For awhile, things looked pretty good for the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.
However, as the game between the Jets and the Florida Panthers wore on, it became somewhat obvious that playing without big Dustin Byfuglien on the point was going to hurt the local hockey club big time.
The Florida Panthers, playing in front of a sparse crowd announced at 15,731 at the BB&T Center, scored four late goals and beat the Jets 6-3.
At the 7:38 mark of the third period, defenseman Toby Enstrom gave the Jets a 3-2 lead but even at that stage, Winnipeg didn’t have much in the tank and with Byfuglien a late scratch due to an undisclosed injury, the Jets were struggling both on the back end and up front.
After Enstrom gave the Jets the advantage in the third, the Panthers proceeded to score four times as Peter Mueller tallied at 11:20, Alex Kovalev gave the Panthers a 4-3 lead at 12:37, Jonathan Huberdeau made it 5-3 at 15:29 and Thomas Kopecky scored into an empty net at 18:32.
With four goals in the final 8:40, the Panthers improved to 3-5-0 and snapped a five-game losing streak. With the loss, the Jets fell to 3-3-1 on the season and lost their second-straight road game. Grant Clitsome and Olli Jokinen scored Winnipeg’s other goals.
Jets head coach Claude Noel was unhappy after the game.
“You can slice it how you want, but we took a penalty behind their net, and that’s not a good penalty, and we some other ones and they weren’t good penalties either. Those ones were just the same,” he snapped at the FoxSports Florida camera.
“We’ve got the game under control early in the first and second periods but it’s a 60-minute game. You can’t play 50 minutes and stop. We weren’t very good in the third period.”
Noel was unhappy with the penalties his team took in Montreal on Tuesday night and he was even angrier on Thursday. In the third period, with the Jets ahead 3-2, Alexei Ponikarovsky’s tripping penalty behind the Florida net resulted in the game’s tying goal and it was all downhill from there.
“Penalties like that are unacceptable,” Noel said. “There are a lot of things that we did not do well. You can focus on the power play, you can focus on the three power-play goals. But there are other areas.”
In other words, Noel was just unhappy – period – with his team’s play on Thursday night. Byfuglien or no Byfuglien. He even took a shot at the Winnipeg media.
“When you look at the game, we’re in a 1-1 game and we never started with the puck,” he said, taking a shot at his faceoff specialists. “Our faceoffs were atrocious. So we chased the puck the whole time. Where did this come from? You tell me.
“It’s back again because you guys were singing praises, it wasn’t two weeks ago when you were singing praises; well, you’re not singing them anymore. Neither am I. So our problems will get managed. They’ll get managed, let’s put it that way.”
The stats agreed with Noel – and his anger. The Jets were a measly 42 per cent in the faceoff circle. They won 24 faceoffs and lost 33. They lost the takeaway game 8-6, they were outshot 35-24 (and the Jets defense had more blocked shots than the Panthers defense 13-5) and while the Jets were 0-for-3 on the power-play, the Panthers were 3-for-6. That made a huge difference. Florida’s first goal, winning goal and insurance goal were all scored on the power play.
Interestingly, in Tampa on Friday night, all the NHL scouts could cpmment on was the fact Noel benched Evander Kane for all but 2 1/2 minutes in the second period.
The Jets will wrap up this three-game road trip with a game on Friday night against the Tampa bay Lightning in Tampa. It’s not going to get any easier. Byfuglien will miss Friday’s night’s game as well.
The Jets will return home for a game on Feb. 5 against the Florida Panthers.