WINNIPEG — Say this about the Winnipeg Jets: They’re starting to get a feel for how to play the role of perfect party planners.
Earlier in the season — and we’re referencing the historic opener in which the Jets welcomed the famed Montreal Canadiens to the MTS Centre and then let them have the run of the place — not so much.
But on a special Saturday night in downtown Winnipeg, the Jets and their legions of fans had the host thing down pat. They properly feted the guest of honour, the beloved Teemu Selanne, and then took care of business in an occasionally sloppy but still effective 5-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.
"It wasn’t the prettiest game, but we got timely goals and good goaltending. We’ll take the two points and move on," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd.
"It’s a huge two points again in a jam-packed Eastern Conference. But we can still improve on a lot of things and we’ll come back to work on Monday and make sure we do that."
The victory not only improves the Jets' record to 15-13-4, but with 34 points, they now have leapfrogged over the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference into a tie with Ottawa for ninth place — one point out of eighth.
The impact on the standings aside, the ability of the Jets to deal with all the distractions related to Selanne’s return also spoke of their focus and growth.
Yes, on a night when the fans served up the requisite standing ovations for the Finnish Flash, cheered him every time he touched the puck (and booed everybody else) and with signs of adulation everywhere — including on the shirtless dudes in the upper deck spelling out his name with giant letters painted on their chests — the Jets also stepped up when it mattered.
"It’s a difficult situation to deal with that, because you’re in your home rink and they’re cheering for an opponent," head coach Claude Noel said. "It’s almost like you’ve got mixed messages coming your way. I thought early in the game, we were almost confused as to what was what here. There was a lot that was made of that issue of Selanne... It took us a while to get on track. We scored two goals fairly quickly to get the fans on our side, but it still felt a little strange.
"It was a tough game. There was a lot of pressure everywhere."
Winnipeg got solid goaltending from Chris Mason, who kicked out 33 of the 36 shots he faced, and goals from five different players (Andrew Ladd, Kyle Wellwood, Blake Wheeler, Alex Burmistrov and Zach Bogosian — who also added two assists in a three-point night) as part of an across-the-board effort from everyone in a Jets jersey.
"That was cool," Mason said of being part of Selanne’s return. "But to be honest with you, it was hard to hear at the beginning of the game. You’re trying to communicate with your D-men, but it was kind of pointless, because I could barely hear myself. You could just see what he means to the city here and how high he holds Winnipeg in his heart, for sure."
JETCETERA: Centre Bryan Little took a shot off his back in the first period and did not return. He was replaced on the Jets’ top line by Burmistrov, who returned after missing two games with a groin pull. Noel said Little was day-to-day.
WINNIPEG — It was the full rock-star treatment this morning for Teemu Selanne, back in Winnipeg for an NHL game for the first time in almost 16 years.
Selanne, now 41, held a press conference at the Anaheim Ducks’ downtown hotel, addressing reporters for almost 15 minutes. The Ducks meet the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre tonight (6 p.m. CT, CBC, TSN 1290).
When the Ducks arrived in Winnipeg from Chicago after 2 a.m. this morning, there were fans waiting to greet him outside the hotel.
"That was unbelievable," Selanne said this morning. "I wasn’t expecting anybody to be here at 3 o’clock in the morning. It just shows you how much the fans mean to me and and how important the fans are for hockey.
"Obviously those are die-hard fans and it was amazing to see them."
Selanne’s family, his wife and four children, arrived in Winnipeg on Friday and will be in attendance at tonight’s game.
"I’m very happy my kids have seen me at a lot of my games, not too many road games," Selanne said. "But they were old enough to understand when we won the Stanley Cup and they have been at our practices all the time and skating with us. They have seen daddy’s life pretty close."
"I always remember when I played here, Randy Carlyle’s kids were here almost every day. I always said I hoped my kids can see this life, too, this closely. I’m very happy they have seen it. My oldest son was born here and so for him this might be even more special than for my other boys."
Selanne’s three sons had one thing on their minds when they pulled into town Friday.
"Right away they went to play hockey at the outdoor rinks for like three hours," Selanne laughed. "They are really enjoying this time here and I think this is going to be a great experience for them tonight, too."
Selanne was asked this morning if he’s getting nervous about tonight’s game.
"I try to do things the normal way," he said. "I haven’t been nervous yet but maybe there’s going to be a point where I am more nervous.
"To be honest, I don’t really know what to expect tonight. If this was still the old Winnipeg Arena and the same jerseys as 15, 16 years ago, that would be a different story. But I’m very excited. The people, the fans, that’s why I’m so excited here. I’ve always had a very special relationship with the fans here, pretty much everywhere I have played. But this is still a regular NHL game so you have to approach it the normal way."
The Ducks, 4-1 losers Friday in Chicago, are 9-17-5 coming into tonight’s game. They didn’t skate this morning.
The Jets, 14-13-4 after Thursday’s 1-0 loss to Washington, will likely go with Chris Mason in goal tonight and you can expect to see defenceman Tobias Enstrom back in action after missing 20 games with a broken collarbone.
Forwards Alex Burmistrov and Nik Antropov will be game-time decisions and it appears new forward Antti Miettinen’s first game won’t come until next week.
Updated on Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 6:28 PM CST: Adds first two goals
6:44 PM: Adds Ducks goal
6:59 PM: Adds first period summary
7:58 PM: Adds second period summary
8:32 PM: Adds Ducks third goal
11:02 PM: Game-over rewrite