UNIONDALE, N.Y. - This was all about guts and great goaltending for the Winnipeg Jets.
Above everything else that took place on Thursday, it was an undeniable will to win — plus a dynamic performance from Ondrej Pavelec — that allowed the Jets to skate away with a 3-0 victory over the New York Islanders before a disappointed crowd of 10,157 at Nassau Memorial Veterans Coliseum.
Pavelec was under siege early and really put his stamp on the game in the second period as the Jets were outshot 19-6 but found a way to preserve the one-goal cushion Evander Kane gave them at 4:16 of the first.
“That’s not the way we want to play, but sometimes it goes this way,” said Pavelec, who has now strung together three strong starts after the 9-8 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers that left him searching for his confidence. “First of all, we had something like 20 blocked shots and that’s amazing. In the first two periods it was about them, they did a great job. But like I said, good teams find a way to win.”
After a shaky start to the campaign, Pavelec seems to have found his form.
“He’s an unbelievable goalie, he did that a lot last year too,” said Jets defenceman Johnny Oduya.
“He’s been incredible,” added Jets forward Tanner Glass. “He’s making big saves and it’s on us to score more goals and make it easier on him.”
This was also about a team that wouldn’t allow the absence of four defencemen — and later five — from their lineup to serve as an excuse to roll over.
It was about a pair of American Hockey League call-ups (Mark Flood and Brett Festerling) who weren’t overwhelmed by the situation and earned enough trust from Jets head coach Claude Noel to take a regular shift.
That ability to adapt on the fly became even more important in the first shift of the third period as blue-liner Randy Jones took a blast off the right leg that sent him sprawling to the ice, needing assistance first to get to the bench and eventually to the locker-room.
In the third period, the Jets killed off an early minor and then found their legs before insurance markers from Oduya (off the stick of Islanders defenceman Andrew MacDonald) and Alex Burmistrov (into an empty net) put the seal of approval on this one.
“It’s a big win,” said Jets forward Tanner Glass. “You’re not going to get many wins when you play like that for two periods. But with a young D corps and as banged up as we are, it was nice to get two points.
“It’s nice to know that when we don’t have our A-game, we can still pull it out.”
The Jets are now 3-1 on this road trip and 5-6-1 overall as they get set to play again Saturday against the New Jersey Devils.
Don’t look now, but there’s a quiet confidence that’s beginning to bubble up to the surface.
After a slow start, the Jets are starting to look like a team that truly believes in itself.
And when you’re trying to establish a winning culture in the early stages of a season, belief is one of the most important cornerstones.