January 21 2014 11:58PM
The Jets won tonight, despite Blake Wheeler's haircut.
It may not be the Stanley Cup. It may not be the President's Trophy, Heck, it may not even be a playoff berth, but the Winnipeg Jets earned the honor of being the first team in the NHL to beat the league-best Anaheim Ducks at home in regulation this season.
Right now, Jets fans should be impressed with their team earning two of the hardest points to come by right now. However, in the long run, we all may look back at this game as a definitive new chapter in Winnipeg Jets 2.0's history. Paul Maurice and his players now have four wins in a row, and have looked like a very tough team to play against while doing it.
This was a very interesting game to watch. It started out with the Ducks manhandling the Jets right off the bat, throwing four shots through traffic at Pavelec within the first three minutes of play. Anaheim's big bodies stood their ground in front of Pavelec, eventually forcing Trouba to take a penalty on Corey Perry. The Jets paid immediately for the minor on a Cam Fowler PP goal that squeezed under Pavelec's arm - a goal he probably should've had. Things were looking pretty, pretty, pretty bleak at this point, and I was afraid my pre-game prediction of Pavelec getting shelled was about to come true.
But hark, what light from yonder Wheeler breaks? Only a few seconds after allowing a disappointing, early goal, Scheifele, Kane, and Wheeler pounce on a neutral zone turnover, pass the puck laterally to each other as they enter the Ducks zone, and Wheeler unloads an absolute rocket wrister over Hiller's shoulder from about 90 feet out. As fast as the Ducks went ahead, the Jets evened it up, and ripped the Carpet Of Momentum right out from under Anaheim's feet.
The Ducks are a fast, big team, and the Jets knew they'd have to skate an uptempo game to keep up. The returning Evander Kane was exactly what the doctor ordered, as he spent the entire first period (and game) blowing by the Ducks' D. The Ladd-Little-Frolik line brought their A-game too, swarming the net and eventually getting the go-ahead goal late in the third. Trouba throws a shot from the point on goal, where Little and Ladd are firmly parked, and the two forwards swipe at the puck until the captain finally swats it in.
The ability to bounce back after losing a period is the mark of an elite team, something the Ducks have been able to do all year. Getzlaf and crew did just that, throwing hit after hit to start the second in an effort to steal the game's energy back. But the Jets kept on keeping on, matching the Ducks' physical play, and backchecking harder to give the Ducks no room to move in the neutral zone. Winnipeg was able to weather the storm, taking it to the Ducks, and killing off back-to-back penalties. It was during the second penalty kill that Kane matched Wheeler and ripped a shot from an innocuous-looking location over Hiller's other shoulder to score his second shorthanded goal of the year, putting the Jets up 3-1 to end the second, and shocking the entire Honda Center.
The Jets started playing a bit carelessly in the third, not seeing checks or passes through to completion. When Nick Bonino scored halfway through the third period, the Ducks finally woke up and dominated the game much like they did to start the first. Pavelec became the target of a shooting gallery, making stop after stop to keep the Jets in it.
It seemed impossible that the Jets could hang on for ten minutes of sustained pressure by the league's best, but they kept their feet moving the entire game, and showed a tenacity in all three zones the Ducks aren't used to.
This team is becoming quite exciting to watch, I tell you what.
What an amazing way for Evander Kane to come back. His speed and strength were on full display, and along with linemates Wheeler and Scheifele, Kane rarely seemed to leave the Anaheim zone. No. 9 had two points, and his shorthanded tally ended Jonas Hiller's night. Kane's return brings desperately needed balance back to the Jets' forward roster.
The top line had a great game collectively. Little used his speed to track pucks down. Ladd was banging in the corners all night, freeing up space and vulcanized rubber for his line-mates. And Michael Frolik continues to impress since his promotion to the first line. I got lost daydreaming after one check by the Czech, wondering how many times has Frolik caused a turnover and turned it into a scoring chance? Watching Fistric redundately try to knock Frolik around all game was comical.
I'm hesitant to give Pavelec a good rating, as he still looked out of position too often, but the onslaught he fought through in the back-half of the third period deserves recognition. Pavelec played very aggressively all night, and it paid off. There were some nail-biting moments (like when Fowler's point shot hit Pavelec in the ribs, who was facing the other way), but he made the exact amount of stops he needed to in the end.
Enstrom and Bogosian did a great job of containing Perry and Getzlaf all night, holding Perry pointless with Getzlaf earning only a PP assist he didn't have to do much to earn. The game plan was clearly to staple Perry and Getzlaf to the boards whenever they could, and top pairing's ability to do that is a big reason the Jets won tonight.
The third line just isn't working. It's become more apparent over the past two games, but this one should serve as a wake-up call to Maurice. Setoguchi is struggling to break out on his off-wing, and Byfuglien wanders like he's the centreman in the offensive zone. Big Buff's speed (or lack thereof) was exposed big time tonight. The entire line was always behind the play, and spent a lot of time scrambling in their own end. It was a fun experiment, but it isn't sustainable against a teams with winning records.
The bottom defensive pairing of Ellerby and Pardy had a stinker. Anaheim is a deep team, and the two Jets simply couldn't keep up with their bottom lines. Pardy and Ellerby were on for only a handful of positive corsi events, but a buttload of negative ones. Moving Byfuglien back would make Winnipeg's defensive core much more solid.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"There's no way they can hang on here."
- Me, in my head during the final ten minutes of play