If the Winnipeg Jets could ever play a perfect hockey game, they might have played it on Tuesday night in Denver.
The Jets beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 as Evander Kane scored his 16th and 17th goals of the season and Ondrej Pavelec made 32 saves to get the win.
But there was a lot more to it than that.
Good goaltending combined with smart neutral zone play, quality playmaking and shot selection will often get you a victory in the NHL. Tuesday night, however, the Jets added responsible play and good puck management in their own zone to that to-do list and suddenly the Jets might have played their best road game of the season. It was a nearly-perfect effort.
To their credit, the Jets buried last Friday night’s 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh and played a smart, conservatiove road game.
They didn’t do much early, but they didn’t let the Avas do much, either. They scored the first goal and then kept the Avs from getting too many decent scoring chances against Pavelec. It was a gritty effort and it came despite coach Claude Noel’s concern that the rarified air in the Mile High City might negatively affect his team.
"Didn’t affect us at all," said Kane, who had 19 goals all of last season and now has 17 after 36 games this year. "We’re all in pretty good shape. It wasn’t a problem at all."
Despite being outshot 33-26, the Jets took full advantage of their chances. They held Colorado to a load of perimeter shots and made good on the few scoring chances they had on the Avs’ Jean-Sebastien Giguere. All four lines contributed.
"I thought we were good," said head coach Claude Noel on his televised post-game scrum. "We had some good efforts and got some good play from a lot of players. Our defensemen made some really good plays and Pavelec was good. We played well."
With the win, the Jets improved to 17-14-5 on the season and with 39 points are now in eighth place in the East tied in points with seventh-place New Jersey and ninth-place Ottawa. They still trail the Devils, officially, because New Jersey has more wins (19-17).
"It means a lot to us to get across the (eighth-pace) line, "Noel said. "But our focus will be winning the next game at home (Thursday night against Los Angeles). We got there, now our job will be staying there. The comfort of being at home is important and the fans have been tremendous for us. We’re playing with confidence from our goaltender out. We have to keep playing like this."
So why were the Jets so much better on Tuesday night than they were last Friday night? It had nothing to do with fatigue and everything to do with playing the game properly. They were solid in the neutral zone, didn’t have too many dumb turnovers and stayed out of the penalty box. And they won it despite an injury that kept Dustin Byfuglien out of the lineup.
"I rolled through the four lines and they all defended well," Noel said. "The guys were fairly responsible. They did a pretty fair job in their own zone. What helped us was getting the first goal. I thought we managed the puck really well. We got pucks deep and got a lot of confidence with the first goal. The way Pavelec was playing that first goal might have been enough.
"I was pleased. Now we have to keep playing that way on Thursday night. It’s important for us not to forgot how we won that game (Tuesday) night. Hard work, good efforts, responsible play. It was a good game."
You know what they say: "When the scorers score, the checkers check, the defensemen defend and the goalie stops shots, you should win the hockey game." That simple formula gave the Jets a road win on Tuesday and also a place among the NHL’s playoff elite.
Now we’ll see if the Jets can remain in that rarified air.