WINNIPEG - Don’t look now but the Winnipeg Jets seem to be taking flight.
After coming up with their most compete effort of the young season on Monday night in a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Jets actually played better in this one as they cruised to a 4-1 triumph over the Washington Capitals on Thursday before an enthusiastic crowd of 15,004 at MTS Centre.
“The group is continuing to learn and they understand what we’re doing,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “It’s nice to see us defend that way because that really has to be the foundation for winning. Regardless of what level you’re at, you have to be able to defend. I’m not necessarily a defensive coach, but I do understand that’s how it works. Defending is about sacrifices and team play and we’re doing that.”
The recipe for success was simple, but was rooted first and foremost, in hard work.
Great goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec, check.
Sound defensive play, check.
Win the special teams battle, check.
Contain or blank sniper Alex Ovechkin, a big check there as well.
The checkmarks were plentiful on this night for the home side, who improved to 4-3 on home ice and 7-9-3 overall as they won their second straight game for just the second time in 19 games so far.
It wasn’t a great start for the Jets as Alexander Semin faked his shot and beat Pavelec at 3:53 of the opening period.
Instead of slumping their shoulders, the Jets dug in their collective heels and got the equalizer from Evander Kane at 7:51 of the first.
“They started pretty quick, but after that we settled in and did a real good job of frustrating them and we did a good job of keeping the puck in their defensive zone and keeping them pretty much at bay,” said Jets centre Jim Slater.
Kane’s second of the contest and eighth of the season came from a bad angle at 6:38 of the second and put the Jets up for the first time.
Their confidence built from there.
“We know the type of team we are,” said Kane. “When everybody plays their best and brings it every night and we put it together, we’re a pretty good team and a tough team to play against. We’ve proven that the last two (games).”
The turning point came a few shifts later as the Capitals took advantage of a Mark Flood turnover and walked in on a 2-on-0 rush (while short-handed) before Brooks Laich fired his shot up and over the net.
Moments later, Jets winger Blake Wheeler snapped an 18-game goal-less drought in dramatic fashion, driving from the boards to the front of the net before depositing the puck with authority at 8:31.
Wheeler was doing his best to stay positive during the slump, but you could tell his confidence was a bit shaken before he finally found the back of the net.
To celebrate, Wheeler jumped into the boards and the look on his face told you he was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.
“I don’t even remember how to celebrate goals anymore,” said Wheeler. “I’m sure it wasn’t pretty. Hopefully, as more goals come, the celebrations will get a little better.”
The Jets’ penalty killers also had reason to celebrate as they were asked to kill off a lengthy 5-on-3 disadvantage for the second consecutive game and finished the contest a perfect 4-for-4.
And what would a Jets victory be without another steady performance from Pavelec, who made his 11th consecutive start and finished with 31 saves against the potent Capitals attack.
“We have to make sure we keep this thing going,” said Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian. “We can’t get too comfortable and say ‘we won two games, let’s put it in cruise control.’ We have to keep pushing forward.”
The Jets will attempt to win three consecutive games for the first time this season on Saturday afternoon with a matinee affair against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Winnipeg Jets (7-9-3) vs Washington Capitals (10-6-1)
THE THREE STARS
1. Jets LW Evander Kane — Scored the first two goals of the game for the Jets, blasting a pair of wicked shots home to give him a team-high eight goals this season.
2. Jets RW Kyle Wellwood — Goal and and assist for the crafty forward, who continues to help make those around him better with his smarts and creativity.
3. Jets G Ondrej Pavelec — The truth is you could probably make him a star on each and every night this team plays. Finished with 31 saves in his 11th consecutive start.
This time, the Jets gave up the first goal early in the first period (at 3:53 to be exact) but regrouped to score four unanswered, including two on the power play, to post consecutive victories for just the second time this season. The Jets penalty kill was also rock-solid, going a perfect 4-for-4.
Produced all four of the goals — including a pair on the power play. Blake Wheeler finally got his first of the campaign by driving the net hard.
Keyed by the pair of Dustin Byfuglien and Mark Stuart, the blue-liners were able to completely blank Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in this one and helped limit the Capitals offensive output. Strong puck movement and sound defensive play overall.
Making his 11th consecutive start, Ondrej Pavelec wasn’t overworked but was sharp when he needed to be, which is a an absolute must for this team. The only goal to beat him looked to be offside.
The Jets wrap up their three-game homestand on Saturday afternoon with a 2 p.m. start against the Philadelphia Flyers. The last time those two teams got together, the Jets blew a pair of four-goal leads but came back to earn a 9-8 victory.