdowns, the Jets quickly put themselves right back into the game when a Byfuglien pinch finally resulted in something positive as the big blueliner scored to make it 5-4 at 4:35 of the third. However, just 20 seconds later Tobias Enstrom was unable to tie up the stick of Richard Park who deflected the Brooks Orpik point-shot into the net to restore the two-goal lead. Three minutes later, the goal that salted the game away was once again the result of poor defensive coverage as Nik Antropov could not prevent Jordan Staal from making his way to the net and easily beating Pavelec with a hard low shot.
Bryan Little scored to make it 7-5 but his team’s errors had already decided the outcome and Pittsburgh would add one more to skate away with a 8-5 win.
For head coach Claude Noel, this was the type of game that he will surely be able to use in the video room as “what not to do” in terms of play without the puck.
As big as Thursday night’s comeback win over Washington was, Saturday’s meltdown in Pittsburgh was it’s exact opposite. The team will certainly need to put it behind them, while at the same time remembering the areas in which they absolutely must improve upon because games like this must not, and cannot continue if the Jets hope to stay in the playoff race.