WINNIPEG -- Score one for the current version of the Winnipeg Jets over the one that left town 15 years ago.
Bryan Little's first-period goal gave the Jets a 1-0 win Thursday at the MTS Centre in a game that marked the return of the original Winnipeg franchise to the city 15 years after it left for Phoenix.
The sellout crowd of 15,004 booed the team that used to play in Winnipeg and went home happy after the new Jets beat the relocated ones for only the second time in 16 lifetime meetings.
"I think we wanted to get this win for the fans," Little said. "You know and hopefully create a bit of a rivalry with them and I think it was an exciting game to be a part of and I think the fans enjoyed it."
Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, starting for the 16th time in 17 games, stopped all 33 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season. The Coyotes nearly tied the game with just under two minutes left in regulation, but a bouncing puck that appeared headed into the net bounced right and slid just past the post. (WATCH HERE)
"I didn't feel I helped the team to win the last game," Pavelec said of a 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, "so it was a great to have a chance to be back in the net and bounce back. Without those guys I couldn't do it."
Both coaches anticipated a low-scoring game, and they were correct. The Jets scored before the game was seven minutes old and then clamped down on the Phoenix attack.
"As far as an overall 60-minute game, I think this is one of the better games we've played," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I was real happy with the game. I thought we managed the game well."
The Coyotes also anticipated that the Jets would come out quickly in front of another rambunctious Winnipeg crowd but failed to contain the home club early.
"We knew they were going to come out hard," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said, "and in the first 10 minutes we just kept turning over the puck and feeding their fire."
Phoenix came into the game with a League-low 8.2 penalty minutes per game. Noel was pleased that his team matched the Coyotes' discipline -- the Jets allowed only two power plays, a season low.
"To me," Noel said, "what I really enjoyed is that we recognized the opponent, we recognized what we had to do win the game and then we just followed the game plan."
The current Jets, who moved to Winnipeg from Atlanta during the summer, had won just once in the franchises' 15 meetings -- a 1-0 decision at Atlanta on Nov. 23, 2003. The Coyotes won 4-1 in Glendale, Ariz., on Oct. 15.
The win, Winnipeg's first against a Western Conference opponent in four tries this season, snapped a two-game losing streak and redeemed the home club for an error-plagued performance two nights earlier in the 4 loss to Ottawa.
Mike Smith, Phoenix's workhorse netminder, appeared for the 20th time in 24 games and stopped 30 shots. He held the Coyotes in the game midway through the third period by stopping Chris Thorburn's chance off a David Schlemko turnover and then denying Evander Kane, Winnipeg's leading goal-scorer.
The loss marked only the fourth regulation defeat for the Coyotes away from Phoenix in 12 games this season, and the second time the Coyotes have been shut out this season.
For Phoenix, of course, the contest marked the return of the original Jets 15 years after they left Winnipeg. The Coyotes expected a hostile environment, and the full house at the MTS Centre obliged with hearty booing throughout the night. The Jets fed off the crowd as they have done many times in this season in picking up their sixth home win in 10 tries.
"It was a fun to be a part of game like that," Little said. "I think the crowd was really into it."
Jets fans greeted the Coyotes' entrance onto the ice with resounding boos and jeered each Phoenix touch of the puck well into the third period. Phoenix captain Shane Doan, the only original Winnipeg Jet still with the franchise, received a standing ovation from the pro-Winnipeg crowd when the video board highlighted him during a first-period television timeout.
Once the opening butterflies and awkwardness subsided, Winnipeg got the game's only goal when Little scored 6:53 after the opening faceoff -- his fourth goal in six games. Little accompanied Kane on a 2-on-1 rush and headed to the net to tuck the rebound of Kane's post-clanging shot behind Smith. Kane's assist pushed his points streak to four games.
"We gave it away in the first 10 minutes," said Doan, whose turnover led to the goal. "We're a lot better team than we played in the first 10. That goal was a direct gift from me. I turned the puck over at the blue line and they went in and scored."
After the first period, Phoenix went to work and fired 16 shots on net in the second period. But they managed just six shots in the third period and only three during their two power plays.
"We didn't make any plays," Tippett said. "We didn't get the one we needed to get back into the game."
Shutting down Phoenix in the final 20 minutes marked a welcome change for the Jets after they surrendered three third-period goals to Ottawa in the loss on Tuesday night.
"That's something we‘ve been trying to work on -- finishing teams off and having a good third period, " Little said, "and we did exactly that tonight."