NEWARK, New Jersey – “Relentless.”
Complete with a hashtag, appearing on almost every inch of the rink’s digital signage, it’s the rallying cry for the home team this year at Prudential Center. But the Winnipeg Jets were the more determined of the two Friday, spoiling the Devils’ home opener with a 3-1 win – their second in as many nights to christen the new campaign.
Michael Hutchinson made 20 saves, while Blake Wheeler, Mathieu Perreault and Andrew Ladd all recorded multi-point nights.
“Because we were able to score six last night and use the whole bench, I think we had a better chance of being better tonight than they did,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said of the back-to-back situation. “It’s one of the small times of the year where on a back-to-back, you have a slight advantage. You’re not running you’re bench into the ground, everybody’s strong and fresh…
“It was a better game for us. There are still lots to work on and nothing to really get overly excited about, but winning’s good in this league.
“We were a better hockey team tonight than we were yesterday.”
Shots on goal favoured the Jets 11-4 after one period of play.
Former Jet Lee Stempniak had one of the best chances of the period, racing in alone after forcing a turnover in the neutral zone, but a strong defensive effort from Nikolaj Ehlers nullified the play.
Ehlers had the best offensive opportunity for the Jets, leading a 2-on-1 rush with Mathieu Perreault late in the period. Looking off a trailing Dustin Byfuglien, the rookie fired a quick shot from the bottom of the circle, but Schneider wasn’t fooled, hugging his post and making a critical save in tight.
The Jets had a total of seven scoring chances in the period. It was on their eighth when the ice was broken, tilting the game for good.
Picking up a drop pass from Ehlers, Mark Scheifele wired a wicked shot top shelf on Schneider, putting the visitors up by one, 73 seconds into the middle frame.
The assist was Ehlers’ first NHL point.
“It felt pretty good,” the rookie said with a smile. “As soon as the puck went in, I went to Scheif and started yelling. I was excited. It’s one point, my first point, so it feels good but there’s a new game on Monday.
“I’m comfortable with the way I’ve been playing, pre-season and regular season — but there’s still a long way [to go] for me. But I feel very good. I’m looking forward to the next game.”
When asked about Scheifele’s hot hand, Maurice said it’s a product of his development over the past few years.
“We felt over the last couple years that Mark was a guy that… boy he’d hit a lot of posts. You’re hoping he’s getting that confidence. We saw halfway through the year (last year) and we were hoping he’d start getting those shots. He is. He’s getting it off his stick as fast as I’ve ever seen and that seems to be translating to some breaks.”
The Jets extended the lead to two at 3:56. From a similar spot on the ice, Wheeler sent a powerful wrister into the corner of the cage, skyrocketing it past the glove of the goaltender as rubber met iron, the ice and the twine, all in an instant – a goal-scorer’s goal if there ever was one.
The Devils made a game of it with a power-play goal 12:53 – scored by a familiar face, Jiri Tlusty – but the Jets got it right back, answering back with a man-advantage marker of their own. Perreault dished off to Ladd, who launched a one-timer into the open side for his first of the year, a minute and 15 seconds into a Stephen Gionta slashing penalty.
The Jets were outshooting the Devils 23-11 after 40 minutes.
“When they make it 2-1, they get some momentum, the crowd gets going. We needed to answer back in some way,” Ladd said. “He’s got eyes everywhere. He’s an underrated player for us and he does a lot of special things offensively.
“Getting out on the road you want to string some wins together and have some fun. Our first game, I don’t think we liked our full effort. But I thought we did a lot better tonight.
The Jets continue their season-opening four-game road trip on Monday night at the newly minted home of the New York Islanders, the Barclays Center.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com