Say this about your Winnipeg Jets: they’ve got more layers than an onion, more personalities than Sybil and, depending on the night, can either thrill with their seemingly endless potential or have fans cursing their frightening inconsistencies.
So, place Thursday night’s 1-0 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes in front of 15,004 at MTS Centre — old Jets vs. new Jets — in the ‘endless potential’ category.
Yes, fresh from a two-game losing streak in which they surrendered 10 goals and recklessly protected a lead, any lead, the Jets — backed by another stellar effort from netminder Ondrej Pavelec — served up one of their best defensive efforts of the season.
As a result, the club is now 10-11-4, tied with Tampa and within one point of Washington in the tightening Southeast Division.
"That was huge," said Jets winger Blake Wheeler. "We’ve kind of learned that the two biggest things when you have a lead in the third period are: 1. make them come 200 feet at you and get the puck in deep and 2. stay out of the penalty box. And when we do those two things you can see they didn’t get many chances in the third period.
"It’s a big win and obviously with all the sentimental stuff with the crowd it’s great to see the old Jets come back here and the new Jets take care of them."
To no one’s surprise, the Coyotes — the ‘old Jets’ — were booed from the opening face-off to the final horn. And captain Shane Doan, the loyal foot soldier, heard his share, too. In fact, during a brief stoppage in the first period Doan — who began his career with the Jets — drew a standing ovation from the crowd when the PA announcer asked for fans to salute his career in the NHL.
And then the booing lustily resumed immediately after.
The Jets got the game’s only goal when centre Bryan Little fed Evander Kane on a two-on-one, and then deftly gathered up the rebound after Kane clanged one off the post and deposited it behind Coyotes’ netminder Mike Smith.
And while there were some scrambly moments as the Jets protected the slim advantage, they did limit Phoenix — fresh from a 4-1 win over Chicago, winners of two straight and sporting one of the best road records in the West — to just six shots in the third period.
All this, it should be pointed out, without Nik Antropov and Eric Fehr and with defencemen Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Randy Jones and Derek Meech still in sick bay.
"I think we traded a couple more chances than we would have liked to with that team, but Pavelec shut the door for us and played great," said Little, who since scoring his first of the season now has seven goals and 11 points in last 11 games.
"That’s something we’ve been trying to work on lately: finishing teams off and having good third periods and we did exactly that tonight. If we can play like this every night at home it would be great."
The Jets were 0-for-3 on the power-play but, it’s worth noting, took only two penalties all night in a much more disciplined effort.
"That’s a big thing we’ve been struggling on: staying out of the penalty box," said Dustin Byfuglien. "We did a great job on that. We can take a lot of good things out of this, but we can’t be satisfied. There’s a lot of work to be done."