-- The last place the struggling Carolina Hurricanes
needed to be Friday night was the cozy MTS Centre, which the Winnipeg Jets
are turning into one of the NHL's toughest stops for visiting teams.
The 'Canes were without leading scorer Jeff Skinner
, who missed his first NHL game with what the team described as flu-like symptoms, and defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens for blueliner Jaroslav Spacek
earlier in the day.
Few of the 15,004 fans who packed the arena cared about the Hurricanes' problems -- and neither did the Jets, who scored twice in the opening 5:04, buried Cam Ward
under 19 first-period shots and skated off with a 4-2 victory that kept the 'Canes from winning consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 20-21.
Carolina (9-18-4) is last in the Eastern Conference and 1-7-1 in its last nine games, with the only victory a 5-3 win in Edmonton on Wednesday. The 'Canes are 1-5-0 since Kirk Muller replaced Paul Maurice behind the bench on Nov. 28 and have lost seven of their last eight games in regulation.
Muller admitted that his club is still battling a fragile mindset and contending with details in their game -- and having to dig out of an early hole didn't help.
"We've got to learn from it," Muller said of his team's first period. "We've got to come out better.
"Playing in this League," Muller continued, "there's a very thin margin [between] wins and losses. That's what the guys have to learn -- that the details of the game are very important. I don't think that we came out with the same bite in our game that we did in Edmonton."
One of the few positive notes for Carolina was that Spacek was able to make it to Winnipeg in time to play -- and contributed a pair of assists. He hadn't suited up since Nov. 14, but dressed due to injuries to Joni Pitkanen
and Jay Harrison
"It was crazy all day," Spacek said after playing 19:15 for his new team.
Meanwhile, the Jets (13-11-4) are soaring, with four straight wins heading into Saturday's visit to Detroit. They've beaten Carolina three times this season, have won seven of their last eight in their new home and are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games.
"I thought we were prepared to play from the onset of the game," coach Claude Noel said of taking a two-goal lead in just over five minutes.
Winnipeg then used power-play goals from Tim Stapleton and Bryan Little 1:12 apart midway through the second period to blow open the game and chase Ward, whose night ended with four goals allowed on 30 shots. Rookie Mike Murphy mopped up in only his second NHL game and stopped all seven shots he faced.
Little extended his point streak to five games for the Jets, who also received goals from Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane to go with Blake Wheeler's three assists.
The Jets' top line of Kane, Little and Wheeler has fueled their recent run. In the past 10 games Wheeler has two goals and 11 points, while Little has seven goals and 13 points. Kane has posted 10 goals and 14 points in his last 11 outings.
Goaltender Chris Mason
improved to 3-2-0 this season and beat the Hurricanes for third time in as many tries this season by stopping 23 of 25 shots. Rookie defenseman Justin Faulk
broke up Mason's shutout bid at 8:24 of the third period with his first NHL goal before Brandon Sutter
added a power-play goal at 12:13, but Carolina could not close the gap.
"That's obviously not the start we wanted, not the first period we wanted," Sutter said. "We tried to stay up, but the first period is not what we wanted."
Carolina found itself playing catch-up hockey early when Byfuglien circled to the end boards before centering a pass into the slot that glanced off Ward's right leg and trickled into the net 34 seconds after the opening faceoff.
The Jets made it 2-0 at 5:04 when Kane, flung a shot from just off the left boards through a cluster of players in front of Ward. The shot eluded Ward's left glove and beat him to the far side. Kane has tormented Carolina goaltenders this season, notching three goals in the teams' three meetings so far.
"It's the old saying: 'Catch-up hockey is losing hockey,'" Muller said of his team's early deficit.
Winnipeg's 19 shots in the first period were a season-high. The Jets have been deadly in first periods this season, scoring 33 of their goals this season in the opening 20 minutes, second to only the Philadelphia Flyers.
Mason wasn't tested often during the first half of the game but kept the 'Canes off the board late in the first period by going cross-crease to stop Jamie McBain's booming left-circle shot on Carolina's first power play. He then stopped Anthony Stewart on a breakaway and Pat Dwyer on a shorthanded bid in the first two minutes of the second period.
"I think we're starting to understand what makes us successful and understand the right way to play hockey," Mason said. "Personally, it feels great. You don't play, you don't get the ice time on a constant basis, you always have to deal with those jitters and little pregame butterflies and things like that. Once you get in the game, they usually disappear. It's good to have good starts when you haven't played a while."
The Jets made it 3-0 during a 4-on-3 power play when Stapleton came out from the right side to the top of the circles and cranked a shot past Ward at 10:16. Little chased Ward just 72 seconds later when he flicked a shot over the goaltender's right shoulder for a 4-0 lead.
Holding leads has been a trouble spot for the Jets this season, and it has been a message stressed to Noel's charges of late.
"Something we've talked about is closing out teams," Stapleton said. "I think we did a pretty good job."
The Hurricanes now have the first respite in the schedule since Muller took over behind the bench -- they are off until Tuesday night in Toronto. The break will give him a chance to do some teaching.
"Some of the young kids, it's a process of learning," Muller said. "That's what we're doing here. Every day we've got to learn and take something from it. We've got to continue to work on stuff."