DETROIT — Don’t look now, but the once struggling Winnipeg Jets seem to be riding high, relatively speaking of course.
A team that had lost seven of nine has now won consecutive games for the first time since Oct. 4 and has picked up wins in three of the past four games to improve to 8-9-2.
If you thought those wins came against low-end opponents, think again.
Sandwiched in between a pair of lopsided losses was a convincing 4-2 victory over a Detroit Red Wings club that had already beaten the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames on a swing through western Canada.
Then the Jets blanked a Nashville Predators club that was coming off wins over the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings by a 5-0 score, chasing goalie Carter Hutton with three goals on eight shots in just over eight minutes of play.
The latest triumph came on Sunday night, where the Jets had to rally back from deficits of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3 before earning a 5-4 shootout victory.
“It’s just in the way that we played, we played with some heart, some passion,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “There’s a feeling for me that the team played together, with the same type of engagement. That’s what I enjoyed watching a bit more.
“There weren’t periods of time in the game where I thought we couldn’t come back.”
Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec’s shootout struggles have been well-documented, but he turned aside all three shooters he faced while captain Andrew Ladd capped an impressive performance by beating former Chicago Blackhawks teammate Antti Niemi with a quick wrister.
“I’ve found a couple different moves that I like and that are maybe tough for goalies to read,” said Ladd, who is a perfect 4-for-4 this season in the shootout. “It’s tough when you’re playing a teammate you’ve played with before and you’ve had a lot of shootouts in practice against him. He knew what move was coming, but I was just able to sneak it under his arm.”
Ladd also scored the goal that sent the game to overtime and assisted on Grant Cltsome’s seeing-eye shot from the left point that caromed off at least one Shark and possibly two before tying the game 3-3 at 17:19 of the second period.
“I didn’t even know it was my goal at first, but I’ll take the bounce,” said Clitsome.
The Sharks regained the lead early in the third on Dan Boyle’s second power-play goal of the contest and this one came on a beautiful, no-look backhand pass by Sharks centre Logan Couture that somehow snuck through the legs of Zach Bogosian and landed right on the stick of Boyle.
But after the Sharks called timeout with a face-off coming in their defensive zone, Bryan Little found Ladd in the slot and his shot beat Niemi and took fans out of their seats.
There were a couple of chances for both squads in OT, including a gaol from Patrick Marleau that was waved off because Tommy Wingels made contact with Pavelec in the crease and prevented him from attempting to make the save.
“If you’re a Shark, you’re questioning it and if you’re a Jet, you agree with the call,” said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. “It’s a discretionary call that occurs in a game. (Pavelec) was allowed to make the first save easily. It’s the second one, it’s the rebound and I don’t know who has the right to that ice.”
The Jets were understandably upbeat afterward and proud they were able to stick with things after coming out strong (they actually held a 10-2 advantage in shots on goal at one point) but finding themselves down 2-0 after one period of play.
“It’s tough. Absolutely, it’s tough, but we had a good (first) ,” said Pavelec. “We didn’t give up and we made some plays in the second. Guys were skating, they moved their legs, blocked a lot of shots and the battle level was high. It’s really important to battle every game.”
Here are a couple other nuggets that caught my attention on Sunday night:
* Dustin Byfuglien had another strong showing, helping to limit the damage done by the Sharks high-end guys, like Joe Thornton, who managed one power-play assist. Byfuglien did get a somewhat careless delay-of-game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass in the defensive zone as time expired in the second period, but part of the blame goes to teammates for not yelling for him to either carry the puck out of the zone or going to the hard rim instead of the shot off (or over) the glass. However, Byfuglien picked up his first goal of the campaign (after losing credit to the one he thought he scored Friday), had five shots on goal and two shots while he was plus-2 in just under 27 minutes of ice time, 26 minutes and 58 seconds for theose of you scoring at home. Yes, Byfuglien and Clitsome allowed Tomas Hertl to get behind them for a breakaway goal that made it 2-0 but in the grand scheme of things, it was a solid showing for the pairing. Clitsome finished with a goal and two assists in 22 minutes and 18 seconds. By the way, Jason Demers made a sensational plass to spring Hertl.
* Michael Frolik continues to play well, converting a sweet saucer pass from Matt Halischuk on a 2-on-on-1 rush to get the Jets on the board. Frolik now has four goals on the season. Halischuk, meanwhile, waited until the perfect time, then slipped his pass past a diving Couture for the tap-in. The third member of the line, rookie C Mark Scheifele, showed his offensive creativity on three separate occasions, challenging opposition D-men rather than just chipping the puck past him. Scheifele’s confidence is growing and if he continues to play that way, don’t be surprised if the points start to come as well.
* Yes, as Sun sports editor pointed out in his Snapshots column, the Jets struggling PP continues to be an issue. The numbers, 1-for-44 aren’t pretty. Losing the special-teams battle is a recipe for disaster, though it should be noted the Jets had only two PP chances on Sunday and neither was the kind of momentum killer they’ve endured at other times during the tough stretch.
Since I was traveling today, columnist Paul Friesen took care of the Jets coverage today and you can check that out in Tuesday’s apper and online at www.winnipegsun.com.
The Red Wings got to Winnipeg on a hot streak, but the Jets arrive at Joe Louis Arena to face a team that is 0-1-2 and has lost five consecutive games on home ice.
Word out of Detroit is that Johan Franzen is ready to return after sitting out a few games due to an upper-body injury/illness, while veteran Danny Cleary could be a healthy scratch Tuesday.
With Stephen Weiss out with a groin injury, St. Andrews product Darren Helm has been bumped up to the second line with Daniel Alfredsson and Franzen.
I don’t expect the Jets to make any lineup changes Tuesday, though you can be sure that D Zach Redmond would love to play his first game of the season in the state he grew up in (Redmond was born in Houston but grew up in Traverse City, Mich.).
Chances are good that Pavelec will be back between the pipes, but backup Al Montoya was solid against the Red Wings last week and played his college hockey at the University of Michigan, so it will be worth watching which G leaves the ice first after the morning skate Tuesday.
I’ll be checking in with updates following the morning skate from Joe Louis Arena — a place I haven’t been since the Jets returned to the NHL.
I have attended a couple of Red Wings’ playoff games at The Joe (I snuck down during Manitoba Moose trips to Grand Rapids on several occasions), so it should be a fun atmosphere.