DENVER — Greetings from Denver International Airport, where I’ve been stranded for the better part of the day after — get this — our flight was canceled because it was “too cold” to land in Winnipeg.
This is definitely a first for me in terms of travel woes and after getting placed on another direct flight to Winnipeg that is scheduled to depart at 8 pm MT but is also in danger of being canceled, we may have to go thru Calgary and then fly home in the morning before the Dec. 31 game against the Buffalo Sabres.
Thanks for suffering through my rant, I’ll get right back to the original plan for this blog, to discuss Sunday’s 2-1 overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche.
First and foremost, it was an impressive showing by the Jets, who came up with a gutsy road win against an Avalanche team that has now lost four consecutive games.
Speaking of streaks, the Jets have put together consecutive victories — within the Central Division, no less — and have 41 points through 41 games and a record of 18-18-5, good for 6th place in the Central and 11th in the Western Conference.
As for the game itself, it was one of the more complete efforts the Jets have put together this season against a high-octane Avalanche attack that was mostly held under wraps, except for a pin-ball type of shot from Nathan MacKinnon that went off the stick of Mark Stuart and the skate of Zach Bogosian before making its way past Al Montoya.
Montoya was rock-solid once again, making 33 saves, including a ridiculous two-pad stack before the Jets got the OT winner from Blake Wheeler, who tipped home a pass from Mark Scheifele with 1.5 seconds left on the clock.
When I asked Wheeler if he was concerned the goal may not count because time was close to expiring, he said he knew there was still time left. However, he saw Dustin Byfuglien in the crease area and wasn’t sure if he had interfered with G Semyon Varlmaov or not.
Speaking of Byfuglien, a blog post from Mike Chambers of the Denver Post (http://blogs.denverpost.com/avs/) suggested that a few Avalanche players weren’t too happy that the Jets D playfully punched Varlamov in the face as part of his post-goal celebration. There were some interesting comments and it will be interesting to see if the Avalanche attempt any sort of retribution when the two teams meet again Mar. 10 at Pepsi Center (I don’t expect much to happen. Few folks have gone after Byfuglien the past three seasons and it’s hard to imagine that changing anytime soon).
Wheeler’s sensational month of December now includes 10 goals and 14 points, as he’s taken over the goal-scoring lead from linemate Bryan Little and moved within two points of the team lead in that category as well.
Wheeler also used his speed to beat former DEL linemate Paul Stastny and find Jets captain Andrew Ladd in front for the goal that broke the scoreless deadlock at 11:42 of the third period.
Wheeler and Stastny also collided during the third period, causing the Jets’ RW to spend some time during a broadcast timeout to stretch out his left leg.
“We just went leg-to-leg, finishing a check. I was trying to get around him and those things happen,” said Wheeler. “You’ve seen a couple of those this week, so you cringe a little bit.”
After a slow start offensively, Wheeler is now on pace for his first 30-goal season. Will he get there? Only time will tell.
But with the announcement of Team USA’s Olympic hockey team set for Jan. 1, don’t be surprised to hear Wheeler’s name called.
Wheeler had plenty of praise for rookie centre Mark Scheifele after the game, applauding his vision and hockey sense.
Scheifele now has six goals and 19 points and is only six points behind the injured Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks for the lead among rookies.
If Scheifele doesn’t fade during the second half and puts up 35-to-40 points, it will be a successful season. He’s playing with more confidence right now, especially in terms of his creativity with the puck and he’s finding a way to get his shot off with more regularity, which is a good thing when you consider his quick release.
For a point of reference, Steven Stamkos had 46 points during his rookie season, though it’s important to note that he was 18 at the time and Scheifele is 20.
It’s an apples and oranges comparison, but the point is, putting up a lot of points as a rookie is tough and Scheifele is doing a pretty good job of chipping in.
For once, the Jets got some help on the out-of-town scoreboard as well, as the Minnesota Wild blew a 3-0 lead and lost in regulation to the New York Islanders to continue their recent woes as well.
Don’t forget to check out www.winnipegsun.com and Tuesday’s paper for my Jets’ mid-season grades and be sure to share your thoughts on who I was too easy on and perhaps, who I was too tough on.
In other Jets’ news today, the club agreed to terms with C Nic Petan to an three-year, two-way, entry-level deal with an Average Annual Value of $925,000.
Petan, who was chosen 43rd overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, had a big day today, delivering the game-winning goal on the power play for Team Canada as they defeated Slovakia at the world junior hockey championship in Malmo, Sweden.
Petan took to Twitter to share his enthusiasm: “It’s been a night to remember. I want to thank everyone and of course my family and friends for all the support! Excited for tomorrow! #wjc”
At the rate of my current travel situation, columnist Paul Friesen will be handling the morning skate on Tuesday but I’ll try to check in with an afternoon blog, with projected lineups.
As Friesen reported in his afternoon web story today, Noel wouldn’t commit to who he is starting in goal against the Sabres but I can’t see it not being Montoya.
Ondrej Pavelec will be back between the pipes during the upcoming road trip, but he’s already lost a game to the Sabres this season and Montoya played well enough on Sunday to deserve another start.
Wish me luck getting home!