Following a road trip that saw the Jets pick up three of a possible four points, and with the Pittsburgh Penguins coming to town, the question many were asking was, is this game a measuring stick for the Jets? Some of the players felt it was, Coach Claude Noel felt it was too early in the year for that.
Well after a 4-2 win, the Jets are faced with what some will call another measuring stick. Can they come up with the same effort Sunday against a team that they had trouble with last year? That team being the New York Islanders. Jets won only one of the four meetings.
But back to Friday's win over the Penguins. For Winnipeg fans this game had a playoff type atmosphere. It was their first chance to see Sidney Crosby in action. Because of injuries Crosby missed both games in Winnipeg last season. If you were not a season ticket holder, finding tickets for this one was not easy. When the dust settled it was a perfect night – Crosby put on a show with two first period goals, but the Jets came back for a 4-2 win.
Evander Kane got the Jets on the board early in the second, and then the TSN turning point. Ondrej Pavelec, who was not happy with his play in the first period, made three pad saves on the same play to preserve the two goal lead. All three were in tight, two off Evgeni Malkin, the third off Tyler Kennedy. Dustin Byfuglien then scored on a blast from the line on a power play to tie it, and under five minutes later Andrew Ladd would score the eventual winner as after 40 minutes the Jets had a 3-2 lead. Tomas Vokoun made a great glove save of Kane in the final minute of the second to keep it a one goal game.
Both teams were guilty of turnovers that cost them goals. But it was a fast paced, chance filled game and a very entertaining contest that resulted in number of standing ovations from the very enthusiastic crowd. The teams continued to trade chances in the third with the game very much up for grabs until a neutral zone turnover lead to an empty net goal by Blake Wheeler to end it. Pittsburgh outshot the Jets 34-32, Malkin leading the way with eight shots on goal, followed by Kennedy, Byfuglien and Kane with five. Kane had a two point night and lead all players in hits with five. Ladd, Wheeler and Byfuglien also had a goal and an assist each.
“I didn't think I played very good in the first period,” commented Pavelec during a post-game interview on TSN 1290. “I felt bad. The guys were playing so hard. So coming out for second, I wanted to make sure I gave our team a chance to come back. I know my record against Pittsburgh isn't very good and I wanted to change that.” Pavelec has played all four the games the Jets have played so far, (2-1-1) and is expected to start again Sunday against the Islanders. (TSN Jets, TSN 1290 – 7 PM game time)
Kyle Wellwood was back in the lineup after being a coach's decision in Washington Tuesday. Healthy scratches were Anthony Peluso, Zach Redmond and Mark Scheifele.
Kane loved the challenge of playing one of the league's elite teams, a team with some of the top players in the league. “You can only hope the guys rise to the occasion and I thought we did that as a group.” Kane now has 2-2-4 in his last two games, as does Wheeler. Byfuglien is 1-3-4 in his last two, while Toby Enstrom is 0-4-4 in his last two games.
Coach Noel feels we are seeing his team's maturity. “There is good leadership in the room. We are trying to put building blocks in place. There is urgency to win and an urgency to succeed. “ As expected the crowd was part of this game. “When they get behind you they become an extra player for you. I thought they were right into the game. But, having said all those things we'd like to keep things in a balance. We took some big steps in feeling good about ourselves in the way we played. And we won't be separating our shoulders patting ourselves on the back. We've got practice tomorrow.” And you know that will again be the message at practice. Friday the Jets beat a team perhaps they weren't expected to beat, Sunday that won't be the case.
The pair of Ron Hainsey and Mark Stuart was again strong. In four games Hainsey has been on the ice for only one goal against. He was a plus two in the game, while Byfuglien again lead in ice time at 26:03 in what was another very solid night for him and the entire Jets defence.
Again the line combinations seemed to click as for all tonight's Jet goal getters, it was their second goal of the season.
Special teams played a part as Byfuglien's goal came with the man advantage, in a game where only three minors were called.
So with the final buzzer came a final standing ovation as the players gathered at centre ice to salute the fans. Last Saturday's home loss to Ottawa at that point seemed so long ago.