The Winnipeg Jets have finally played their first regular season game—a 5-1 loss in what was a rather underwhelming performance.
It may have been the long introductions of the team to begin the game that shook the Jets out of sync or some other reason, but what is certain is that the expansion team did not bring their best effort for the Winnipeg faithful in attendance.
Yes, it is just the first game of the season, but there are some glaring aspects of the Jets' game that will need to improve if they can hope to enjoy a successful inaugural campaign as the new Winnipeg Jets, years after the previous edition left in '96 for Phoenix.
Three aspects of their game that must be shored up are puck protection, power play, and awareness.
The rest of their game seemed to be fairly solid with no reasons for huge concern, but the three aspects will need to improve if the Jets expect to compete in their strenuous season of travel in the Southeast Division.
One of the biggest aspects of a NHL team's success is its power play ability.
Nik Antropov scored on a delayed penalty in the third, but overall the Jets power play was horrendous, going scoreless on seven power play opportunities throughout the game.
A successful power play is obviously going to take time to come together for this new-look bunch, but the Jets mustered few opportunities on the PP tonight.
Going forward, they will need to better utilize their defence in the power play with the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, and Johnny Oduya on the point with big shots.
In saying this, the Jets need to have a better effort in front of the net. Wide-open shots aren't going to surface that often, and when they do, the team must be clinical in its finishing.
The Jets power play will need to get better as the season progresses or it will be an even longer inaugural year for the franchise.
In the early part of Sunday night’s game against the Canadiens, the Jets' puck protection was very poor.
This is not the same as puck possession, which shows up under time with the puck, but rather carelessness with the puck within the defensive zone and also in the offensive end.
Although the Jets improved in that department as the game grew, their poor management resulted in multiple Montreal goals, including the game's opener by Mike Cammalleri.
In the defensive zone, the Jets were very careless with the puck and struggled to pass it around with enough effectiveness to break out of their own zone.
Two players that were especially careless in their own zone were Dustin Byfuglien and Johnny Oduya, whose mistakes cost the Jets three times, a fact reflected most prominently on the scoreboard.
Offensively, the Jets issue was more a sense of a lack of urgency and protection of the puck, especially in the corners.
There were several incidents where the Jets would attempt to dump the puck and chase, whereupon they would recover the puck in the opposite corner and...immediately lose possession.
Evander Kane and Mark Scheifele were guilty of turning the puck over several times. You cannot score goals when you cannot keep the puck in the offensive zone. Though the Jets improved over the course of the game, it still happened far too often, and prevented Winnipeg from mounting any real momentum.
The Jets' worst aspect on the night was probably their awareness—or plain lack thereof.
There were several occasions during Sunday night's game where players flat out were not aware of where the puck was on the ice. That's inexcusable.
At one point Jets captain Andrew Ladd got hit in the back by a puck on a pass-up ice because he wasn't paying attention.
The Jets' lack of awareness is what ultimately cost them the game.
Too often were odd man rushes up ice by the Habs because a Jets player wasn't aware of a Canadiens player sneaking behind them or that a pinch from the defense was not going to work. The Jets' lack of awareness was inextricably linked—and unbelievably so—to a lack of effort.
On the Canadiens' fourth and fifth goals, defensemen Ron Hainsey and Dustin Byfuglien both lost the puck and failed to get back before Travis Moen and Max Paciorretty potted the puck into the back of the net.
For a team that prides itself on its blue-collar, hard-working line up, the Jets did not appear to be working all that hard after turnovers against Montreal.
A lack of awareness inevitably leads to turnovers, which usually means penalties or goals. That certainly was not the way the Jets needed—or wanted—to start their season.
With all of this being said, fans would do well to remember that this was only the Winnipeg Jets first NHL game since being reformed.
They are a young team that has a lot of learning to do, but they are also a team that was formed just three months ago, and one than requires adequate time to find chemistry.
All teams have their issues at the beginning of a season, and the power play, protection of the puck, and awareness are just some of the problems within the side that need to be addressed.
We can expect they will improve all of these aspects of their game over the course of the 2011-12 season, but don't have high hopes for their success in their first year. It's rarely the case with struggling, relocated teams.
Several factors—including an exhausting travel schedule in order to play within the Southeast Division—will certainly add travel lag to what was always going to be a tough year, but the Jets will eventually hit their stride.
It was a rude welcome back to the NHL for this young Jets team, but we are all happy to have the NHL back in Winnipeg.