With a busy pre-season schedule in the books, the Winnipeg Jets took to the ice in Edmonton on Tuesday to start the 2013-14 NHL season. The last time the Jets played a regular season game in this city was March of 1996. It also marked the first time since their return to the NHL that the Jets started on the road.
Going into this season, the Jets want to be a better defensive team and a tougher team to play against. Special teams also a concern. All areas that need to be improved for the Jets to make the playoffs.
A great atmosphere in Edmonton for the season opener, but it was a slow start to the game as both teams seemed nervous. The hybrid icing resulted in a number of stoppages before two Oilers in their first NHL game combined for the game's opening goal with Luke Gazdic having his shot deflect off Jim Slater's stick and in for a 1-0 Edmonton lead. The Jets were 8-15-2 last year when giving up the first goal.
The Jets went to work on their first power play of the season and it was Mark Scheifele from a bit of a sharp angle, ripping one high glove to tie the game. It was Scheifele's second career NHL goal. Bryan Little, with his 100th career goal, gave the Jets the lead but before the period ended, Boyd Gordon scored on the power play to tie the game at two. Shots in the first period favoured Edmonton, 15-7. Toby Enstrom, who started last year going 2-11-13 in his first 10 games, picked up assists on both Jet goals, as did Dustin Byfuglien. Over the past two seasons, Byfuglien is the league's second highest scoring defenceman.
The second period saw the Oilers take a two-goal lead on goals Ales Hemsky and Jesse Joensuu. The Joensuu goal came 22 seconds into a power play after Paul Postma was called for delay of game. The first Oiler power play goal came 17 seconds after the start of the penalty, both goals coming off Edmonton face-off wins, never allowing the Jets to be aggressive up ice on the penalty kill that was successful on 36 of 38 in the pre-season.
The Jets got stronger and a goal my Michael Frolik made it a 4-3 game, Jacob Trouba with an assist for his first NHL point. Jets outshot the Oilers 15-9 in the second.
After the game, head coach Claude Noel felt the Frolik goal was a turning point in the game as his team "was somewhat demoralized even though there was lots of hockey to be played, but that goal gave us some life."
The Oilers won 17 of 29 face-offs in the second period and after winning seven of eight in the first, Little lost seven of eight in the second and ended the night winning 10 of 24. Olli Jokinen was the best Jet on face-offs, winning 12 of 21.
Now back to a wild third period. Down by one, Trouba stepped up and intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, took a couple of strides inside the blue line and fired a rolling puck past Devan Dubnyk to tie the game. That set the stage for Frolik's second goal of the game on a great back pass from Eric Tangradi. Byfuglien picked up his third assist of the night on the goal.
The Jets killed off three third-period penalties, including two in the final eight minutes.
"Our penalty kill came to life, we had some big kills," commented Noel. Ondrej Pavelec was brilliant down the stretch to preserve the win. "Pav made big saves at key times. They had a lot of good looks."
The Oilers outshot the Jets, 38-28.
It was a memorable debut for the 19-year-old Trouba with a goal and an assist and leading the Jets in ice-time at 25:02. He finished with a plus 2 rating, was used in all situations, including the third period penalty kills, and was named first star.
"He was a standout for a young player," was the post-game comment from Noel. "Really solid." Byfuglien was second in ice-time at 24:09 and led the team with five hits. "I liked his game. He played with emotion, he was physical." Going back to the end of last year, Byfuglien now has 10 points in his last nine games, Little 12 in his last 10.
Mark Scheifele ended his solid night with a goal and four shots on goal in 17:58 of ice time. For Frolik, offence is a part of his game. He had back-to-back 21-goal seasons in his first two years in the NHL.
The come-from-behind win is a good sign for the Jets, who were 1-14 last season when trailing after two. It was also the first time in three years the Jets won their season opener. The previous two were at MTS Centre.
The Jets were without Grant Clitsome due to injury, while Adam Pardy, Anthony Peluso and Matt Halischuk were healthy scratches.
The Jets now prepare for their home opener on Friday against the Los Angeles Kings (TSN Jets, TSN 1290) before the Anaheim Ducks are in Winnipeg on Sunday. In both cases, the visitors play the night before in Minnesota.