The Winnipeg Jets are starting to get pretty good at this.
For the second straight game, the Jets didn’t do a whole lot offensively, but they did win another one-goal game. OK, OK, it turned out to be a two-goal game because Evander Kane scored an empty-netter from his own blueline in the dying seconds, but for all intents and purposes the Jets won this one 3-2 and they were fortunate to get the W.
Saturday night, the Jets got a third-period game-winner at 13:13 from defenseman Mark Stuart and knocked off the New Jersey Devils 4-2. It was anything but a thing of beauty. The homeside was outplayed for the better part of 60 minutes, was outshot 25-20 and outchanced 13-6, and yet thanks to a lazy play in his own zone by Ilya Kovalchuk and a goaltending faux pas by Johan Hedberg, the Jets were allowed to come back from a 2-1 deficit to beat a team that should have had this one in the bag — but found a half dozen ways to screw it up.
"it was tough to handle their size," said Jets head coach Claude Noel. "But I thought we really played a lot better in the third period. We played with a lot of energy. We buckled down. I thought we battled hard to get the win. But throughout the game I thought their size made it tough for us."
With the win, the Jets got back to .500 for the first time since Nov. 3 and at 11-11-4 find themselves in 11th place in the East, ahead of Tampa and Carolina and now third in the Southeast Division.
Now, we’ve talked at length at how the Jets MUST make some noise in December. Saturday night’s game was the Jets third straight at home and the third in a stretch of 13 out of 15 games at MTS Centre. The Jets are clearly a better hockey team at home. At least, emotionally. With 15,004 passionate, screaming, crazy fans behind them, it has become clear that if this team can’t play well at home it doesn’t deserve a shot at the playoffs.
So on Saturday night, in a game where they were essentially outplayed for the better part of 60 minutes, the Jets got (a) solid goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec, (b) another extremely good game from Kane, who has turned into the great player everyone in this Jets organization believed he could be, (c) received some unexpected offensive help from Stuart (who played 21 minutes and 15 seconds), (d) had the fans out of their minds and (e) got a nice effort from Alexander Burmistrov, who scored the goal that changed the game’s momentum.
"It was one of the toughest games we had to play this season," said Burmistrov, who scored his sixth of the year shorthanded when Kovalchuk fell asleep in his own zone "They check real well and they are always on the puck. They are tough to play against."
Burmistrov’s first career shorthanded goal tied the game at 2-2 and might have saved the evening for the Jets. Patrik Elias had just scored a power-play goal to put New Jersey ahead 2-1 and thanks to Kovalchuk, who was actually the best player on the ice for 59 minutes, the Jets were able to tie it shorthanded.
But aside from Kovalchuk’s snooze, Pavelec’s solid goaltending and Burmistrov’s shorthanded tally, the real star of the game was, once again, Kane.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound, 20-year-old has a five-game points streak (seven points in those five games) and has 12 points in his last nine games. With two goals Saturday night, Kane scored his 13th and 14th of the year. In his rookie year in Atlanta in 2009-10, Kane had 14 goals in 66 games. In his sophomore year last season with the Thrashers, Kane had 19 goals in 73 games. This year, he has 14 goals in 25 games and is on pace to score 44 this season. If he can possibly keep up this pace, he could emerge as one of the greatest scorers in the game today.
"He’s playing really well especially when he comes down the wing and drives to the net," Noel said of Kane. "Look at the way he’s playing now as opposed to the way he played at the beginning for the year. He’s really playing well and he’s playing well with his linemates (Little and Wellwood). He’s using his speed and size and he’s shooting the puck. He’s not doing anything a lot different. He’s just getting a lot of opportunities. He’s gotta shoot the puck. And with his shot, why wouldn’t he?"
The Winnipeg Jets are still not a great team, but if they continue to play well at home this month, they could muster enough points to get into the playoff hunt before they face 15-of-19 on the road starting in January.
Tuesday’s game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins will go a long way to detrmining exactly what this team is made of.
"I really like our group," said Noel. Right now, he has good reason to feel that way.