SUNRISE, FL - The way they were going, it was only a matter of time.
When Shawn Matthias and Joel Armia returned to the playing field after long stints on the injury list, they were immediately put back with Adam Lowry, forming a trio that had previously enjoyed success and quickly became one of the Jets' most dependable units up front.
But while they were driving the play offensively and were winning their matchups with a gritty, grind-'em-'out 'possession game,' they struggled to produce where athletes of any kind often grade themselves first - on the score sheet.
That changed on Wednesday, as that line delivered in a big way, setting the tone with the game's first goal en route to a 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers.
Patrik Laine had a goal and an assist, Bryan Little tallied two helpers, and Nikolaj Ehlers chipped in with a single - his eighth in his last eight games - to lead the Jets to their second straight victory.
Connor Hellebuyck was excellent in goal, posting 31 saves in the win.
"It feels really good. It's what we wanted to do on this road trip and we're off to a great start," Little said. "We're getting rewarded offensively for playing the right way. We're not cheating for our chances, we're playing a simple game and we're taking advantage when we do get those chances."
Video: POSTGAME | Bryan Little
Case in point:
Matthias opened the scoring for the Jets with a tip-in at the five-minute mark of the second period. Adam Lowry won the draw back to Paul Postma, who hammered a shot from the left-centre point, finding Matthias at the top of the blue paint for his fifth of the year.
Lowry led all forwards with 17:02 of ice time.
"In order to give Little and Scheifele more offensive zone starts, he's going to go in for pretty much all those faceoffs," said Head Coach Paul Maurice. "That first goal is a faceoff won with a tip to the net, and that's how they're going to score goals. Having them be confident and not just thinking about burning ice time, but defending and scoring goals, has been big or our team."
The Jets padded their lead just 2:21 later as Laine tallied his 21st of the year, which leads all rookies. As the Panthers attempted a breakout, Little forced the issue and stripped the normally sure-handed Michael Matheson, before feeding Laine with a short pass at the bottom of the near circle. The 18-year-old made no mistake - really, did anyone expect otherwise? - going down on one knee and ripping a shot into the open side.
Video: WPG@FLA: Laine snipes goal after steal by Little
"He was really patient and alone in front of the net, and still he passed. That was a good play by him, and it was easy to put it in," Laine said. "It's always nice to score. I've been able to help my team win with those goals, like today, so I'm happy I've been scoring."
Added Little of Laine's offensive contributions: "I was (tempted to shoot), until I knew who I was on the ice with. I was in a pretty good shooting position, too, but I figured if it got to him it was pretty much guaranteed.
"We're not surprised by it anymore. That shot is unbelievable, and some nights he doesn't have that many chances, but he's a guy that only needs one clear shot and he's putting it in the back of the net."
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
Greg McKegg cut the deficit in half with only 1:42 to play in the period. With speed down the right side after Ben Chiarot turned the puck over in the neutral zone, McKegg rifled a shot off the far post and in for his third of the year.
Jaromir Jagr drew the assist - the 1,136th of his illustrious career - and in doing so, takes over sole possession of fifth all-time, surpassing Paul Coffey, in career helpers.
But that was all the offence the Panthers had in them.
Ehlers got the two-goal lead right back with a wicked snipe, bar down, from the circles only 2:46 into the third. Once again, it was Little making it happen with a terrific forecheck, stripping the puck from Matheson for the second time before feeding Ehlers for the one-timer.
Video: WPG@FLA: Ehlers hammers home a nice wrister
"Same thing that happened last night: Quick answers. (We're) not spending too much time on the negative and getting that momentum back in the game," Maurice said. "Just a great battle by Bryan to contain the puck and Niki looks like he's feeling now. Everything that's out on the outside of the post is now on the inside of it. There's a little confidence starting to grow in our team, that our guys can play a simple, fast game and they can make good on the chances they get."
Scheifele rounded out the scoring late in the third he buried the rebound from a Laine chance with a swift backhander in tight.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com