It sure was nice to be home for Ryan Reaves.
Playing in front of family and friends, the Winnipeg native scored the game-winning goal, a spin-around shot that found the net behind Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelc, to help the Blues down the Jets 4-2.
The Jets opened the scoring midway through the first period when Bryan Little buried a rebound past Blues netminder Jake Allen. Allen, who was starting for the Blues in the second half of a back-to-back, was solid throughout the game, even during periods where the Jets bombarded the St. Louis netminder with shots.
Matter of fact, both goaltenders more than held their own on Sunday night. Were it not for a couple of power play tallies, the Jets may have been able to hold on for the victory. The bigger issue isn’t the two goals the Jets allowed. Rather, the amount of time the team is spending shorthanded is of growing concern.
Shorthanded 84 times already this season, second most in the league to New Jersey’s 85, the Jets continue to play a dangerous game with the opposition. There’s a certain edge Winnipeg has been playing with, one that some would say is a necessity, but that edge can come with consequences and the Jets are falling on the wrong side of it more often than not.
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Granted, there will be those who, especially after tonight’s game, call into question the validity of some of the calls going against the Jets. In the second period, with Winnipeg up 2-1 thanks to a Jim Slater tally, Evander Kane took a roughing penalty for a hit on Barret Jackman. Jackman, taking umbrage with the jolt by Kane, almost immediately had his gloves off and went after the Jets winger. The referee’s arm went up, the whistle went, and the only one sent off was Kane.
Shortly after the call, as the Winnipeg faithful hollered for an even up and booed the referee’s decision, Blues captain David Backes slipped behind the Jets penalty kill, received an incredible pass from Alex Steen, and buried a beautiful snapshot on a clear cut breakaway.
Leading up to the goal by Backes, Winnipeg had been controlling the play and looked as though they were on their way to an insurance tally. With one ill-timed penalty and a two-goal swing, the Jets were tied. It’s times like these, and the continual lack of discipline, that is showing the team’s youth. The Jets penalty kill has been fantastic throughout the season. Of that there is little doubt. But even the best penalty killing teams can be undone when the opposition is given enough chances.
Take the final fifteen minutes of the game, for instance. While the Blues didn’t score, Evander Kane gave them a four-minute power play for a high-stick. Accidental or not, it’s the kind of error you don’t often see from teams that consistently win. The Jets had some momentum leading up to the penalty, not allowing a single shot or shot attempt for the five minutes leading up to the penalty.
At 10-9-3, the Jets aren’t far enough ahead to lose games inside their division. A quarter way through the season and entering December, these are already becoming key games. Losing ground now will do little to assure the Jets a shot at a playoff berth and the little mistakes – the penalties, allowing players to slip behind the defense on a penalty kill – could be backbreaking.
This may be the best Winnipeg Jets team in a while, but on Sunday, they more than showed the areas they need improvement.