WINNIPEG - In two home openers since relocating from Atlanta, the Winnipeg Jets have yet to send their fans home happy.
The Jets were outshot, outworked and outscored by the Ottawa Senators in a 4-1 loss Saturday afternoon that in many ways resembled the team's deflating 5-1 season-opening loss to the Montreal Canadiens 15 months earlier.
Neither team was sharp for much of the game, which came just six days after training camps opened following the ratification of the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement.
“It was a pretty sloppy game,”said Jets winger Blake Wheeler, the team's leading scorer last season.“I don't think either team did a lot at all. It was not a lot of flow out there. It was a pretty bad game all around.”
Winnipeg's paying customers, who filled all 15,004 seats at MTS Centre just as they have for every game since the Jets returned, seemed to agree. The usually raucous building fell silent for long stretches of the second and third periods.
With no time to spare for pre-season games, those Jets who didn't find work in Europe during the lockout hadn't played a competitive game since April 7.
Head coach Claude Noel said some of his players seemed to struggle with the pace of the game.
“I thought it looked like some guys were off for eight or nine months,”he said.“It's hard to get a real handle on it because you could see that some guys were fatigued with the pace.”
Defenceman Mark Stuart, who spent part of the lockout with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL, said the short training camp and lack of exhibition games was no excuse for the team's poor showing.
“Every team is going to struggle with that,”he said.“Everybody's in the same boat. You've just got to step in and play.”
The Jets had some success in the first period, taking an early one-goal lead and narrowly missing on several other chances. But as the game wore on, the Senators were stronger on the puck and made far fewer turnovers.
“It's tough to create scoring chances when you're bottled up in the neutral zone all game,”Wheeler said.
Noel could see the game beginning to slip away late in the first period, when his team gave the puck away inside its own blue-line four or fives times in the span of two shifts. Rather than questioning his players'effort, he thought some were trying too hard to make plays.
“I thought we didn't get a lot of A games from our players,”Noel said.
One player who earned some praise from the coach was 19-year-old Mark Scheifele, the team's first-round draft pick in 2011. Scheifele, who's been playing competitive hockey all season in the OHL and with Canada's national junior team, had two shots on goal in nearly 12 minutes of ice time with a variety of linemates.
“It's tough playing with different linemates,”Scheifele said.“But whoever I was out there with would help me out. It's a different game than junior. It's a huge stepping stone to get up to.”
The Jets now head to Boston for a Monday matinee against the Bruins. With only 48 games on the shortened schedule, Stuart said mini losing streaks could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs.
“We can't lose two games in a row with this schedule,”he said.