WINNIPEG —There have been times a loosely packed snowball has been enough to shatter the Winnipeg Jets’ night.
As the team stumbled along close to .500 all season — and even for more than two years, one could argue — it always seemed to find things to fear and gravitate towards uncertainty.
But if tonight's game was any indication, all of that could be changing.
A late sizzler of a shot by Toronto Maple Leafs' star Phil Kessel shook the Jets — sending the game into overtime with just 1:33 left in regulation. But again under new coach Paul Maurice, the Jets held it together for Dustin Byfuglien’s overtime laser and a 5-4 victory.
"I think that’s been our big thing around here, just sticking with the game plan and not getting away from it, even if we get down and we’re chasing the score the whole night, you’re bound to get your shots and opportunities to score," Byfuglien said after firing his 12th goal of the season, a too-hot-to-handle shot past Leafs' goalie Jonathan Bernier at 2:44 of the extra period.
A week ago, the Jets were trailing the lowly Edmonton Oilers for the longest of times before the team found a way to rally, also in overtime, on a Jacob Trouba marker.
Against the Leafs tonight, a 4-1 second-period lead was eventually spent, but no matter. The Jets found a way again, putting Maurice’s record at 5-1 in the two weeks he’s been on the job.
"I know the scoring progression is going to say we blew a 4-1 lead but I didn’t feel we didn’t generate anything and that they were all over us," Maurice said. "They had some flurries, they have some real good players. And we had some great chances, too.
"The tying goal, I’ll take responsibility for that. I’m trying to instill a certain confidence in our back end to make plays with the puck, not be banging the thing off the glass all night when we probably could have used a bang off the glass."
The mistakes and Kessel’s potential heart-breaker aside, confidence seems to be appearing.
"I like our bench." Maurice said. "It’s calm. They’re saying the right things to each other in a pressure-filled game."
Support yes, blinders no
Now back to .500 at 24-24-5, good for 53 points, Maurice has made a big deal of trying to boost the confidence of his fragile players after the slide that cost Claude Noel his job.
"Yes, but that’s a function of every coaching change; I’ve been through that twice in-season," the coach said. "You’re grinding those guys at the end so hard what ends up happening is you end up coaching mistakes."
Still, Maurice said that confidence and better play does not come from words.
"We critique our games pretty close but it’s a matter of getting better," he said. "I’ve had a few conversations individually to let players know that I’m now viewing their game differently and ‘Geez, I’d like you to work hard and something has to happen on a positive note for you very soon or we’re going to make change.’"
In another start in his home province, Morweena’s James Reimer was not treated well by the Jets nor the team's fans.
Reimer allowed goals by Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler on the first four shots he faced, and was hooked in the second period after goals by Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian just 37 seconds apart. His night finished with four goals on 19 shots, but Bernier took the loss, his only blemish that he couldn’t handle Byfuglien’s final shot.
Fifty-three games into the season, there doesn’t yet appear to be any sag for Jets’ rookies Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba.
Both were contributors on Saturday, Scheifele with his 10th goal of the season and Trouba with an assist and 25 minutes, 39 seconds of icetime.
For Scheifele, he’s now put up nine goals and 24 points in his last 29 games after a cautious start.
Trouba now has 18 points on the season and is a plus-six.