A win is a win for the Winnipeg Jets, but they’re going to be hard to come by when they play with fire like they did during their Tuesday night 4-2 victory in Columbus.
Up 3-2 in the dying minute of the game, the Jets were barely able to hang on for victory over the Blue Jackets. Matter of fact, had it not been for Bryan Little, there’s little doubt that the game would have seen overtime. Fitting, too, that Little was the one to break up James Wisniewski’s attempt at a mostly wide open net as he was one of the most effective Jets all night.
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That’s not just tonight, either. It’s been a pattern, and has made Little arguably the Jets most valuable player this season. Strong centermen are a necessity in the NHL now, and in Little the Jets have a true top-six man. Steady defending mixed with timely faceoff wins make for a player that Winnipeg relies on more than maybe any other in their lineup.
It’s not just when Little picks his moments, either. It’s how he does it and with the consistency he’s solid for the Jets. On a near nightly basis, he’s a dominant possession player, alongside the likes of Mathieu Perrault, while taking on the brunt of the tough minutes.
On Tuesday, when the game was still close, Little took on a high percentage of defensive zone minutes, taking nearly more than half of the team’s total faceoffs in their own end. Those are the kind of things you expect from the league’s elite defensive forwards – the Patrice Bergerons and Pavel Datsyuks of the NHL – and wouldn’t necessarily expect of Little.
Not only was he tasked with more than half of the team’s total defensive zone faceoffs, and he won over 50 percent of those, he was sent out to take nearly half of the Jets total faceoffs on Tuesday night. Those are workhorse totals. And though he was by no means the Jets top player as far as Corsi goes, he still helped drive play, something the Jets need desperately all night.
As for the score sheet, Little showed up twice – a goal nine seconds into the contest to give Winnipeg a 1-0 lead and the primary assist on Andrew Ladd’s goal which would prove to be the game-winning marker.
After Little’s tally off the game’s opening faceoff, Columbus rallied back with a power play goal four minutes into the game. The goal, Jordan Leopold’s first of the season, came when the defenseman drifted into the high slot, took a pass from Artem Anisimov, and found net behind Michael Hutchinson.
The two teams would remain at a 1-1 deadlock until the 16th minute of the second period. With the Jets on the power play, an extra skater attack that had been goalless in its last 25 attempts, Evander Kane set up right in front of Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. With little more then 30 seconds left on the power play, Kane tipped home an impressive pass from Dustin Byfuglien to give the Jets the lead.
Ladd’s goal, the aforementioned game-winner, came a mere 31 seconds after Kane’s goal.
The furious finish was set up Blue Jackets forward Ryan Johansen scored midway through the third to bring Columbus within one. In the games final ten minutes, the Jackets would through nine attempts on goal, none closer than Wisniewski’s which Little helped turn aside.
It may not be the biggest win of their season, but it’s the type of win that the Jets need to get some confidence back in their game. Good teams sometimes get ugly wins, and this may have been one of the least flashy wins of Winnipeg’s young season.