COLUMBUS, Ohio – Head Coach Paul Maurice and the Winnipeg Jets expected a battle from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and that’s exactly what they got Saturday at Nationwide Arena.
Despite their now 2-10 record, the Jackets – by consensus in the visiting locker room – were far too talented, too “deep” not to be a contender in the Metro Division.
The Jets weren’t about to take them lightly.
And they didn’t.
Andrew Copp scored his first NHL goal, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler added the others, and Ondrej Pavelec made 19 saves in a 3-2 road victory.
With the win, the Jets improve to 7-3-1 on the year.
Little came into the night tied for third in the NHL with four multi-point games. With a goal and assist tonight, he now has five.
Brandon Saad and Scott Hartnell scored for the Jackets.
The Jets opened the scoring early as Little – fresh off the bench – took a 35-foot feed from Wheeler and stepped into a shot from the top of the far circle, rattling the back bar (with authority) for his fifth of the year.
The visitors took a 2-0 lead at 6:45 as Copp did everything right in the offensive zone. After winning the draw, the Michigan product made a beeline for the net, where he buried a backboard rebound under the arm of the goaltender, giving him a moment he’ll never forget.
“It’s been a bit of a long time coming but it’s a great place for me to do it with my parents, my grandparents [in attendance] and a couple buddies down here, too,” Copp said. “I just put her home. It’s a play we’ve talked about and fortunately it worked out. It’s a pretty good feeling.
“We’ve been talking about having good starts and I thought we had another good one tonight. We were playing with a lot of confidence, especially in the offensive zone. We got pucks behind their D which was our game plan coming in.”
It took almost 10 minutes for the Blues Jackets to record their first shot on goal.
The Jackets cut the deficit to one with a goal just two seconds after an Anthony Peluso boarding penalty expired. Walking in from the half wall, Brandon Dubinsky fed Saad with a beautiful pass in the blue paint, setting up an effortless redirection around Pavelec’s right pad.
“I watched that game (Columbus vs. Washington) very closely last night and they played a great game and I think they spent a lot of energy in it, so we were able to come out and get on them early,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We would have liked a few more pucks to the net, but we had a lot of offensive zone time. … The bench was really good. They were talking, even at 3-2.
“It’s growth, some confidence for us.”
The Jets got right back to work offensively, though, and reestablished the two-goal lead with a power-play marker at 16:59. With a clear lane to the net, Wheeler walked from the top of the circle and fired a shot low, glove side on Sergei Bobrovsky.
“It was huge,” Little said of the quick start. “We wanted to come out hard tonight and set the tone for the game. It was nice to score a few in the first period and get the confidence for the whole team going.”
Shots on goal favoured the Jets 11-4 after one period of play. Curtis McElhinney came on in relief of Bobrovsky at this point, finishing with 16 saves.
Peluso and Jared Boll went toe-to-toe midway through the second, with the Jets forward earning an easy decision after landing several bombs throughout the near-minute long tilt.
Peluso added an assist and was within an inch of the Gordie Howe Hat Trick early in the third period.
Pavelec wasn’t overly busy, but he was great when called upon. Shortly after the scrap, he made a terrific save off Boone Jenner, who was in alone looking to finish off the feed from Matt Calvert.
The Jets locked it down in the third, but it wasn’t without its moments – including a four-minute Jackets power play when Mark Stuart was flagged for high sticking.
It was a textbook penalty kill.
“We were trying to deny entry as much as we could,” defenceman Jacob Trouba said. “(Stuart) has come up with a lot of big kills for us, so it was good to see that we could pick him up there.”
Hartnell made it interesting, scoring with just over a minute to play, but the Jets took care of business down the stretch.
The Jets are back in action tomorrow night against the league-leading Montreal Canadiens. Puck drop is at 6:00pm CT at the Bell Centre and you can catch it live on Sportsnet.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com