Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel seems to have a wry sense of humour and that's to the good: the schedule and his team suggest that quality will be put to the test. The same can be said for goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
"Turnovers killed us tonight and in the first game," Pavelec said after the Chicago Blackhawks dropped the Jets record to 0-2 with a 4-3 win Thursday at the United Centre. "We didn't deserve to win tonight."
No, they didn't. The Jets were, in Noel's words, "marginally better … a little bit better," than in Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens." Somebody asked if the team had at least moved to a different level after the Canadiens' loss, and he shrugged. "We played two playoff teams. If we think we're a playoff team, we have to find somebody we can beat."
OK, so it's only two games. But Noel was pointed in his criticism, noting that while his team had intensity "it was from the wrong people." He was asked to grade Pavelec's performance, then turned the tables on the questioner.
What grade would you give Pavelec, the questioner was asked. "A six," he responded. Noel, who pointed a finger at Evander Kane in Sunday's loss and clearly isn't worried about having a delicate bed-side manner, went with it, saying: "I thought he played about a six."
The Jets jumped into a 2-0 lead on two goals within the first 7:29 by Jim Slater, who was Winnipeg's best skater on this evening. It was Slater, in fact, who was hovering around Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery as he flopped in panic on a loose puck as time expired.
But Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville called a time-out after the second goal and a little more than two minutes later the territorial edge had swung in his teams favor for good. Tobias Enstrom pulled down Patrick Kane, and Andrew Brunette scored with the man advantage.
Kane also assisted on the Blackhawks third goal – scored by Marian Hossa – after scoring the Blackhawks second goal off a turnover created by Hossa, with new linemate Daniel Carcillo creating havoc while also managing to stay out of the way. That line was the Blackhawks best on the evening.
Dave Bolland also scored for the Blackhawks, who out-shot the Jets 33-30, while Kyle Wellwood's between the legs back-hander pulled the Jets to within one at 4-3 with less than seven minutes left in the second period.
Noel shortened his bench in the third period, trying to get some rhythm. It did not work.
Bolland's goal came when Zach Bogosian made a flailing attempt at a clearing pass from his corner, only to shoot the puck into the side of the net.
Turnovers were an issue all night long. The Blackhawks had 14 takeaways and the Jets coughed up the puck an additional five times.
"Turnovers have killed us in both games," Noel said, matter-of-factly. Part of that was credit to the Blackhawks, who as Noel said have "smart players who are smart at both ends of the ice."
The Blackhawks first shot on net was their first goal. Like Emery, Pavelec did not enjoy a smooth evening. "We were patient," Noel said. "We let him find himself."
Pavelec lamented: "I never touched the puck." That was true early in the game, but he was also caught off-guard by the Hossa-Kane-Carcillo combination. Hossa's goal was from way out; Kane's came on a line rush, with Carcillo acting as decoy. Kane centred the line and won 10 of 14 face-offs, as the Blackhawks owned even-strength face-offs, winning 67 per-cent.
"That goal surprised me, because I thought he (Hossa) was going to pass," said Pavelec. "His shot … I just tried to stand up to find the puck. I didn't get it until it was too late."
The Jets play the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday, which will be another marker for the team considering the Coyotes were once the Jets. But it's clear that the players have moved beyond finding this link and that link to history. "It's big for Winnipeg fans," said Slater. "It's big for us because it's another playoff team."
Down 2-0, Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville called a timeout at 7:29 of the first period. Sixty-six seconds later, Jets defenceman Tobias Enstrom pulled down Patrick Kane. Seventy seconds later, Andrew Brunette scored on the power play, tag teaming with Jonathan Toews in front of Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec. It was early, but the Blackhawks established a territorial edge that they would seldom relinquish.
Birthday boy Sean O'Donnell became the first 40-year-old to play for the Blackhawks since Tony Esposito in 1984. Nicklas Lidstrom, Dwayne Roloson and Teemu Selanne are the NHL's other 40-year-olds.
Number of the Jets' next 15 games that are away from the MTS Centre, including a seven-game road trip between Oct. 27 and Nov. 8.
Shots by the Blackhawks in the last eight minutes of the first period, after going the first 9:45 without a single one. The Blackhawks finished the game outshooting the Jets 33-29.