NASHVILLE — Thursday’s 3-2 shootout victory by the Winnipeg Jets over the Phoenix Coyotes featured a little bit of everything.
There were occasional flashes of brilliance and several head-scratching moments, much of which was expected from two teams playing for the first time in nearly three weeks after the lengthy Olympic break.
Blake Wheeler had plenty of jump for a guy who just got back from Sochi on Monday afternoon, using his legs to drive the net on several occasions.
Wheeler also produced his team-leading and career-high 23rd goal of the season in the first period to make it 1-1 after Oliver Ekman-Larsson put the Coyotes on the boardseverla shifts earlier.
The goal was not without some controversy, as Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (Canada’s third-string goalie at the Olympics) complained vehemently about the fact Dustin Byfuglien was jamming at his pads looking for a rebound that actually ended up in the corner with Wheeler after an impressive net drive.
As Smith was complaining about Byfuglien, Wheeler rifled the puck from a bad angle in the right-wing corner and in off the skate of Coyotes D-man (and Winnipegger) Michael Stone.
The Jets took a 2-1 goal on a power-play goal from Bryan Little in the second period on what my colleague Paul Friesen aptly described as a WTF moment.
Coyotes D-man Zbynek Michalek was under some mild pressure behind his own net but blindly threw the puck out in front of his own goal and onto the tape of Little, who showed nice patience before roofing his shot for his 19th goal of the season.
Little is enjoying a solid season and those folks who thought he might be a bit overpaid on his lengthy contract extension are a lot quieter, as his production has already represented good value.
The Jets welcomed back LW Evander Kane and C Jim Slater to the lineup from injury.
As I wrote min my sidebar, Slater shook off the rust and took 10 shifts for just under six minutes (including one penalty killing shift that lasted 27 seconds).
Slater was fairly happy with his effort, though he realizes there is room for imovment, he was encouraged overall. Those six minutes could quickly become seven-to-10.
Slater might have payed a bit more, were it not for a phantom hooking call on him in the third period and a deserved boarding call to linemate Chris Thorburn.
As for Kane, he finished with four shots on goal, two hits, a takaway and a blocked shot while taking 25 shifts for 20 minutes and 30 seconds.
He also dropped his gloves to go with Coyotes D Keith Yandle, showing little concern for the hand injury and infection that had kept him out of the previous six games.
Maurice wasn’t overly concerned with Kane thinking about dropping the mitts after coming back from injury.
“I don’t really like to take that away from anybody,” said Maurice. “But you always want to make sure guys are fighting in their pay grade.”
Kane also had a glorious chance to end the game in the waning moments of reuglation, but his redirection of a pass from Mark Scheifele sailed just wide.
“You want to put those away but sometimes you don’t get tat bounce,” said Kane.
Goalie Ondrej Paveelc was very good for the Jets, finishing with 34 saves and then turning aside three of four shooters (Antoine Vermette was the only guy to beat him) in the shootout. For more on Pavelec, check out my game analysis column here:
Oliver Ekman-Larsson beat Pavelec with a bar-down slapper that came when the Jets’ wingers (Wheeler and Kane)
As for the Jets, Andrew Ladd and Little were both stopped by Smith in the shootout, with Smith threatening to pull out the poke-check, but Devin Setoguchi scored to put the Jets on top and Olli Jokinen supplied the clincher before Mike Ribeiro was stopped by Pavelec.
Emotions ran high early in this one as Zach Bogosion took exception to Rob Klinkhammer’s hit from behind on D-partner Toby Enstrom.
Bogosian had to do some coaxing before Klinkhammer dropped the glovs and was probably lucky the referees opted to give him an extra roughing minor rather than the instigator penalty, which would have left him in the penalty box for 17-plus minutes (two for intigator, five for fighting and the 10-minute minsconduct).
Even with the time in the sin bin, Bogosian finished with 23 minutes and 42 seconds.
Meanwhile, rookie Jacob Trouba was outstanding once again, finishing with three shots on goal, three hits, two takeaways and a blocked shot in his game-high 26 minutes and 39 seconds.
As Jets head coach Paul Maurice pointed out in his post-game comments, the scary thing about Trouba is that he’s only going to get better and take on a larger role in the future. He’s also going to take on a big role during the present stretch drive as well.
Trouba’s partner Mark Stuart made a solid contribution as well, with two shots on goal, three hits and two blocked shots in 23 minutes and 27 seconds, including 5 minutes and 23 seconds while shorthanded.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Stuart should be signed to a contract extension. He’s an important member of the leadership core and he plays the game the right way. He’d be a tough guy to replace, should the Jets get blown away by an offer at the NHL trade deadline or if they lose him in free agency this summer.
The prevailing mood in the Jets’ dressing room after the game is that they’ll need to be better, but they were encouraged to come away with the an imortant two points against a team they’re chasing in the Western Conference.
The Jets face the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon and I’ll look more into hat match-up in my blog on Saturday.
Colleageu Kirk Penton covered the quick skate at MTS Centre on Friday before the Jets hit the friendly skies to Music City.
He’ll provide a notebook on the days events, while I wrote a column on the importance of internal competition for the Jets during the stretch drive.
Be sure to check out Saturday’s paper and go online to www.winnipegsun.com for all of our Jets’ coverage.
Last but not least, going into Friday’s action, the Jets were two points behind the Dallas Stars, who currently hold down the final wildcard berth. Here’s a closer look:
Stars: 66 points, two games in hand on Jets
Canucks, 65 points, same games played as Jets (61)
Coyotes, 65 points, two games in hand on Jets but facing Colorado Avalanche on Friday night
Jets, 64 points in 61 games played
Predators, 62 points, one game in hand on Jets