WINNIPEG - How you look at Winnipeg’s 4-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night probably depends on your holiday mood right now.
The 15,004 spectators — minus those wearing red, white and blue — who stood and roared for the final minute are feeling pretty good. Was it ever loud.
Santa would also say the Jets are back. They came out with a purpose. They put pucks on net. They skated. They threw their weight around. They were excellent when it came to killing penalties. They had one of their best games in a while, and now they’re tied with the New Jersey Devils for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Grinch, meanwhile, would say all the Jets have done is remain in inconsistent mode. They extended their trend of alternating wins and losses, which has now reached a stretch of seven games.
But Santa would point out Winnipeg’s passing was simply sensational. Blake Wheeler opened the scoring on the power play after taking a gorgeous feed from Dustin Byfuglien, and Tanner Glass potted his fourth after being on the receiving end of a Nik Antropov beauty.
The Grinch would then fire back by saying the Habs were a defeated crew before they even hit the ice. They had lost four in a row, they played in Chicago on Wednesday night, and interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth made defenceman P.K. Subban a healthy scratch. (The third-period chant of “Where is P.K.?” was the highlight of the night from the fans in the south upper bowl.)
Santa would point out that when you have a goaltender like Ondrej Pavelec, there is reason to believe. The 24-year-old called out his teammates after their shootout loss to the Islanders on Tuesday, saying they needed more traffic in front of the opponent’s net. He laid it out there and then followed it up by playing well. He didn’t have to be too flashy, but he secured his third shutout of the season.
Bah, humbug, Scrooge would bellow. If the Jets are really as good as they looked on Thursday night, they’ll do it again on Friday night against the much better Pittsburgh Penguins.
The bottom line is the Jets do have to win again Friday night. Their flawless effort against the Habs will be all for naught if they flop against the Pens.
“We have to focus on a lot of different things,” head coach Claude Noel said. “One of them is that we play good in our building here. We’ve scored first. We draw the energy from the fans. But we’re in a race right now. We’re trying to get above that (playoff spot) line, and we’ve got some things at stake here. If you don’t manage the game real well and you get behind a couple of games where you lose, you really take some steps back.
“For us, we’re gaining some confidence at home, and I think we enjoy being in that race. It’ll be interesting. It’ll be our third game in four nights, so we’re gonna have to take short shifts.”
Pavelec’s week was particularly interesting. It wasn’t the first time he called out his teammates, but they were probably the strongest words he had for them. It could have backfired if the forwards were chafed that a goaltender was telling them how to play, but his tone was perfect. Not that telling his teammates to go to the net was that big of a deal, but Pavelec was acting like a leader. It was a solid move for a 24-year-old goaltender.
“If that helped, I’m happy,” Pavelec said. “We just try to help each other. Tonight we did a great job. We skated, we had a lot of energy, and it was fun to watch.”
Not to be outdone was Wheeler, who produced his first two-goal game since last April and now has three tallies in his last three games. Noel double-shifted the Minnesotan in the third period in an attempt to get him his hat-trick goal, but he ended up setting up Tim Stapleton’s fourth of the season.
“That was a really nice gesture by coach to try to get me the third one, but it wasn’t meant to be,” Wheeler said. “To be honest with you, I’d much rather have a guy like Timmy Stapleton put a goal in the net than me to get a hat trick. Those are the kind of guys who battle for you every night, and any time they’re able to put one in the net it definitely makes the win a little bit sweeter.
“To get a number of opportunities and bury a couple, it definitely helps the confidence. Hopefully I’ll keep it rolling over to (Friday) night.”
Yes, Friday night. The Penguins got to Winnipeg on Thursday and were no doubt resting comfortably in their hotel rooms while the Jets were dominating the Habs. The Jets will either prove a point on Friday or take another step back.
“Without a doubt,” Glass said. “Going into the Christmas break, you gotta end on a win. It makes for a happier holiday season.”