WINNIPEG – The San Jose Sharks taught the Winnipeg Jets that home ice is not the panacea for every ailment.
Two nights after a sloppy shootout loss at Minnesota that left coach Todd McLellan irritated, the Sharks bounced back with methodical 2-0 win against the Jets before 15,004 at the MTS Centre on Thursday night.
"Maybe more importantly, the players that we challenged yesterday for the lack of preparation against Minnesota, maybe, they responded very well tonight," McLellan said of the Sharks' effort.
"It was very much a team game," McLellan continued. "It was a night where we felt like we had control basically all the way. There was very little panic. When you're playing that way, you're usually doing a lot of good things."
San Jose's Antti Niemi, making his 16th start in 17 games, stopped all 24 shots he faced and earned his second shutout of the season.
"Both teams played a very defensive game," Niemi said, "and there weren't too many scoring chances."
San Jose (24-11-5) rebounded from Tuesday's 5-4 shootout loss against Minnesota to earn at least a point for the 13th time in 14 games. The Sharks' four-game trip continues Saturday in Columbus. The Pacific Division-leading Sharks moved within two points of second-place St. Louis in the West and stayed four points behind the Canucks, who sit atop the conference.
The Jets (20-18-5) returned to Winnipeg on Wednesday after a 1-3-0 trip to start January -- a road swing that followed a 10-3-1 December during which they were 9-2-1 at home. Fourteen of the Jets wins have come at home, and they squandered one of only four dates at MTS Centre this month. A visit from the rested New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon will precede a run of eight of 10 games away from Winnipeg. The loss left the Jets stalled in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
After more than 33 minutes of scoreless hockey, San Jose finally cracked Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Brent Burns pushed past defenseman Ron Hainsey coming down the left boards inside the Winnipeg zone. Scooting to the goal line, Burns then zipped a pass into the slot for Logan Couture, who moved around Tobias Enstrom and punched a shot past Pavelec at 13:36 for a 1-0 lead.
"We didn't cheat to score," McLellan said. "We bought our time and were patient. We broke them down and eventually scored."
Couture's team-leading 18th goal has him on pace to surpass his rookie total of 32 that set a franchise record last season. Couture, named earlier in the day as a participant in the NHL All-Star game, also went 12-4 on draws, helping the Sharks to a 38-20 margin in the faceoff circle.
"Up and down the lineup, it was good," Couture said. [On Tuesday] we let them get into the slot more in front of [Niemi] and after whistles [Minnesota was] banging away. I think tonight we protected him pretty well."
Once the Sharks took the lead, the Jets found themselves in the difficult position of having to play a come-from-behind game -- and that led to them straying from coach Claude Noel's game plan.
"They make you earn every inch of ice," Noel said of the Sharks. "We made some plays in the game that were too [cute]. You can see those, and you can't play that way. This game was going to be a down-and-dirty game, and if we were going to get a goal, it was going to be a greasy goal just battling."
The Sharks' fourth line chipped in an insurance goal at the start of the third period. Andrew Murray, a native of nearby Selkirk, Man., controlled the puck behind the Winnipeg net before feeding a pass to Andrew Desjardins at the right of the net. Desjardins quickly re-directed the puck into the slot, where Brad Winchester shoved it behind Pavelec at 2:33.
With Winchester's goal, the Jets have been outscored 10-1 in the third period during their past five games.
"I think it's just getting in line with the game plan," captain Andrew Ladd explained of what the Jets need to do to avoid the same sort of second-half collapse that doomed them last season.
"It's laid out for us every night," Ladd continued. "We have to follow that. We can't be on a personal game plan and do what we feel is best. We've got to be on the same page, everyone and everyone working together being to be successful here."
Winnipeg wasted another strong effort by Pavelec, whose 35 stops helped the Jets stay close. But the Jets were shut out for the second time in their past four games and the fifth time this season.
"There's no excuse in this League," Pavelec said of the Jets' struggles to score. "We have to figure out what we have to do and be ready by the next time. We didn't deserve to win."
Once the Sharks had a two-goal lead, the Jets struggled to remain in the game. Winnipeg's 27 third-period goals tie them for last in the League with the New York Islanders. Without the big shots of injured defensemen Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien at the points, the Jets struggled to generate any sort of consistent offensive zone pressure on Niemi. On the rare occasions in which the Jets were able to penetrate offensively, the Sharks quickly cleared out the area in front of Niemi.
"Blocked shots, finished checks, faceoffs, loose-puck races, things you need to do to win games, I thought we did very well," McLellan said.