Kukla's Korner

Benny and the Jets

A ‘W’ in Winnipeg

“I’d be shocked if we saw a performance much better than that in Glendale Saturday night. There are too many things inherently wrong with the Jets on the ice for them to have a ‘bounce back’ kind of game.”

Those words were written by this bonehead right here following the Jets’ cringeworthy performance against the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale on Saturday. And while I can’t understand exactly how they pulled it off in such a short period of time, the Winnipeg Jets managed to do what I thought was impossible against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, squeaking out a 2-1 win in front of the maniacal masses in the MTS Centre.

Everything they had done wrong to this point seemed to fall by the wayside against the Pens: the passes worked, the work in the faceoff circle was much improved, the penalty kill was strong and the forwards crashed Marc-Andre Fleury’s net repeatedly.

The Little-Ladd-Wheeler line was effective, bringing some grit to their aggressive play, while the Burmistrov-Antropov-Wellwood line held their own, with Alexander Burmistrov showing his prowess with the puck like no other Jet had until last night. Tanner Glass, Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn provided grit and energy when needed, while Brett MacLean, Mark Scheifele and Tim Stapleton’s roles were scaled back dramatically. Scheifele played just over seven minutes in the game, perhaps an indication his time with the Jets is coming to a close. He was a big liability in the faceoff circle against the Coyotes (as was Burmistrov, who was shifted to the wing against the Pens), and didn’t have much of a presence in his scant time on the ice last night.

The Jets defensemen managed to play a solid game, and weren’t caught out of position very often despite the tendency of guys like Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien to jump up and charge the net when needed. Ron Hainsey left in the second period with an upper body injury, while Mark Stuart bounced back quickly after taking a puck in the head from a point shot.

Then there’s Ondrej Pavelec. The Jets’ netminder was stellar, stopping 28 of 29 shots. While the goal posts helped out on occasion, he also managed some spectacular stops to keep the Jets ahead. Marc-Andre Fleury held his own between the Pens’ pipes, getting some help from Kris Letang on one scramble in close as the Penguins’ defenseman batted the puck to the corner with his glove. That Letang was arguably the best Penguin skater (despite his boarding penalty on Burmistrov that resulted in today’s two-game suspension) isn’t surprising, as the Pens were without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Would the result have been different with them in the lineup? Almost certainly. When Richard Park and Steve Sullivan are creating your best scoring chances, you’re not a team playing to its fullest potential. But the Jets snuck out of the game with a win, managing to rid their collective backs of one more monkey. Wait, does that metaphor even make sense?

It doesn’t matter, for now. The Jets managed to crawl out of sole possession of last place in the league with a win against a Pittsburgh team that has been strong in the early going. Now all fans can do is wait and see if they can come home from games against the fiery Toronto Maple Leafs and the somewhat-feeble Ottawa Senators with a point or more. With the second-fewest goals for in the league (and still no power play goals, something that needs to change ASAP), there has to be far more offensive spark generated on the ice by the Jets if they plan on coming close to repeating last night’s results. Perhaps the return of Evander Kane (whenever that may be) will help what has been a weak set of forwards - albeit one that showed far greater promise last night.

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About Benny and the Jets

Fifteen years ago, Ben's beloved Winnipeg Jets left town. He begrudgingly turned to the Montreal Canadiens for comfort and found none, and is now struggling to find a place in his heart for the Winnipeg Jets v2.0.

Ben is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer that writes a lot about wine and beer. Expect his son to be drafted into the NHL in 2025.

Send him an email at bmswpg@gmail.com and/or follow Ben on Twitter: @bensigurdson