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Where Did The Legs Go?

Ottawa Senators head coach Paul MacLean called it “a dog’s breakfast.” Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel couldn’t disagree.

In what started with a flourish and ended with a sluggish, sloppy third period, the Ottawa Senators beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-1 in the 2013 season opener for both teams.

With the lockout over and the season starting in mid-January, two otherwise decent hockey teams played a weak opener in front of a crowd that expected better. There were few good plays, not many great scoring chances and only the occasional burst of excitement. As season openers go, the anthem singer’s red dress was about as colourful as things got.

The 2011-12 Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson led the Senators with a goal and two assists. Kyle Turris, Milan Michlaek and Chris Neil also scored for Ottawa.

Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, the best forward on the ice, scored Winnipeg’s only goal, a power-play tally in the first period that gave the Jets a short-lived 1-0 lead.

Tobi Enstrom

Tobi Enstrom

“Well, that was one of the games we didn’t expect but we knew could happen,” said Noel after the game. “We got off to a decent start but then we fell behind and well, we just didn’t have the legs.”

Byfuglien’s power play goal at 6:00 of the opening period seemed like an omen. The Jets were skating, they controlled the play and it was apparent referees Stephen Walkom and Gord Dwyer weren’t going to call penalties evenly. The Jets finished the game with six power plays while the Senators had only three, but while Ottawa played the game at a greater disadvantage, the Jets great start ended at about the midway point of the opening period.

After leading 1-0 through the first 10 minutes, they lost their legs and were only in the game when they had the man advantage.

“We didn’t get a lot from A games from our guys today,” said Noel. “They worked hard, they tried, but they didn’t play as well as we expected. Was that fatigue or anxiety? I don’t know. It’s hard to get a handle on it.”

The most exciting Jet on the ice was Byfuglien. The big defenseman was given 24 minutes and 44 seconds of icetime and he spent much of it in the front of the Jets net. He created a half dozen chances but he was also caught out of position twice and he was on the ice for three goals by Michalek, Karlsson (on the power play) and Turris.

“I thought Buff was pretty good today,” Noel said today. “I thought our defensive play overall was OK. Not anything great.”

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler

If nothing else, this year’s Jets opener was better than last year’s. The Jets only lost 4-1 to a good Ottawa team this year. Last year they were beaten 5-1 by the Montreal Canadiens, a team that not only didn’t make the playoffs, but finished dead last in the East.

Clearly, the best player on the ice was Karlsson (despite the silly booing from Jets “fans”), but not even he believed he played particularly well.

“I think I didn’t play really well today,” he said in a post-game interview. “I didn’t feel really good out there, but obviously it feels nice to contribute something. Getting the goal on the power play there is going to be good for us and hopefully we can build on this.

Dustin Byfuglien

Dustin Byfuglien

“I think the pace slowed down a little bit and it probably wasn’t the best-played game from anyone,” Karlsson added, suggesting the lockout had made players both anxious and a little nervous. “We’ve just got to continue from here and try to get the feeling back as quick as possible.”

Noel, meanwhile, agreed with MacLean. As hockey games go it was, at best, a dog’s breakfast for the Jets, a team that started with a flourish and then simply lost its legs.

“I think Pavs (goalie Ondrej Pavelec) would like to have a couple of those goals back,” said Noel. “It was a dog’s breakfast. We’ll go back and simplify a few things. We were overanxious and couldn’t get it done. To be honest, some guys looked like they hadn’t played in eight or nine months.”
No kidding.

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