OTTAWA - Not going to lie. Usually when Claude Noel starts talking about needing a 60-minute effort from his entire team, the eyes glaze over.
Turns out this intrepid reporter should pay closer attention, because a 60-minute effort from his whole squad is the reason why the Winnipeg Jets looked so darn good in blanking the Ottawa Senators 2-0 on Monday night.
It was Winnipeg’s first regulation win of 2012 in seven attempts. It snapped a three-game slide, ended Ottawa’s four-game winning streak and marked the first time this season the Sens have been shut out. It has the Jets feeling mighty fine going into Tuesday night’s game in New Jersey against the Devils, a frame of mind they need to be in considering they are 0-6 in the second half of back-to-backs this season.
The Jets not only made the Sens look like they were skating in sand all night long, but they didn’t blow the 2-0 lead they owned going into the third period. Twice in their previous three outings the Jets entered the third with the lead and left it with a loss.
“We have this black cloud hanging over our third periods,” Noel said. “So I’m sure everybody in the world was thinking, ‘OK, they’re up 2-0 going into the third, this could be a complete collapse again.’ But we never brought it up. The players know they can get the job done. I was most happy about that.”
On Monday night in front of a packed house of 19,927 spectators at Scotiabank Place the Jets simply kept playing the way they had for the first 40 minutes. They were so good in the neutral zone it looked like the Senators were playing racquetball instead of hockey. Every time they tried to advance the puck, the Jets bounced it right back at them. Ottawa had just 11 shots through two periods (and 25 overall), giving Chris Mason his easiest shutout in a while, although he needed help from the crossbar twice in 20 seconds with three minutes to go.
(Speaking of Mason, it’s time to see more of him. He’s earned it and has shutouts in two of his last four starts.)
Adding to the happy vibe in the visitors’ locker-room was the fact the Jets accomplished Monday’s mission without arguably their three best players in defencemen Dustin Byfuglien and Zach Bogosian, and leading scorer Blake Wheeler — all injured.
“That’s the way we need to play every night, regardless of who’s in the lineup,” said captain Andrew Ladd, who had the second assist and provided the screen on Toby Enstrom’s second-period goal. “We seem to have done a great job all year of not missing a beat when key guys are out. It’s a big character win, but we’ve got another big one (Tuesday) night.”
As always, Monday’s merriment will become Tuesday’s gloom if they can’t follow it up with a victory over the Devils. The Jets, who improved to 7-11-4 on the road, have won back-to-back games on the road only once this season, and that occurred way back on Oct. 31 and Nov. 3.
Remember what you were for Halloween? Me neither.
Monday’s tilt wasn’t without controversy. After Erik Karlsson delivered a hit on Winnipeg’s Evander Kane in the first period the 20-year-old returned the favour with his arms up, and it appeared his forearm or possibly the butt end of his stick made contact with Karlsson’s head. The Swedish defenceman lay on the ice for a few seconds before getting up and stopping a Jets scoring chance. No penalty was called.
A few minutes later, Ottawa bruise brothers Chris Neil and Matt Carkner went after Kane and Mark Stuart, respectively. Karlsson then called out Kane after the game.
“He’s not going to hit me at all and he goes for the head with his stick. It’s a cheap hit,” Karlsson said. “It’s over now. I don’t care about it. It’s all good.
“It wasn’t a very clean hit. I can’t understand why it’s not a penalty. You’ve got to do some stuff on your own, and I’m obviously not the right guy to go in and do that. I didn’t ask for it. I appreciate them backing me up there.”
So the Jets exorcised a couple of demons — for 24 hours, at least. They won without three studs, and they held a third-period lead. It’s a positive step, but there’s still a rather large mountain to climb. The Jets (21-19-5) are three points out of a playoff spot, but seventh-place Pittsburgh and eight-place Washington have two and one game in hand, respectively.
“You want to continue building on this, and that’s what we did real well tonight,” Noel said. “We built on our first period and we continued with the same in the second period and pretty much played the same in the third. So I don’t think we change anything. You just gotta work and check. If we can score two, that’s great.”
Since you’re wondering, the Jets and Senators meet for the fourth and final time this season at MTS Centre on March 26.
Winnipeg set the tone — sort of — just 49 seconds into the contest. After the Senators played keep-away in the Jets zone for the first 40 seconds of the contest, they turned it over. Chris Thorburn scooped it up, raced down the right side as part of a 3-on-2 and fed a perfect pass to Jim Slater, who slid the puck through Craig Anderson’s legs. Noel couldn’t resist poking fun at the sequence of events.
“We did a good job wearing them down as they were in our end and then went down and scored,” the coach deadpanned before rolling his eyes. “That was a hell of a tactic.”