Winnipeg is coming off of a solid 3-1 win against New Jersey, but they are the most penalized team in the League. They are also in the most competitive division in the League: the Central Division. According to Coach Claude Noel, the Jets are tasked with spending less time in their own zone, continuing to block shots, keeping up puck management, and winning the puck battles on the walls and in their own zone. Unfortunately, the Jets offense has been lacking, but Evander Kane finally scored after 11 games on Monday night. He and Blake Wheeler are the team’s main goal scorers, but have merely twelve goals between the two of them, one-quarter into the season.
Tonight, both teams started out looking pretty disoriented in the first period. First, looking at the Jets’ offense, Olli Jokinen took an interference penalty a 10:39, giving the Isles their first power play of the night, which ended up being useless due to the Jets’ tight defensive skills. A second Team Orange and Blue power play ensued after Michael Frolik was called for slashing at 16:16, but Montoya caught an excellent shot by Kyle Okposo: yet another wasted Islanders power play – the story of their season, so far. Halfway through the second, Matt Halischuk had a good shot on goal, which was swiftly saved by Kevin Poulin. However, a nimble poke check by Bryan Little changed the dynamic of play in the second, whereby the Jets took possession of the puck, carried it down the ice, allowing Captain Andrew Ladd to score his seventh goal of the season. Less than two minutes later, former Shark Devin Setoguchi tipped the puck into the net, with the help of Keaton Ellerby and the youth, Mark Scheifele. These two goals were the second and third goals of the night, and by the Jets.
The first goal of the night was by a Jets defenseman. In just his second game back from injury, defenseman Matt Stuart scored his first goal of the season, soon after the faceoff with an assist from James Wright, just over Poulin’s left shoulder. As the Islanders spent much of their precious time on passing the puck around, as though involved in a game of hot potato, it made the Winnipeg defense look good. Late in the second, the Jets center Jokinen took another penalty and the Jets’ penalty kill broke down as they allowed the Isles to, this time, capitalize, and Andrew MacDonald scored. Another hot defenseman, Dustin Byfuglien, played a significant role in holding the Jets’ lead at 3-1 by the end of the second period, having racked up 17:06 minutes on the ice, the most of the team. He not only is an unyielding defenseman, but he is a two-play player with offensive skills (which he proved while in Chicago). Toward the end of the game, he had such a hard shot, that when Aaron Ness of the Isles tried to block it with his body, he nearly keeled over (he was hunched over for quite some time). Byfuglien is always big on the power play. However, the Islanders weren’t ready to ease up on the Jets defense. At 13:01 in the third, John Tavares scored, making the game 3-2, and both teams were tied with 27 shots a piece. Following this goal, the Islanders quickly drew a penalty and went on the power play, yet the Jets’ defense did a good job, allowing only three shots on goal.
Ondrej Pavelec has been the starting netminder in the twine tent for the team from the North, but tonight, Coach Noel gave the gig to the gentleman more familiar with the Nassau Coliseum – former Isles’ goalie, Al Montoya. Number 35 for the Jets looked limber and formidable throughout the first and much of the second period, but succumbed to the pressure at the end of the second period and again against John Tavares, in the third. Although the official board said 24-21 shots on goal, at 14 min into the third period, it didn’t appear as though Montoya had had very much to do. Maybe he had a few look-up-from-your-magazine saves, but that was about it. The truth is that Winnipeg did not necessarily play a clean game, but the Islanders did not put up much of a challenge. The Jets’ opponent did have many shots on Montoya, but the shots themselves were not substantive and powerful.
After a sloppy first period, the highlight was a scuffle between Blake Wheeler and perhaps Cal Clutterbuck and/or Matt Martin. Wheeler’s helmet was removed, and when he went to grab it off of the ice, an Islander slid it away with his stick; that was hilarious. The second period was action-packed, with four goals, favoring the Jets. For the most part, the Jets were solid with their puck possession and didn’t need to block shots with their bodies all the time, for they often used their sticks. Since the Islanders were mostly observers in this game, the Jets out-maneuvered them handily. The losing team seemed to be play coquettishly, often trying to make fancy moves that were truly unnecessary. A team like the Jets needs to be challenged and battled aggressively, man-on-man. The winning team proved tonight that they are stronger than at least two teams in the Metropolitan Division: the Devils and the Islanders. The Jets are better than they seem since their numbers only show that they have 28 points and are in 6th in their division, but if they were in the Metropolitan Division, they would be in 2nd place. The better team won tonight.