Thursday night at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, the Jets proved a few things to themselves:
(a) If they get the good Ondrej Pavelec as opposed to the evil Ondrej Pavelec, they will win.
(b) If they skate hard for 60 minutes they will win.
(c) If they play responsibly in their own and keep the opponent’s scoring chances to a minimum, they make Ondrej Pavelec a better goalie (and that means they will win).
(d) If they don’t take a lot of dumb penalties, they have a better chance to win.
(e) If, as head coach Claude Noel demands, they use their brains for 15 minutes a night, they have a better chance to win.
Thursday night in Winnipeg, the Jets played a game that modern hockey coaches love. They played responsibily in their own end, they didn’t get rattled, they protected their goaltender, they didn’t take a slew of dumb penalties and they beat the Phoenix Coyotes 1-0.
That’s the modern hockey coach’s wet dream. In fact, if any NHL coach could play all 82 games with a 1-0 result, it wouldn’t really matter to him who won or lost. Most NHL coaches give you the impression they’d rather lose 1-0 than win 8-6.
"I liked the game," said Noel. "I thought the game was well played. We played a lot better than what we saw on Tuesday. I was real happy with the game. I thought Pavelec played well. We managed the game well. We recognized the opponent and we recognized what we had to do to win and we followed the game plan. We managed that game real well."
Ah, yes. Noel’s team "managed" the game. To make an NHL coach happy, you don’t "play," you "manage."
Thursday night’s game was everything that makes a guy like Claude Noel beam with delight. Sure, his team allowed 33 shots, but most of them were from the perimeter. The Jets had five plus-ones and 15 evens. Perfect. the big line, with goal scorer Bryan Little alongside Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler played splendidly. Dustin Byfuglien played 25 minutes and didn’t make more than three shaky plays. In fact, he looked like a real defenseman. And above all else, the Jets took only two minr penalties all night.
Who were these guys?
"It shows how smart we can play," Dustin Byfuglien told TSN after the game. "We finally closed out a game. We stuck with it and played a full 60 minutes. It was definitely a satisfying win. We played well in all three zones."
That just about sums it up.
Saturday night the Jets get the New Jersey Devils, a team that beat them 3-2 in overtime last month. Noel is licking his chops. This is another one that could easily finish 1-0. How good would that be?