It was at the top of the Jets to-do list before settling in to the Christmas break: score a win on home ice.
And although it’s not clear whether or not Old St. Nicholas had heard the pleas from way up in the North Pole, that’s exactly what happened Friday night as the Jets downed the red-hot Florida Panthers - winners of their last five games- 5-2 in front of a cheerful and merry MTS crowd.
It was the kind of spirit one would expect from a crowd that hasn’t had much reason to be jolly this season. The win snapped a six-game losing streak for the Jets dating back to Nov. 10 in a win against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“It’s unacceptable to lose at home,” said Jets tender, Ondrej Pavelec, who finished with 21 saves in the win. “Our fans are great. They support us all year long so it’s good to see them cheering for us and [that] they [are] happy. Everybody’s happy. We enjoyed it tonight and we’re going to be back at work tomorrow.”
A little help, luck
It was the first win in six starts for Pavelec, putting to rest, at least for the moment, any ideas of a goalie controversy. The 26-year-old made a number of big saves on the night but also got a bit of help from his iron elves.
“I don’t even know how many times they hit the post,” Pavelec said. “Today, two posts I think or three, so the bounces were on my side. You need a little bit of luck if you want to win the game so I’m happy.”
It certainly helps when you can get the type of goal support the Jets offered on the night. Winnipeg tallied five goals for the first time at home since a 5-0 smashing over the Nashville Predators close to 40 days ago.
Mark Scheifele (2a), Evander Kane (1g, 1a), Jacob Trouba (1g, 1a), Michael Frolik (1g,1a) and Dustin Byfuglien (2a) all finished with multi point games.
“We got a lot of good play from pretty much every player on our team,” head coach Claude noel said after the game. “This is what we’ve needed and what we wanted to try and get.”
Bad taste in mouth
Winnipeg has won just two games in their last six, including a loss to the league’s worst ranked Buffalo Sabres Tuesday. They sit in second last in the Central Division, two points ahead of Nashville who have two games in hand.
“I think our group was kind of chomping at the bit to get going again,” opined Blake Wheeler about his team’s effort against Florida. “Anytime you have a tough game like we had in Buffalo, then you take a couple days to stew over it, you’re almost foaming at the mouth to get back out there.
“Our group was ready to play tonight and we were excited to play tonight and get the opportunity to get the bad taste out of our mouths.”
The Jets bright spot of late has been their effectiveness on the power play. Winnipeg scored twice in four opportunities with the man advantage against a Panthers team ranked 29th on the penalty kill before puck drop.
Practice makes perfect
The Jets - who have spent a majority of the season ranked dead last on the power play - now find themselves up five spots in 25th place. Laughable still, sure, but power play goals in five of their last six games is no joke.
So what’s behind all of that recent success? Well, practice of course.
“We started practicing it more. Plain and simple,” said Wheeler. “We [started to] put a bigger emphasis on actually going through it in practice. [In practice you’re] kind of getting a feel for where guys were going to be and that’s huge. When you watch video that’s a key part of it as well.
“I think hockey players for the most part are creatures of habit and you have to go through those motions. In practice you get a feel for it and we’ve started doing that the last couple weeks. Almost immediately from when we started doing that the puck started going in the net so I think there is definitely a correlation there.”
Welcome back Zach
Defenceman Zach Bogosian made his return to the lineup after missing the last 15 games with a groin injury. The burly D-man finished the game with an assist and was a plus-1 in 17:44 of ice time.
“I felt good,” said Bogosian. “It was bit of a weird game - a lot of whistles, a lot of sitting around and a lot of penalties. All in all it felt good to be back and I didn’t have any setbacks so it was good.”
Noel was happy with what he got from No. 44, but noted it will still take some time for some of the rust to wear off.
“I thought Zach played a pretty good game,” Noel said. “He played fairly solid. You can see he’s got a lot of speed. Some areas he’s a little bit rusty but I think that’s OK. I thought he matched up pretty good with Toby [Enstrom].”
Toby touch: Speaking of Toby, the Jets defenceman snapped a 21-game goalless drought with a first period marker on the power play. It was the third of the year for the young Swede.
“I haven’t been a big goal scorer my whole life,” Enstrom said. I” love passing the puck. Any way I can help the team it doesn’t really matter. It’s always fun to score goals - I’m not going to lie. It was fun but the most important was that we got the two points.”
Up next: The Jets head west for the next two games starting with the Vancouver Canucks Sunday followed by the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night. The Jets are 6-12-4 against teams from the Western Conference so far this season. That will need to improve if the Jets hope to crawl their way back in to the playoff conversation.
First star - Evander Kane, WPG
“The Natural” added to his goal count, scoring his ninth of the year a minute in to the second period. Kane also added an assist to go with his four shots, six hits and eight penalty minutes.
Second star - Tobias Enstrom, WPG
The Swedish defenceman scored the first of two power play goals by the Jets. Enstrom finished the game a minus-1 in 19:38 of ice time.
Third star - Michael Frolik, WPG
Known as a defensively minded guy, Frolik continues to blossom as an offensive threat. The 25-year-old tallied a goal and an assist in 16:39 of ice time.