NEW YORK -- This was an early-season test at the end of an early-season road trip for the Winnipeg Jets. Better put, it was exactly what Jets coach Paul Maurice wanted for the fourth game of the season.
Fresh off a subpar performance one day earlier, the Jets had to step into Madison Square Garden on Tuesday to face the New York Rangers, Presidents' Trophy winners last season and perfect through three games this season.
The Jets passed, even if the formula wasn't perfect.
Winnipeg defeated the Rangers 4-1 despite being outshot badly for the second straight game and giving New York five power plays in the second period. Jets forward Bryan Little scored two special-teams goals, including a shorthanded goal at 18:49 of the second that turned into the game-winner for Winnipeg, which finished its season-opening trip with a 3-1-0 record.
The only blemish on the Jets' trip was a 4-2 loss at the New York Islanders on Monday.
Little also scored a power-play at 10:35 of the third period, rookie forward Nikolaj Ehlers scored his first NHL goal via the power play at 7:31 of the first period, and defenseman Mark Stuart scored an empty-net goal. Goalie Michael Hutchinson made 40 saves for his second win in as many starts.
The Jets were outshot 41-29 by the Rangers after getting outshot 44-24 by the Islanders. They didn't let the shot discrepancy ruin their night in Manhattan the way it did in Brooklyn.
"Today's game was very important for us, because it was a playoff team coming off a real disappointing loss on back-to-back nights," Maurice said. "What we did here, we did last year consistently. Every team needs to find its identity and needs to prove to itself that it can do it. Even if you've done it all of last year, it's a new year and it's really important mentally for the psyche of our team in terms of how we handle adversity."
Forward Mats Zuccarello scored his third goal in the past three games for the Rangers (3-1-0). Goalie Henrik Lundqvist made 25 saves. The Rangers were 0-for-5 on the power play with the shorthanded goal against, and 3-for-5 on the penalty kill.
"I think sometimes when you create a lot of shots you feel like you are controlling the game a little bit, but at the same time you need to get in there and create the big chances, and they made it tough for us to do that," Lundqvist said. "Even though we had a lot of shots, we didn't see the big scoring chances. Their special teams, they stepped up. They won them the game."
Little's shorthanded goal not only gave Winnipeg a 2-1 lead after two periods, it gave the Jets life going into the third period, which was clearly their best of the game.
The Jets outshot the Rangers 9-8 and forced three penalties, one of which led to Little's power-play goal at 10:35.
"Obviously a big goal, especially after spending most of that second period in the box," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said of Little's shorthanded goal. "To get that and to get that momentum going into the third it definitely gave us a lift and we were able to come up with a big power-play goal in the third."
The Jets were fortunate to be up 2-1 after two periods because they had to kill off 8:37 in penalties in the second period. The Rangers outshot Winnipeg 20-8 and had a 33-13 edge in total shot attempts in the second largely because of the power plays.
Maurice said he particularly liked the Jets composure in the second period despite the fact that it seemed like they were honored guests in their own penalty box.
"I really liked our penalty kill, it got better, and I really liked our composure," Maurice said. "That's the key piece to it. Back-to-back nights we had a run of penalties, but didn't lose our focus, got the kill, got stronger, and a real nice payoff on it for doing the right things."
Ehlers' goal could be considered just as big. It came 46 seconds after Zuccarello gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 6:45 of the first period off of a 3-on-1 rush, a result of a miscommunication between forward Blake Wheeler and defenseman Tyler Myers in the offensive zone.
Wheeler tried a drop pass to Myers, but the latter was pinching in and skated past the puck, leaving it for Rangers forward Rick Nash to start the 3-on-1. He moved it to center Derick Brassard, who pushed it across to Zuccarello for a one-timer that went in under Hutchinson's left arm.
With the Jets on a power play, Ehlers used a screen from forward Drew Stafford to rip a hard shot from the left circle past Lundqvist and into the top right corner for his first NHL goal.
"[Lundqvist] couldn't see anything at all so I just tried to shoot it far side," Ehlers said. "It feels pretty good, I gotta say. Here in Madison Square Garden, it's a pleasure."
Jets forward Alexander Burmistrov had a chance to give Winnipeg a 2-1 lead approximately three minutes later, when he had the puck on his stick and what looked like a wide open net after defenseman Adam Pardy's shot hit the end boards and came out the other side. Lundqvist scrambled across the crease to close the door on Burmistrov's attempt.
The Rangers couldn't take advantage of that save or the five power plays they were given in the second period. The Jets instead hung around, found their game, got a go-ahead shorthanded goal and finished their road trip off on a high note.
"It's a good start, especially with the fact that we know we have a ways to go and we can keep getting better," Ladd said. "We just gotta keep building, and in this League you take the points whenever you can get 'em."