WINNIPEG – In case any Winnipeg Jets fans had forgotten over the past 15 years, the NHL game is one that punishes mistakes severely.
The Montreal Canadiens reintroduced the concept to Winnipeg on Sunday in throttling the Jets, 5-1, in front of a raucous crowd celebrating the city's NHL return after a 15-year absence. It will be a lesson that Jets coach Claude Noel will be able to direct the attention of his young toward this week as the club regroups from its season-opening loss.
Montreal, a club looking to collect its first win of the season after an opening-night loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, shrugged aside the loud environment, relied on exceptional special-teams play and punished nearly every Jets' miscue in splitting a one-goal game wide open in the third period.
Noel will have plenty of examples to illustrate when he and his coaching staff review video with the club. Defenseman Johnny Oduya mishandled two pucks that led to the Canadiens' first two goals that left the home club facing a 2-0 deficit at the second intermission.
"There were some things I didn't like," Noel said. "We gave up some free pizzas in the middle of the ice. The first one was a free pizza, and that's exactly what good players do. Turnovers result in goals, and good players get one chance, and it's in the back of your net. So if you've never been in the NHL, that's a good lesson for young players. It wasn't a young player [Oduya] who made the turnover, but that's exactly how it goes."
Winnipeg spent much of the game trying to chip away at a shorthanded Montreal lineup that had lost left wing Michael Cammalleri and defenseman Jaroslav Spacek to first-period injuries. But whereas the Jets wilted after setbacks during the game, the Canadiens were able to rally after the injuries. Young defenseman Yannick Weber, who is also capable of playing a forward role, produced a key third-period goal and an assist. Travis Moen moved alongside Tomas Plekanec after the Cammalleri injury and chipped in a goal and an assist.
"Mike is a big part of our squad," Montreal goaltender Carey Price said. "It just means that other guys are going to have to pull on the rope harder and just bear down. We have a lot of skill on this team."
With Spacek potentially joining injured Montreal defensemen Andrei Markov (right knee) and Chris Campoli (undisclosed lower-body injury), the Canadiens will be tapping into the versatility that Weber can provide.
"I thought Yannick did a good job," Martin said. "Now with the number of injuries on the back end, we'll need him on defense."
Montreal did run into penalty trouble throughout the game in handing the Jets eight power-play opportunities. However, the Canadiens killed each Winnipeg man-advantage and then used their power play to finally put away a persistent Jets squad in the third period.
"The penalty kill did a good job," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said.
Momentum dictates nearly any hockey game, and the Jets repeatedly squandered opportunities that deflated the home crowd. With Montreal holding a 2-1 third-period lead and the Jets threatening during 4-on-4 play, Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien took an offensive-zone penalty that put the Jets down a skater. Montreal needed all of 23 seconds for Weber to pound home Montreal's third goal that effectively ended any chance for a Winnipeg comeback.
The third goal forced the Jets to take more chances, and the Canadiens pounced on two more mistakes to turn the game into a rout.
The Jets have three days to regroup before heading to Chicago for a meeting with the Blackhawks and another stint on "Hockey Night in Canada" next Saturday at Phoenix. Noel's provided post-game thoughts much in line with his reputation as a player-friendly coach who strongly emphasizes teaching and development.
"I still love this team as much today as I did yesterday," Noel said. "I still think we're going to be a good team and I think we are a good team. They are disappointed, and I'm disappointed, but I'm not going to measure this game by the score. I saw a lot of good things in this game that I liked, and some that I didn't. I know one thing, our guys care about winning."
It was definitely emotional. I really appreciated the fans. It was a cool feeling and it felt special and the ovation there at the start and then you kind of feel funny out there standing by yourself. Thinking back, I was saying just a bit ago, you think back just trying to make the NHL and then you kind of reflect on all the years being able to play for a great organization here in Calgary and all the fun I've had so far in my career. I feel very fortunate and blessed.
— Boston forward Jarome Iginla on his return to Calgary, where he played for 16 seasons