When I was a kid, there was a lot of corporate and fan support for the Winnipeg Jets. Haha, not really - I was a kid in the 90s, a time when Winnipeg's barn could only be filled by talented teams coming to town, and still averaged two thousand empty seats a night. Sure, nowadays you could probably find someone who remembers the "glory days" of the WHL and the Winnipeg Jets - someone who'll talk your ear off about Dale Hawerchuk, Bobby Hull, and four years of Keith Tkachuk - but their stories will probably finish with "and that's why their banners shouldn't be in Phoenix."
As the Jets of old continue the franchise tradition of fan-free hockey in Phoenix, the NHL decided to replace the lost franchise with a losing one. Today's Jets have inherited a history of Patrick Stefan, of Marc Savard's futile career high, and of, uh, eighteen games of Keith Tkachuk. The team seems to like playing in Winnipeg, probably because it's the highest home attendance they've been able to attract without appealing to local demographics. The AHL arena gets loud when the crowd boos opposition players at random - begging for a rivalry, natural or otherwise.
For its own sake, I hope the fan base keeps up its random hate-on for threatening opposition players; if the fans stop booing, they might notice that the greatest accomplishment their inherited on-ice product has ever accomplished was being swept in the first round of the franchise's lone playoff appearance. To this, they added players like Kyle Wellwood and Nik Antropov - castoffs from the Leafs' six years of post-lockout futility - and felt like they could talk about history. And if the fanbase ever stops booing long enough to notice that these Jets have a worse playoff record than the pre-Phoenix Coyotes did, they might stop coming to the games. Again.
The Leafs played "okay" in the second half of a back to back. They kept it close, but didn't have much jump on the rush, and the Jets' won a lot of the battles along the boards. The meager 18 shots on net describes much of the game.
A few thoughts:
- The opening goal of the game was scored by Phil Kessel, who cut inside and rifled a shot past Pavelec, evoking memories of the Jets' greatest goal scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk, whose trade has never been debated, because who could defend a package that amounted to Johnny Oduya and Patrice Cormier?
- Bozak and Lupul's Fenwick/Corsi numbers continue to struggle relative to Kessel's. The Leafs really could use a better possession player next to Kessel on that top line. Wilson had Kessel on ice with MacArthur and Grabovski for much of the last 5 minutes of play.
- Franson didn't have a great night. Some slow footwork exposed defensive shortcomings. Gardiner had the opposite problem, as he largely covered over some rookie decision making with some very nice skating. Luke Schenn only played 14:28 on ice.
- Gustavsson looked "meh." He stopped 26 of 28, but allowed a sharp angle backhand shot through the fivehole. Those are hard to read, but you've gotta shut the barn door. It's hard to get upset at him when the team obviously didn't control play, but at the same time, there's still a goal that I'm sure he wants back. It doesn't help that, in general, Winnipeg is not a goal scoring team: The two goal effort is higher than the team's abysmal average of 1.44 goals over the previous 16 games.
- He wasn't tested much, but Pavelec looked good tonight, in part because his agent wasn't trying to make stupid hashtags happen.
The Leafs fell to a team that's closer to being passed by the Islanders than it is to clinching a playoff spot, but Ottawa lost to St Louis, Pittsburgh takes home a loser point (Montreal gets the SO-W), and Florida lost a 2 point game to the Capitals. The Leafs will need to make up three points on the Pens to get to that juicy six seed against Washington/Florida, but staying ahead one of Florida or 3-more-GP Ottawa shouldn't be too bad. If the Leafs are frustrated by tonight's loss, they can head out to the great city of Winnipeg and enjoy its finest traditional nightlife: shanking someone.
For those who missed out, Hawerchuk wrote a lovely preview of tonight's game over on Arctic Ice Hockey.