ANAHEIM, CA - With more than half of their regulars missing in action on the back end, the Winnipeg Jets knew it was going to tough slog through the pond Friday in Anaheim.
Dustin Byfuglien was a game-time decision but was unable to play with a lower-body injury, joining Tyler Myers, Toby Enstrom, Paul Postma and Ben Chiarot (or about 2,500 games of combined NHL experience) on the sidelines, while Jacob Trouba, Mark Stuart and Josh Morrissey, along with farmhands Brian Strait, Julian Melchiori and Nelson Nogier faced one of the top teams in the West.
The Ducks, who entered the night only two points back of the San Jose Sharks for the top seed in the Pacific, took full advantage of the Jets' banged-up blue line, scoring a 3-1 win at Honda Center
"First it's going to be the speed of the game, and second it's going to be the size of the men that you face in the corners," Head Coach Paul Maurice said of the challenge of having so many new and inexperienced players in the lineup.
"Those one-on-one battles and the amount of time you have to make your decision with the puck are the two biggest [challenges]. The game gets closed off real quick down there. To be honest, I think they've done a pretty darn good job. Those are two heavy teams they just played, some good size up front, and they've all come from the American Hockey League and gone into two tough buildings in the National Hockey League and have handled themselves well."
Video: POSTGAME | Jacob Trouba
In the absence of Winnipeg's top minute muncher (27:27 per game, in fact), Trouba - who returned after missing five games with an upper-body injury - logged big minutes on the back end, and had no trouble with the added workload after 14 days off, playing more than 29 minutes to lead all skaters.
Morrissey scored the Jets' lone goal, while Michael Hutchinson made 32 saves.
"I felt good again tonight," Hutchinson said. "The more you play, things become more routine and it's easier to make reads off plays. … Having 30 shots against from them, it kind of feels like a 60-shot night because they make you work for every single thing."
Video: POSTGAME | Michael Hutchinson
The D can certainly relate.
"We battled pretty hard. Obviously on a back-to-back, we wanted to have a good push because we didn't like the way we finished in the third yesterday," Morrissey said. "You have guys that you can't replace out of the lineup, but as a group, collectively, we've done a pretty good job trying to fill those roles and pick up the slack a little bit. We've got a really good group of guys on the back end, and the guys that have come up from the minors have done a great job. We're doing it by committee and as a whole, for having that many guys out of the lineup, I think the D men have done a pretty good job."
Corey Perry's 15th of the season opened the scoring for the Ducks late in a first period dominated by the home side. With Antoine Vermette providing an excellent screen in front, Perry cycled the puck along the far wall before circling back to the point and beating Hutchinson with a long wrister at 17:17.
Video: POSTGAME | Josh Morrissey
Ryan Kesler nearly put the Ducks up by two on the very next shift as he slammed home a rebound at the side of the net, but after a long look on slo mo video, referees determined the net had already come off its moorings.
Shots on goal favoured the Ducks - who had 31 of the 43 total attempts - 15-6 after one.
Still, it was just a one-goal game and the Jets weren't about to lie down.
The Jets evened the score with a power-play goal at 6:08. Mathieu Perreault worked the puck back to Blake Wheeler, who bombed a one-timer from the right point. Morrissey, who was up on the play after entering the zone with a strong solo effort, got a piece of the shot en route, beating Jonathan Bernier bar down.
Video: WPG@ANA: Morrissey deflects Wheeler's shot into net
Perreault, meanwhile, stayed hot with an assist on the play, giving him 19 points (6G, 13A) in his last 15 games.
The Jets were the better team for a good chunk of the middle frame, but a fortuitous goal put the Ducks back in front with only 3:28 to play in the period. Andrew Cogliano's attempted centering pass from the near corner went off Trouba's right skate and trickled past Hutchinson to give the fowl a 2-1 lead.
Jakob Silfverberg scored into the empty net with 1:07 to play, after the Ducks dictated the final frame, outshooting the Jets 14-4.
Video: POSTGAME | Bryan Little
"They're a good team. It's pretty much the game we expected," said Bryan Little. "They played a hard, fast game and that's what we got tonight. They did get that bounce, but overall they played the better game and probably deserved the win. We had a tough time generating offence and they had a lot of good chances, and if it wasn't for Hutchy, they probably would have had a few more.
"They're on the puck fast. They've got some big, fast guys on their team and they get on you quick and force turnovers. They had us going around in our end pretty good for a bit there and it's tough to contain them. Once they get that puck, it's a battle to get them back."
LATE HITS: Brenden Kichton was recalled from the Manitoba Moose on an emergency basis earlier in the day, but did not get into the lineup as Morrissey and Trouba were both cleared to play. … Byfuglien, meanwhile, is day-to-day with the aforementioned lower-body injury and is expected to play Sunday when the Jets host the Vancouver Canucks at MTS Centre
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com