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Jets spoil opening night for Coyotes

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The rechristened Arizona Coyotes brought in famed ring announcer Michael Buffer to pump up the sellout crowd of 17,125 at the newly renamed Gila River Arena for their season opener against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.

Instead, Winnipeg's 1-2 punch of Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little needed less than 15 minutes to provide an early knockout. Wheeler scored twice in 15 seconds during a four-goal first period and Little had two goals to help the Jets hammer the Coyotes 6-2.

Little and Mark Stuart also scored in the first 14:11 for Winnipeg, which won all three games against the then-Phoenix Coyotes last season and has beaten them five times in a row overall. Wheeler also had an assist and set the tone for the Jets with a strong effort.

"I think we were aggressive in the first period, created some turnovers for ourselves and got some pucks to the net," said Wheeler, who was taken by the Coyotes with the fifth pick in the 2004 NHL Draft but refused to sign with the organization.

"We got some good bounces for us tonight and I think our confidence will build from there."

Goalie Ondrej Pavelec made 26 saves for the Jets, who won despite losing forward Evander Kane to a lower-body injury in the first period. Kane collided with teammate Mark Scheifele and fell to the ice clutching his right knee. He skated one short shift before leaving for good.

"It's a lower body and we'll find out a lot more tomorrow," Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. "He's going to have to see the doctors and I'm not going to speculate. He was moving after [the game] so that's a positive. We'll see."

Mikkel Boedker and Martin Hanzal scored for Arizona. The Coyotes had been 7-1-0 in when starting the season at home since moving to Arizona in 1996, but goaltender Mike Smith struggled from the start and his teammates weren't much help.

"We need better goaltending; it's as simple as that. I think Smitty would tell you that straight out himself," Arizona coach Dave Tippett said. "There was lots [of trouble] in front of him too. We had too many errors with the puck and too little discipline."

Winnipeg had 16 shots in the first period and used its speed advantage to put the Coyotes on their heels. Arizona took seven of the 11 penalties in the first 20 minutes and seemed to be a step behind.

"We came out exactly how we wanted to," Little said. "We shot the puck a lot and we got the lead and it set the tone for the game.

Seven minutes into the game, Jets captain Andrew Ladd scooped up a turnover by Joe Vitale, went in 2-on-1 and fed Little for a wrist shot that beat Smith over the glove.

The Coyotes answered 38 seconds later when Shane Doan set up Boedker from behind the net, and Boedker, who had had 19 goals last season, picked the top corner to tie the game.

"We got back to 1-1 and I thought we were OK," Tippett said. "Then and we gave up a couple of quick ones and we were chasing the game."

Actually, they were chasing Wheeler.

Fifty-five seconds after Boedker's goal, Wheeler pulled a puck off the half boards and threw it toward the net. The shot fooled Smith and slid into the net at 8:33 to put the Jets ahead to stay.

Wheeler, who led the Jets last season with 28 goals, needed only 15 seconds to score again. Dustin Byfuglien tipped a faceoff back to Zach Bogosian for a shot from the point. Wheeler got a stick on the drive, tipped it past Smith and the rout was on.

"Blake is just a big powerful man," Maurice said. "He gets up and down that ice with so much speed … and I think he's started to really settle into his game. Going back to last year, he has a really good understanding of what makes him good and he just does that."

The Jets made it 4-1 when Smith failed to close off the near post and Stuart squeezed an innocent-looking shot between pad and post at 14:11. The Coyotes allowed four goals in a period twice all of last season.

"I never got comfortable. Never felt good on my feet, never felt comfortable in the net," Smith said. "But you have to find a way to make saves when you're not feeling your best."

Smith said he looked up at the scoreboard and thought back to the 2011-12 season opener, when he allowed six early goals to the San Jose Sharks in his Coyotes debut on opening night before rebounding to lead the team to the Western Conference Final.

"That turned out to be a pretty good year," Smith said.

Arizona played better in the second period but Winnipeg scored the only goal. Wheeler took off with a missed shot and caught Arizona on a poor line change. He centered to Byfuglien for the tip-in 12:31 to make it 5-1.

Little scored a shorthanded goal at 5:07 of the third period. Hanzal completed the scoring when he banged in a power-play goal at 8:25.

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