By: Adam Wazny | Friday, March 1
Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Ladd scores on New Jersey Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg at the eight-second mark of the first period in their game on Feb. 28 in Winnipeg. (John Woods/Canadian Press)
Winning ugly often requires two things: hard work and getting dirty.
The Winnipeg Jets were the second-best team on the ice at MTS Centre Thursday night but still managed to gut out a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. Persevering under these circumstances typically suggests one of two things: it's the mark of a maturing team or a testament to the hot streak that said team is currently riding.
Either way, the Jets will take it.
They don't ask "how", right? They ask "how many."
We'll get to the 'how many' in a moment but first a thought on Andrew Ladd's play through the first 20 games of the season. The Jets captain scored two goals and added an assist on the Blake Wheeler's empty netter, giving him 20 points this year.
Ladd has 12 goals, putting him just two back of Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos (14). For NHL players with 10 goals on 30-plus shots taken, only Boston's Brad Marchand (30.3 per cent) has a higher shooting percentage than Ladd (26.1).
"Right now our team is certainly driven by him and it shows," Jets head coach Claude Noel said after the game. "And it doesn't matter if he scores or doesn't, or gets points; he's a hard-driving guy and expects a lot from himself.
"He leads by example. He's a quiet guy but he's (earned) a lot of respect, and you can see why. He's in the hard areas."
Teammates also notice the workman effort from the captain.
"If you look at his game, he's doing a lot of things that aren't on the stats sheet, little certain plays in the dirty areas, " defenceman Zach Bogosian said. "He's what's driving this team right now."
The hard areas, the dirty areas: it's what has made Ladd arguably the most valuable player on the Jets club. All the talent in the world doesn't mean a thing if it's not put to use.
Whatever skill Ladd has is being maximized right now due to his lunch-pail mentality.
It's simple, really. He understands that the best way to create scoring chances, or to find a scoring opportunity, is to be in front of the net. His first goal Thursday, eight seconds into the contest, arrived by simply bullying his way to the net and shoveling it under Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg.
The second marker, the winner that came with eight minutes to go in a third period dominated by the Devils, started with an end-to-end rush by Dustin Byfuglien -- the open ice gobbled up by the big defenceman was impressive -- but it was Ladd that closed the deal. Seeing his teammate barreling into the New Jersey zone, he fought to the net and parked himself on top of the blue paint.
Hello, loose puck.
Thursday's showing was the type of blue-collar effort Ladd has turned in since arriving in Winnipeg. The only difference these days, during this point a game pace he's on, is that he's finding those loose pucks on his stick -- in those hard areas, in those dirty areas.
"(Byfuglien) did the bulk of the work there and I just had to pick up the garbage," Ladd quietly told reporters afterwards. "It was an unbelievable rush on his part. I just went to the net and found it."
Picking up trash is a noble occupation. Not everyone can do it.
Winnipeg (10-9-1, 21 points) has won five of its last six games and wakes up right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference: Tied for top spot in the Southeast Division (with Carolina; the Hurricanes hold the tie-breaker) and square with the Philadelphia Flyers for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Jets host the Washington Capitals Saturday afternoon (2 p.m., Hockey Night in Canada).