WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets needed a grade to feel good about. A “payoff,” as Head Coach Paul Maurice put it, for the swath of hard work in the days, weeks and games that preceded Friday’s tilt
at MTS Centre.
They got it.
Rather, they earned it.
It was one of their best games of the season – an altogether dominant display resulting in a 5-2 triumph over the sputtering New York Rangers.
Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little combined for seven points on the night, with the latter scoring twice on the Jets’ first five shots of the night before an assist late in the second period.
Wheeler, meanwhile, recorded four helpers, giving him 33 points on the year and a share of seventh in league scoring with St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau.
“The majority of the games you’re fighting tooth and nail to get anything going,” the winger said, “and then once in a while you’ll get them to go early, you’ll feel good about it, the game slows
down and things seem to be clicking on all cylinders.
“When you have nights like that you want to take advantage of it. You want to capitalize on as many chances as you can because they don’t happen very often.”
For Little, it was his 10th multi-point effort of the season, putting him just two off the league lead in that category currently paced by an all-Central Division trio (Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin).
“His job never changes, right? He plays against the other teams’ best and he’s conscious of that,” Maurice said. “When the other teams’ first line is on, there’s just not going to be many
(offensive) chances, as is the case with Bryan’s line. If they’re off, they take advantage of it.”
Did they ever. The Rangers’ top line of Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello finished the night a combined -11, while mustering a measly five scoring chances.
Little had that many on his own.
“Confidence has a lot to do with it,” he said. “I don’t know if you’ve heard of the term ‘goal legs,’ but after you score it seems like you find another gear; you get your confidence going and you feel good out there. You always try to be a consistent player, but sometimes when things go well early in the game, you know you’re going to have a good night.”
Little’s two goals have tied him with Mark Scheifele for the team lead with 12. And in doing so, he helped his team bag a gargantuan two points in the standings.
Entering play Friday, the Jets were six points out of a Western Conference Wild Card playoff spot. They’re now only four back with 50 games left on the schedule. While it’s early to be focusing too
intently on that, the importance of Friday’s win – and the fashion in which it was claimed –
cannot be understated.
“We’re going to be in an awful lot of tight games the rest of the year,” Maurice said, expanding on an earlier comment in which he identified only one game in their past 14 that didn’t live up to the effort and execution he expects. “We’re going to play well and lose some and we’re going to be off some nights and win some of those games. Based on where we are and the job that’s ahead of us, we’re going to win more than we lose, but I don’t feel we allow that to creep into our preparation. We certainly don’t win the game and say, ‘Hey, we’ll take it’ or be casual about our preparation
The Jets held an off-ice workout today but will be back on the ice for practice tomorrow before hitting the road for a pair beginning Monday in Edmonton.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com