December 6, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
There are boxes to unpack and some settling in to do yet. And, yes, it's way too early to be making any concrete conclusions.
But it's also not a stretch to say this after the Winnipeg Jets knocked off the Los Angeles Kings 5-3 in their 2013-14 home opener in front of another raucous MTS Centre crowd Friday night:
They are really digging their new neighbourhood among the tall trees in the National Hockey League's Western Conference.
And while there were some iffy moments down the stretch -- the Jets held a 4-1 advantage before a pair of late power-play goals by the Kings made things far more interesting than the home side wanted -- they did improve to 2-0 courtesy some big-time contributions from some of the usual faces.
Evander Kane scored twice, Ondrej Pavelec was outstanding, Dustin Byfuglien was a force, Bryan Little and Olli Jokinen were solid, while the work of new faces like Devin Setoguchi, Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba was also critical in the win.
Most importantly, the Jets fulfilled one of their primary objectives heading into the season: to be hard to play against.
"I think we've stressed we need to play the right way on a nightly basis," said captain Andrew Lad. "That's the biggest thing. We've seen it in spurts over the last couple of years, and being on the outside looking in we've realized that's not good enough. What we've come up with as a group is that we want that every night and we've stressed that. I think you've seen that so far."
Home debut redux
The home-opener win was the Jets' first since their rebirth in Winnipeg after serving up two duds in their first attempts -- the 5-1 stinker to Montreal in Year 1 and last season's 4-1 yawner against Ottawa. And, just FYI, the last time this franchise opened a campaign with consecutive wins was 2009-10 when the Atlanta Thrashers knocked off Tampa and St. Louis.
On Friday both Kane and Blake Wheeler pointed to using their speed and physical play to key a home-ice turnaround this season -- the Jets had just the 21st-best home record last season -- and while they were outshot 18-7 in the first period, the two clubs were knotted at 1-1 and Winnipeg had dominated the hit parade 13-7.
"You put the puck in the net in this building and you get to feed off the crowd," Ladd said. "The energy was awesome. We need to keep putting the puck in the net here because it's fun to play here when the crowd is energized."
Engaged, all right
With apologies to Pavelec, who was outstanding -- especially early -- the best player on the ice was Kane. Interestingly, his engagement to longtime girlfriend Ashley Chamberland was all over social media late Thursday and No. 9 was certainly engaged against the Kings. His stat line was absolutely gaudy: two goals, one assist, eight shots, five hits, nine minutes in penalties -- including a second-period scrap with Colin Fraser -- along with one blocked shot in 14 minutes and 38 second of ice time.
"We got to the body early and against a team like L.A. you have to let them know you're not going to be run out of your own building," said Kane. "We did a good job of sticking up for each other and being physical. Those kinds of things lead to turnovers and people second guessing themselves."
The kids are all right
The Jets may be concerned about all the hype surrounding Trouba and Scheifele, but the two first-rounders are already staples on the second line and second defence pairing. Scheifele, who looks far more comfy now than in the pre-season, picked up an assist, drew a couple of penalties and was plus-2 while Trouba played 20:53 and was solid through 40 minutes before a pair of giveaways in the third period.
Interestingly, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Claude Noel had a little chat with both youngsters on Thursday to pat them on the back for their work in the opening-night win against Edmonton, stress the importance of rest and nutrition and then hammered home that the season is a marathon, not a sprint.
"We had a nice chat, talked about Game 1. We said, 'Guys, keep on going. You'll get the opportunities as you deserve them and as they come,'" the Jets GM told LeBrun. "They're both very humble kids, but they're both showing a lot more maturity than a lot of 19-year and 20-year-olds."
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-- with files from Gary Lawless
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2013 C3