It looked like a mismatch on paper, with the Winnipeg Jets dressing a more talented and experienced roster than the visiting Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, but it ended up being a lot closer on the ice, with the home team skating away with a tougher-than-expected 5-3 victory at Canada Life Centre.
On a night when big guns such as Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler were all in the lineup, who had predicted Daniel Torgersson would play the unlikely role of scoring star? The 20-year-old Swedish forward potted a pair of goals and was named the game’s first star. Mikey Eyssimont and Ville Heinola, both on the power play, also scored, while Connor had a late tally to go with two assists.
Cole Reinhardt, Tyler Motte and Shane Pinto scored for the Senators.
Connor Hellebuyck went the distance in goal, stopping 24 of 27 shots. Winnipeg is now 1-1-0 in the pre-season after dropping Sunday’s opener in Edmonton 4-0. They have four dress rehearsals remaining.
Here’s some news, notes and analysis on what went down:
1) Jets coach Rick Bowness wasn’t impressed by a couple of things he noticed Tuesday from some of his most experienced players: Lengthy shifts, and turnovers that resulted. They’re a result of some bad habits that have obviously crept in around here, he said.
“The veterans can’t be the issue. We’ve got to fix the veterans and they’ve got to be leading the way showing the kids how to play the right way. So that’s going to be our job. We have a lot of work to do,” Bowness said in some candid post-game comments.
2) Bowness also felt his team looked slow, especially during the first two periods. He wants Winnipeg to be a fast, aggressive team this season.
“I’ll never complain about a win, but listen, there’s a lot of work to be done here. I thought we started to skate better in the third… but no I’m not happy with it at all. For a lot of guys, that was their first game but that being said, we have to play a lot faster than that. Take out the Xs and Os and everything, if you want to stay out there for 55 seconds and you’re going to turn pucks over, you’re going to play very, very slow, which we did,” he said.
3) There hasn’t been a lot of talk about Torgersson, at least when it comes to making the big club this season, but that’s going to change if the 2020 second-round pick (40th overall) keeps playing like this. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, the puck following him around all night, and he was justly rewarded. He nearly completed the hat trick, hitting the post in the third. Torgersson joined the Manitoba Moose late last year after coming over from Sweden, and scored two goals (and an assist) in four regular-season AHL games. He also helped Sweden win a bronze medal last month at the delayed World Juniors in Edmonton, scoring twice in seven games. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder has plenty of tools that make him an intriguing prospect.
“It was one of the better days in Winnipeg so far,” Torgersson said of his big night. “You always want to play in the NHL. When you get the opportunity you need to take it. I’m always doing my hardest work and I’ll just keep working.”
4) The Jets put in some power play work during Tuesday’s morning skate, the first time they’ve done so in training camp. And the early returns were promising, going 2-for-3 on the night. The top unit of Scheifele, Connor, Ehlers, Eyssimont and Josh Morrissey struck for the first goal, with Eyssimont deflecting a Connor one-timer off a great cross-ice pass from Morrissey. Expect to see Pierre-Luc Dubois, who didn’t play Tuesday, take Eyssimont’s net-front spot once the regular season begins.
The second unit, of Wheeler, Adam Lowry, Cole Perfetti, Neal Pionk and Heinola, might be what you see when the games start to count (Nate Schmidt could possibly bump Heinola), but the young Finnish defenceman made a strong case to remain there when he rushed the net and converted a Lowry pass for Winnipeg’s fourth goal. No doubt that felt good, considering an ill-timed Heinola pinch earlier in the period led to an Ottawa three-on-one rush that ended in a goal.
5) The penalty kill went a perfect 2-for-2 against a Senators squad lacking much offensive punch. It was interesting to see both Scheifele and Wheeler used while shorthanded. “We didn’t have a lot of natural penalty killers in our lineup tonight, so you throw out guys that maybe aren’t used to doing it,” said Bowness.
6) It was odd to see Wheeler out there without a letter on his sweater, as he played his first game since being stripped of the captaincy. Scheifele and Morrissey, who were alternates last year and will retain that status this season, were joined by Lowry on Tuesday who also wore an A. (NHL rules dictate teams must have three designated players per game). Dubois, Mason Appleton and Dylan DeMelo wore letters on Sunday in Edmonton. Bowness plans to expand the leadership group this year, but it’s not clear how many other players will officially join Scheifele and Morrissey as alternates.
7) There’s been plenty of ink spilled about the number of empty seats in the rink last season, with the Jets failing to sell out a single game and making a major push this summer to try and win back some lost fans. Tuesday’s crowd was announced at 13,191, which isn’t too shabby considering the low-stakes of the game.
8) Montreal’s loss continues to be Winnipeg’s gain when it comes to the broadcasting department. Just days after Dan Robertson was unveiled as the Jets new play-by-play voice for TSN TV broadcasts, John Lu has been hired to join him as the on-air host. They fill the big shoes left by Dennis Beyak (retired) and Sara Orlesky (hired by the Jets). Robertson had been calling Habs games for TSN radio in Montreal, while Lu (a Winnipeg product) was the Montreal-based reporter.
9) There are 47 players still in camp, and only a few who have yet to dress for a pre-season game. Forwards Sam Gagner, Evan Polei, Cole Maier, Nick Jones, Morgan Barron, Brad Lambert and Wyatt Bongiovanni; defencemen Nate Schmidt, Ashton Sautner and Tyrel Bauer; and goaltender Mikhail Berdin. Of those, Barron, Lambert and Bongiovanni are currently nursing minor injuries.
10) The Jets return to training camp practices on Wednesday (11 a.m. and 1 p.m.) at Bell MTS Iceplex. Bowness expects to bring a more inexperienced team to Montreal for Thursday night’s game, which could represent a last chance to impress, at least for now, for several players on the bubble.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.