Jets defeat Sabres 4-1

- April 9th, 2013

The term total-team-effort gets thrown around a lot in dressing rooms, but on Tuesday night, it certainly applied to the Winnipeg Jets 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

The win allowed the Jets to improve to 20-19-2 (42 points) and secure a second straight W after dropping five straight leading into this six-game homestand.

With seven games left in the regular season, the win pushed the Jets into 9th place in the Eastern Conference standings, tied with the 8th-place New York Rangers (who hold two games in hand) and two points behind the Washington Capitals for 3rd (and top spot in Southeast Division).

Don’t look now, but a new team might be starting to look a little vulnerable. The 6th-place Ottawa Senators, who have enjoyed a storybook season, despite key injuries in goal, on defence and up front, saw their losing skid hit five consecutive games on Tuesday after losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Sens (who have two games in hand on the Jets) have been on the road a lot because of the World Women’s Hockey Championship, which wrapped up Tuesday night with a 3-2 win by Team USA over Canada. So they should be getting to enjoy some home cooking of their own during the final nine games.

We’re not saying the Sens are about to collapse, but they’re another team to keep an eye on, as their toughest stretch of adversity is happening right now and it will be interesting to see how they handle it.

The Islanders won again and are now in 7th place with 44 points (Sens have a game in hand on them), while the Rangers are in 8th (42 points, two games in hand on Jets).

Scoreboard watching will become a sport in itself during the next few weeks but that’s a subject for later on.

Back to the recently-completed game for the Jets.

Tough to find much to really critique in this one for the home side, who essentially rolled four lines and five D, thanks to an undisclosed (but suspected back) injury to Toby Enstrom that happened after he was hit by Sabres F Steve Ott past the midway point of the first period.

Yes, there was a blatant giveaway by Ron Hainsey onto the stick of Sabers’ sniper Thomas Vanek in the second period, but goalie Ondrej Pavelec bailed him out, finishing with 29 saves in the contest.

“We have to go step by step and game after game, and we did a great job tonight. We played really well. We played well defensively and scored some goals. I think we were the better team,” said Pavelec.

Noel spoke in the morning about the need to try and get four lines involved (he’s played a lot of the stretch drive with three) and he did so on Tuesday, as Chris Thorburn played 8:34.

Recent call-up Aaron Gagnon played 12:02, was used on the penalty kill with James Wright (13 minutes overall) and came up with the game-winning goal on a nifty one-timer.

Dustin Byfuglien bounced back nicely after enduring a tough stretch on the blue-line that saw his minutes cut back the past two games after being benched for 12-plus minutes in Montreal last week.

Byfuglien played with more poise and was the one who fed Gagnon for the game-winner after  a smart pinch.

“I was hoping that (Byfuglien) would look for me there (in the slot). I just tried to find a soft spot and he fed a nice one in there for me,” said Gagnon.

Byfuglien picked up a second helper when he fished the puck out of the net and got it to Gagnon for a memorable souvenir keepsake, a gesture that Gagnon (who scored his first NHL goal in his 31st game) certainly appreciated.

“That was nice of him to grab the puck there, it’s always great to have those (mementos),” said Gagnon.

Speaking of the defence corps, Hainsey led the group with 26:45 (which led all players) in ice time, while Byfuglien was back over 20 minutes (at 22:04).

Noel liked what he saw from the five guys who finished the game.

“They did pretty good. They managed some things pretty well,” said Noel. “There were some lulls there a little bit, but for the most part they managed it pretty well. Sometimes it’s easier with five. It’s nothing something you like to do on a night-to-night basis, especially if you’ve got a heavy schedule, but I thought they were good.”

The Jets opened the scoring on a play that saw Evander Kane wind up for a slapper that bounced off the skate of Sabres D Christian Ehrhoff and into the slot, where Kyle Wellwood buried it for his fourth goal of the season.

Although he had a healthy scratch mixed in, Wellwood now has produced a point in each of his past four games and is playing much better than he did earlier in the season.

The Jets top trio took care of the rest of the scoring, getting a goal from Andrew Ladd with 21.3 seconds left in the second period, as he made a strong move to his forehand after accepting a perfectly-delivered-backhand-saucer pass from Bryan Little.

Then with 25.6 seconds left in regulation, Little made another nifty backhand pass to Ladd, who found Blake Wheeler alone for an empty-netter that sealed the deal and helped Wheeler snap a 10-game goal-less drought.

“We realize our line has got to get going here a little bit offensively,” said Ladd, who snapped a 13-game drought. “Even the empty-netter for (Wheeler). Hopefully, that gets him going and mine gets me going and we can go on a little run here.”

The empty-netter was yet another unselfish play for the Jets’ first line.

“That’s the way our line is, that’s the great thing about why we’ve been successful. We don’t care who it is scoring, we just want the puck to go in the net,” said Wheeler, who is tied for the team lead with Ladd at 15 goals on the season. “Next game, I would do the exact same thing for (Ladd) or (Little). That’s just the way we work.”

Noel put it this way.

“They gave some offence to each other,” he said. “They helped each other score, and that was respectful on their part. The play that Little made to Ladd and Little made to Wheeler. It just helps them help each other, and that’s the way they seem to play.”

Little actually got a puck in the hand late in the first period and went to the dressing room for some repairs, but came out for the second but didn’t take any face-offs.

“I’m used to having (Little) in the middle, pretty much the last three years, so I was kind of holding my breath there a bit, hoping he was all right,” said Ladd. “Luckily, he was able to come back and help us out.”

Ladd filled in admirably, winning 5-of-7 (71%).

“Ladder’s pretty decent in the face-offs,” said Noel. “Not only tonight, but he’s been pretty good through the year. He’s got to the point now where in the last two weeks where he starts to take them on one side and Little on the other. He’s really worked at that and done a good job.”

For the second consecutive game, the Jets took control of the contest with a dominant second period. After scoring four times against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, the Jets added three goals against the Sabres.

What gives?

“I don’t know. I think it’s just a coincidence,” said Ladd. “Just two games in a row where we’ve had good opportunities in the second and were able to get our offence going.”

The Jets are back in action Thursday against the Florida Panthers, who are currently 15th in the East but have won three of their past five games and have given the Jets difficulty at times during the past two seasons.

Noel said that Enstrom was day-to-day, so we’ll see what kind of update the head coach provides at Wednesday’s practice.

Naturally, he can expect most members of the media to be keeping an eye to see if 2012 first rounder Jacob Trouba jumps into the mix a bit more at practice.

Personally, I think it’s still a bit early before we’re going to see Trouba make his NHL debut. My best guess is that he won’t see game action before next week (at the earliest) but you never know. Either way, we’ll keep you posted in the morning.

Categories: Hockey

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