The Winnipeg Jets top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler made their pre-season debut on Sunday night at MTS Centre, with a solid if unspectacular performance. The trio recorded a combined 11 shots on goal and were visible as the key veteran trio on the ice last night. They were, however, in pre-season form, trying some different things and hesitant to make the easy plays, as they often passed up on nice shooting opportunities to make the difficult passing plays as they worked their timing back.
The Jets were dressing many bubble players such as Matt Halischuk, Paul Postma, Eric O`Dell, Anthony Peluso, Ian White, Michael Hutchinson, and Patrice Cormier to complement the top line and veterans Tobias Enstrom and Michael Frolik, while Ottawa brought a veteran laden roster including stars Jason Spezza, Bobby Ryan, Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek and solid veterans Joe Corvo, Jim O`Brien, Marc Methot, Cory Conacher, Zack Smith, Erik Condra and Stephane Da Costa.
The Senators opened the scoring in the first, when training camp invite Buddy Robinson (who only had 8 goals last year at Lake Superior State University) deflected a Troy Rutkowski past newly acquired Jets netminder Michael Hutchinson. Ottawa outshot Jets 10-6 in the first.
Bobby Ryan showed off his scoring talent just 6 seconds into the second period when he came streaking down the wing and blasted a wrist shot up over Hutchinson to make it 2-0 from Karlsson and Michalek. Despite two early powerplays in the second, the Jets failed to cut into the lead with top prospect and likely backup G Robin Lehner standing tall. He ended his night with 17 saves.
Jets did cut into the lead after a fantastic shift shorthanded by recently signed Matt Halischuk, who was not offered a qualifying offer by Nashville despite scoring 20 goals and 39 points in 109 games over the past two seasons. After hustling on the forecheck, Halischuk blocked two shots, taking the second of which the other way on the breakaway. He slipped the deke five hole along the ice on Lehner just after the penalty to prospect D Brendan Kichton for shooting the puck over the glass expired.
Anthony Peluso did what he does best just after that dropping the gloves with Princeton grad (alma mater of tough guys George Parros and Kevin Westgarth) Michael Sdao, knocking him down with relative ease.
The Jets would run into penalty trouble in the 3rd as Postma would take a high sticking call that resulted in a Milan Michalek deflected goal from Karlsson and Spezza on the powerplay and 2012 6th round pick Ryan Olsen kept the Jets shorthanded for another 4 minutes following that with a high stick on Conacher. The Jets had one last chance to gain some ground on a O'Brien hook, but despite extended opportunities the 2nd PP unit for the game of 2012-13 IceCaps leading scorer Eric O`Dell, Halischuk, Frolik, 2013 7th round pick Brendan Kichton and try out veteran Ian White could not convert.
The Jets heavily favoured using their veterans in this game, with the top line of Ladd, Little and Wheeler all seeing more than 20 minutes of ice-time, along with veteran Frolik who rotated on in Ladd's spot on that line from time to time. Veteran defenders Enstrom, Postma and White all played more than 22 minutes, while White leading the team with 24:11 as he tries to earn a contract on the already crowded blueline. Of note, White played primarily on the left side, perhaps foreshadowing a move the LD where the Jets have less depth entering this season.
The grinders saw considerably less ice-time, with the 4th line of Sutter, Olsen, Peluso all seeing less than 10 minutes, with Olsen and Sutter under 7 minutes. Peluso was 3rd last on the team in ice-time with just 8:21 played, not a great sign for a guy expected to start the year with the big club, with minor leagues and junior players like undrafted training camp invite Axel Blomqvist, Jerome Samson and Patrice Cormier all going above 11 minutes last night.
Southpaw G Michael Hutchinson stopped 29 of 32 shots getting the 3rd star of the game. He made a couple of solid saves, but did not necessarily stand out. With an up hill battle already in front of him, after Edward Pasquale's excellent start Saturday in Belleville and Al Montoya's returning status, he did not do enough to throw his hat into the ring as a serious backup contender.
Positives from the game
1. LW/RW Matt Halischuk made a strong case for the 3rd line LW spot with a solid performance. On top of the goal, he was effective on the PK and played with plenty of energy. He is one of the few depth players the Jets have who has a two-way contract so he will need to go above and beyond to make the squad, but he really stood out last night. His speed and energy could be a welcome change to bottom 6 which has ditched slower guys like Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood, but still lacks speed with Chris Thorburn, Eric Tangradi, James Wright, Jim Slater, Anthony Peluso all returning from last year.
2. Young defensemen Jan Kostalek and Brendan Kichton both showed well at their respective strengths. Kostalek played a smart safe game, not making any mistakes on the ice. He was taking the body as well and making nice breakout passes as well as covering for Pardy at times when Pardy's footspeed failed him Not NHL ready, but already looks well ahead of in the same mold of Zach Yuen who was released this year. Kichton made some really nice reads up the ice, and clearly has the skating down pat. However much like prolific scoring defenseman Paul Postma out of WHL, he left something to be desired in his own end and will need time in St. John's to work on it.
3. Ladd, Little, Wheeler were merely going through the motions, yet still managed to control the pace of the game. They were clearly on another level, and working the chemistry back into their game. Passing alot and working on plays, in particular with Enstrom, they looked comfortable and relaxed on the ice at this early stage.
Disappointments from the game
1. D Paul Postma struggled noticeably out there. With a chance to step up (or fall) in the depth chart this year with plenty of competition, Postma left people wanting more last night. He struggled in his own end more than normal, making several poor decisions with the puck. Still had a couple of nice rushes and passes, but really needs to step up his game if he wants to be more than a depth player for the Jets this year. Couple more performances like that he might not even be that.
2. D Adam Pardy came as advertised, struggling to get around the rink. His footspeed was not up to par, in particular when matched against Ottawa veterans. Stumbled at times, and did not do much effectively at all.
3. C Eric O`Dell, the IceCaps leading scorer from last year, came into camp as a dark horse to make the squad, but did not manage to stand out in any significant way this game, despite being in the middle of the second line with Halischuk and Frolik. He is the type of player who does not excel at any one thing, making it harder for him to stand out, however with the crowded bottom 6 he will need to step up going forward if he wants a chance to make the Jets out of camp.