Consecutive games, consecutive leads after the first period. You could almost sense the cautious optimism in the MTS Centre on Tuesday night.
After a disappointing and deflating 4-1 loss on Sunday night to the Calgary Flames, the Winnipeg Jets came back with a gigantic 3-1 victory of their own over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes in their first game since Sunday’s loss. In their Sunday loss, the Jets had a consistent, if not largely dominant, attack in the first frame. The same could be said for their victory on Tuesday. The difference? Sustaining that same pressure.
As opposed to the Jets sagging in the second period on Sunday, they were steady in their attack. They drove possession and, even with the lead, continued to put more pucks toward the net than their opponents.
While it may sound asinine to laud a team that was dominant in the early going to keep consistent pressure, the tendency, at least from a pressure perspective, is that the team with the lead will surrender more shots (if not on net, then at least towards the goal) in defense of that lead. Tuesday night, the Jets didn’t take their foot off the gas, dominating the play for all 60 minutes.
The Jets kicked off the scoring less than two minutes into the game on a goal that was not without its share of controversy. Andrew Ladd put the puck into the net on a scrambled play, but the controversy began before that. The play, in which Bryan Little carried the puck into the Hurricanes zone on the left wing, looked as close to offside as it can come as Ladd cut across the Carolina blueline.
The play wasn’t whistled, the goal stood, and the Jets struck again exactly 40 seconds later on Adam Lowry’s first tally of his NHL career. Lowry, who has been effective so far in his first season in the league, finished the game being on the ice at even strength for four shots at the ‘Canes goal and five against while starting nearly every shift in the offensive zone.
As has almost become routine, the star for the Jets, on a night when they got a win they needed more than maybe any that has preceded it, was Little. At even strength, the two-way center was taking more of his draws in his own end than the opponents and still driving play in a positive way. While he was on the ice, the Jets mustered seven shots on goal to five against, and out attempted Carolina 10 to eight.
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While lining up with almost everyone imaginable – he spent time with Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Anthony Peluso, and Blake Wheeler on his wings – Little was able to play his game and push the Jets to victory with stellar play at both ends of the ice. His carry in the first period, which led to Ladd’s goal, was spectacular and further proof that a carry into the zone is far more valuable than dumping the puck in. But what may be the perfect summation of his play thus far for the Jets is his play late in the third period.
Following a draw late in the third, the puck moved into the Carolina zone, where Little gave chase with vigor. While the game was in its late stages, he managed to strip the Hurricanes defenseman of the puck, leading to sustained pressure by the Jets. Little’s play is that which will lead to more victories for the Jets.
As for the remainder of those in Winnipeg sweaters, Ondrej Pavelec was steady if not outstanding, and Dustin Byfuglien’s goal with less than four minutes to go in the second frame, the insurance tally, was a great feat of physical strength. Byfuglien warded off the Carolina defender as he drove in on ‘Canes netminder Anton Khudobin, slipping the puck between the 28-year-old keeper’s legs on the breakaway.
It’s not enough to start penciling in the playoff meeting places quite yet, but it’s a positive sign that the Jets responded to defeat by coming right back out with a decisive victory. Although Carolina may be a bottom of the barrel squad without some of their stars, similar things were being said of the Flames before Sunday, the same Flames that downed the Jets 4-1.
If the Jets want to contend – and that has been and is the plan, to be sure – they’ll need more efforts like tonight; which means more efforts where the offense contributes and the defense bends without breaking. If they can get that, the Jets will make this season another year of contention with hopes of finally breaking into the playoff scene.