WINNIPEG – Needed it. Got it.
Now that was a response – a dominant performance worthy of Broadway.
Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little combined for seven points as the Winnipeg Jets finished off their pre-holiday home schedule with a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers.
“It was close to one of those ‘elite’ games offensively,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “I think we’ve actually played some better games, in a sense, in terms of the opponent being fresh and ready, and not having a good result.
“But we had a lot of real good offence tonight, for sure.”
Little scored twice on the Jets’ first five shots of the game, tying him with Mark Scheifele for the team lead with 12 goals on the year.
The beneficiary of a great feed in front, Little undressed Henrik Lundqvist with a clever curl move, drawing first blood at 5:03. He then put the Jets up by two with a beautiful tip at the bottom of the circle, sending the Wheeler pass high and in off and the upper back bar. Play continued, but the replay soon confirmed what more than 15,000 – plus Little – knew right away.
No. 18 came within inches of the hat trick midway through the third when he found himself alone in the slot, but his wrister sailed wide.
“I thought we were ready to play from the drop of the puck,” Little said. “We were quicker all over the ice and though we gave up a power play goal, we were a lot more aggressive and were pressuring them a lot more.
“Everything we wanted to do better we did tonight.
“We could have easily had a few more,” he added, crediting Henrik Lundqvist for a strong, 31-save outing.
The Blueshirts made a game of it with 5:59 left in the first as the puck squeezed through Connor Hellebuyck and was effortlessly finished off by J.T. Miller in tight.
But the Jets – who finished the first leading the Rangers 13-8 on the shot clock – restored the two-goal lead three-and-a-half minutes later. Scheifele won the o-zone draw straight back to Byfuglien, who gunned a 45-foot slap shot off the far post and in, giving the big man nine on the year.
Scheifele had a glorious chance to widen the gap even further, but his breakaway try midway through the second period was blockered aside by Lundqvist.
It truly was a missed opportunity, as within minutes of the save the Rangers pulled to within one. With Andrew Ladd off serving an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Dan Boyle buried the backdoor pass from Ryan McDonagh at 14:13.
While it stood as another power-play goal given up – an area the Jets focused immensely on this week at practice – the Jets were pleased with what the PK produced on this night.
“If you’re going to give one up, that’s how it should look,” Maurice said, noting that the Jets covered it well, but an unfortunate bounce led to the goal.
“It feels good. We focused a lot on our PK this week and I thought it was exactly where we wanted it to be,” Myers said. “We were really proud of that.”
It was the last shot to beat Hellebuyck, who finished with 26 saves for his fifth win his seven starts.
The Jets needed a response and they got it in the way of a 6-foot-8, 229-pound defenceman. Walking in from the right point, Myers rifled a shot bar down to once again put the Jets up by a pair.
Andrew Ladd sealed it with an empty-netter at 18:59.
“In our last 14 games, we’ve played one I didn’t like. Didn’t like the Washington game – and they had something to do with it, they were pretty good that night,” Maurice said. “I don’t like the outcome some nights, but there’s a lot to like in a big bulk of our games.”
LATE HITS: Chris Thorburn became the new franchise leader in games played by dressing in his 595th game as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers/Jets. … Meanwhile, Joel Armia played his first game as a member of the Jets, playing over 10 minutes alongside Andrew Copp and Matt Halischuk.
“I liked the way they played,” Maurice said of the fourth line. “Joel Armia did what we had hoped he would do. His hands skills aren’t in question. But he was on the puck and he was aggressive with his game. That was real exciting for us to see. … Matt Halischuk was fantastic.”
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com