Monday night marked the beginning of the Winnipeg Jets, version 2.1 and it happened to be against the Jets version 1.0. After letting go of both Claude Noel and Perry Pearn over the weekend, the Jets took the ice behind their new general, Paul Maurice. The energy in the building was evident as the puck dropped between the Jets and the Coyotes. Fans inside the MTS Centre had been growing increasingly impatient over the past several weeks and it all had come to a head on Saturday night with a 6-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on home ice. Coach Noel and Perry Pearn may have taken the fall for the Jets woes but everybody inside the organization from the players to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff were more than willing to accept their share of the blame.
The first period began at a quick pace. The Coyotes, losers of 7 of 9, knew that they had to match the Jets new found intensity and they did their job barely. The pace started to slow though and the referees became a factor. All-in-all, 5 minor penalties were called in the first with the Jets receiving four of the power play opportunities. The Coyotes, however, were the only team to capitalize. Oliver Ekman-Larsson fired a puck passed a scrambling Ondrej Pavelec to open the score. The Jets penalty kill looked extremely disorganized as time went on, and the goal seemed inevitable at the time. It only took the Jets 36 seconds to equalize the score. Dustin Byfuglien, who had a great first period, was able to pick Mike Smith’s pocket on the forecheck and find Olli Jokinen in the slot to even up the score. The Jets were then able to take the lead on a relatively similar, albeit prettier goal by Eric O’Dell. O’Dell was set up by an aggressive Zach Bogosian forecheck and fired the puck in from the slot for his second goal of the season and his second in 2 games.
The Jets came out and played an inspired second period. They controlled the puck and the pace for the vast majority of the frame. There was a point early in the second where the Jets possessed the puck for 1:20 straight inside the Coyotes end. Blake Wheeler scored the only goal of the period with Mark Scheifele getting the lone assist. Scheifele intercepted an errant Mike Smith pass and threw the puck at the net. Wheeler was able to put the rebound into a wide open net to make it 3-1. The Jets ended up out-shooting the Coyotes 13-6 in the period and carried the momentum into the third.
The third period continued right where the second period ended. The Jets had no intention of letting this game out of their grasp. They used the third to bust out of some serious goal scoring slumps. Michael Frolik opened the scoring in the third by netting his first goal in 11 games. Devin Setoguchi followed that up by ending a 19 game drought without a goal to increase the lead to 5-1. After that, the Jets put it in cruise control and took the game home. It was also worth noting that Ondrej Pavelec looked very good tonight as well, stopping 18 of 19 pucks fired in his direction. His defense made his job easier, but he did what he needed to do in order to get his first win in 7 starts.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Jets will be able to sustain any of the momentum that they gained tonight, but there is no debating that this was good for the team. The Jets confidence had been all but fully eroded over the past month and there is no better way to start a turnaround than to have a game like tonight. The fans needed it too and it showed. The MTS Centre was as raucous as it had been in a long time as the fan let some suppressed excitement out. There may be 82 games in an NHL season and tomorrow may be a new day, but everybody in Winnipeg enjoyed tonight.
People can argue until they are blue in the face over whether Byfuglien is better used on offence or defence, but nobody can argue that he has moments of pure brilliance with the puck. When he wants to assert his dominance it is a lot of fun.
It doesn't take much to put your best foot forward the day after you got your coach fired. A true showing of character is what become normal after that.
November 23, 2013 was the day Mark Scheifele became a man. By no means is he an NHL star right now, but he is no longer a boy. Since that day, he has 19 points in 24 games and is in the top-5 in rookie scoring.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is one of the best young defensemen in the league. He didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but you can see that the sky is the limit with this kid.
I was one of the people that were fully on board with Coach Noel being dismissed, but I am going to miss him a little. He was an entertaining man.
Mike Smith gets a lot of praise for how he handles the puck, but if it looks like it looked tonight…maybe he should handle the puck less.
Devin Setoguchi played an inspired game. He has been so flat for so long and he most certainly had the biggest change out of all the Jets players over this tumultuous weekend. He was shot out of a cannon tonight.
This is just a thought: Maybe calling up a top line player from St. Johns who was leading the team in scoring and asking him to be a fourth line grinder was not the best usage for him. Put him with some skilled players and look what happens.
It may be due to a feeling out process, but it was really nice to see the coach and the players communicating on the bench. We may not see everything that happens, but it really didn’t seem like the channels of communication were very wide open in the previous regime.
The power play was a lot of fun to watch tonight for the Jets. It looked like a well oiled machine. I don’t give the Maurice credit for this necessarily, but it was fun.