WINNIPEG - The old axiom that your best players have to be your best players was never more apparent for the Winnipeg Jets than on Monday night.
Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien came up with his best effort since wowing the crowd in the pre-season opener with a pair of hits and a fight on his first shift, Evander Kane had a goal and an assist and captain Andrew Ladd scored his fifth goal of the campaign.
And as has become commonplace, goalie Ondrej Pavelec, making his 10th consecutive start, was rock solid for the Jets.
The end result was a crisp, 5-2 triumph over the Tampa Bay Lightning before a crowd of 15,004 at MTS Centre, snapping a five-game losing skid and helping the Jets improve to 6-9-3 overall.
“In this league, your best players have got to be your best players on a nightly basis to be successful,” Ladd said. “We’ve been very inconsistent throughout the year and that’s led to — a lot of the reason — of why our record is the way it is. It was nice to have a consistent effort from a lot of our top guys.”
Byfuglien helped lead the charge and now has three goals and 11 points in 18 games.
“We stuck to our game plan all the way through and that’s something we’ve been looking for for a while,” Byfuglien said. “I’m focusing on trying to keep things as simple as possible, trying not to do too much, using my teammates as much as possible.”
Byfuglien’s effort was certainly noted by Jets head coach Claude Noel.
“He was outstanding, I thought he played with a lot of heart, played hard,” Noel said. “He’s a guy that we rely with both his play and his leadership and when he plays like that, it enables him to lead. He was very involved, very engaged and it was good to see him play. He can be a tremendous player, not only for us but in the league. He has a lot of good things going in his game.”
Kane got the Jets on the board at 4:51 of the first period, set up Byfuglien for a big slapper at 13:02 of the first and then provided the all-important screen at 7:49 of the second period.
“From start to finish, you could say it was the most complete game we’ve played,” said Kane, who leads the Jets with six goals this season. “We need to be able to (bottle) that and be consistent with that type of game. It was a big victory for us and we wanted to get this little homestand off to a good note.”
As good as the big guns were, this victory wouldn’t have been possible without the work of the Jets’ foot soldiers.
Noel shuffled his lines for Monday’s tilt and perhaps his most important move was reuniting the G-S-T line of Tanner Glass, Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn.
The hard-working trio — famous for making life taxing on their opponents — set the tone on the first shift of the contest, getting the puck down low and working it deep.
The energy line provided plenty of it and the rest of the Jets seemed to follow their lead.
Speaking of the supporting cast, defenceman Mark Flood continues to fill in admirably as the Jets deal with a rash of injuries on the back end.
And as Noel talked about the importance of rolling four lines, fourth-line centre Tim Stapleton added his second goal of the season.
The Jets penalty kill was also critical in this game, killing off all six Lightning power plays, including a double minor to Zach Bogosian and a lengthy 5-on-3 that lasted a minute and 17 seconds.
Winnipeg Jets (6-9-3) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (8-7-2)
THE THREE STARS
1. Jets F Evander Kane — Scored the all-important first goal, set up the second and provided the screen on the third. Solid overall.
2. Jets G Ondrej Pavelec — Key saves at key times, 30 in total for the man making his 10th consecutive start between the pipes.
3. Jets D Dustin Byfuglien — A goal, an assist and a game-high seven shots on goal in what was probably his best game of the season.
Jets score first, build the lead and then respond to a push back to end a five-game losing skid. Effort by the penalty killers was massive, killing off a double minor to Zach Bogosian and then a two-man disadvantage that lasted for 1:17. Probably the best overall effort the Jets have put forth this season.
Scored three of the five goals, created plenty of offence and were responsible defensively, blocking shots and playing physical throughout the contest. Evander Kane and Tim Stapleton each had a goal and an assist, while Andrew Ladd added his fifth goal of the season.
Playing once again without five regulars, they did an excellent job moving the puck and taking care of the front of the net. Also chipped in with a pair of goals as Dustin Byfuglien and Mark Flood scored their third goals of the season.
Another day, another strong showing for Ondrej Pavelec as he took care of business in what was his 10th consecutive start. He’s now played 16 of the 18 games.
The Jets continue their three-game homestand on Thursday against the Washington Capitals. However, on Tuesday night the Jets will host an open practice at 5:30 and their first-ever skills competition at 7 p.m. at MTS Centre.