UNIONDALE, N.Y. — It’s anybody’s guess when the Winnipeg Jets will start playing steadily like the Western Conference team they strive to be.
And we’re not talking about addresses.
But who’s to argue about style when the team put up its second straight road victory on Wednesday night, soaring to a 3-0 lead and hanging on for a 3-2 decision over the New York Islanders before a half-full Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum?
The half-empty part of the argument is the Jets frequently looked shaky and nervous as they nursed this victory to the bank, moving to 12-11-4.
The elite teams of their new conference on many nights establish their advantage and then clamp the life out of their opponents.
"You’d like to be perfect when you’re going into a situation where you’re (leading) 3-1," Jets coach Claude Noel said, having checked off the first two games of this six-game road trip. "The other team’s pressing. You’ve got to recognize they’re also pushing the envelope on things.
"I think the good thing is we’re finding a way to win the game. Is it the ideal way to close out games? I’d have to say no.
"To me that’s an area, we’ve tried to get better at that. That’s something we have to obviously work on. I don’t like the way we’re doing it but I’m happy that we get the win."
The noted less-than-ideal method included Monday’s win in New Jersey, where a 2-0 lead turned into a white-knuckle finish and ended with Devin Setoguchi’s empty-net goal. In a big hole Wednesday, the Islanders (8-14-3) tried to rev up their engines but it wasn’t in time, falling to a fourth straight loss.
Noel, and his captain Andrew Ladd, wanted to emphasize that all the news isn’t bad.
"I would say that you’d like it to come faster and sooner than it is," Noel said. "But that’s why you coach. You plug one hole and something else happens. We’ll try to get past that. We’ve put ourselves in a good situation lately to win games, to do it I wouldn’t say in a convincing fashion but we’ve put ourselves in a situation where we just have to take the next step."
Said Ladd: "I think (winning) goes a long way in building confidence but there are still some areas where we can be better. We still have to play with the puck and sometimes I think we try to be too safe and keep shoving it back to them and just give them possession, which isn’t a great thing either."
Goalie Al Montoya got the start against his old team, and the signs are clear the Jets have decided to trust their backup goalie more this season.
Montoya already has six starts and his three wins (3-2-1) and seven appearances this season match his entire card from the lockout season.
Montoya has earned this trust and the end-game has to be good, especially if it also keeps often-overused No. 1 netminder Ondrej Pavelec fresher.
"A three-goal lead is huge," Montoya said of his latest win. "To see us scoring goals and the way our defence is playing, we’ve got some key players back in our lineup, it’s exciting to see the way we’re going.
He’s a crossover
Jets defenceman Mark Stuart is usually a reliable, gritty defender. The offensive game is left to others.
But Wednesday, Stuart had a big hand in both areas. His first goal of the season opened the scoring and got his team rolling in the second.
In his 443rd NHL game, it makes him a 20-goal scorer.
"Really? Wow, it only took nine years," Stuart smiled after the game. "I didn’t know that. That’s pretty cool."
His quick shot was perfect, off the inside of the far post.
"It was a quick play," Stuart said. "The puck came back. It was rolling. I just threw it at the net. It was kind of like Mighty Ducks whatshisname... knuckle-puck guy."