The fairy tale continued for the Winnipeg Jets under new head coach Paul Maurice as the Jets defeated the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 Saturday afternoon at the MTS Centre.
And like all great tales, so too did this one have a magical ending.
With just over a minute into extra time, rookie phenom Jacob Trouba tapped in the game-winner — his second marker of the game — to bring 15,004 cheering fans to their feet in admiration.
Got to be good to be lucky
It was the second time that game Trouba had snuck into the offensive zone, in behind the Edmonton defence and with great hockey sense found the back of the net. The first came off the stick of Bryan Little who deked out two sprawling Oilers’ defenders before hitting Trouba with a sharp pass in front and the other came courtesy of Blake Wheeler for yet another tap-in goal.
“Better to be lucky than good I guess,” quipped Trouba after the game. “I thought they were both spectacular plays. You just get the puck to those kinds of players, and they’ll find you. It was all them, and they made the plays and they deserve a lot of credit.”
Credit was shared throughout an upbeat Jets locker room following this one. After all, the win extended the Jets win streak to three games and brought them back to within just a single game of .500, with a 22-23-5 on the year.
Glimpse in to the future
But a string of wins wasn’t all Jets fans were smiling about after the final whistle. The game was also a sunny glimpse into what’s in store for the future as Mark Scheifele rounded out the scoring with his ninth of the year and his first ever at the MTS Centre.
“It felt pretty good. I was definitely pretty pumped about it,” said Scheifele of the goal. “The fans were definitely giving us a lot more energy today, and the whole team played for each other and played for the team and that was a huge thing.”
There’s no doubt both Scheifele and Trouba are seen by management as the two building blocks on this team and the only two untouchables on the team as far as future roster moves.
Not knowing what a young Scheifele would say if asked what he felt about all the hype surrounding him and Trouba, the media went on and asked. The 20 year old took a moment to rejoice before he giving his answer.
“It was pretty cool tonight,” he reflected. “Obviously with Jacob getting two really big goals, he had an unbelievable game, and I think it’s just a matter of we want to win and that’s the main thing. We want to be part of a winning team, and we just want to do whatever it takes to win.”
Big part of the team
It’s that kind of attitude that has earned both Scheifele and Trouba their respect in the room. That want-to-win attitude resonates with older veteran players anxious to turn things around in this playoff-starved city. But it doesn’t matter unless they have the will to do it, something captain Andrew Ladd agreed is there.
“They’re a big part of our team,” said Ladd. “They’ve done a good job of elevating their game. From the start of the season, they’ve been all ears and have gotten better and better. Their futures are bright and we’re happy to have them.”
As for Maurice, unsure how to answer the same question when put forth to him, he started by downplaying the talent of his two young guns.
“I've been here for a week,” started Maurice. “I showed up the first day, they looked like good players and nothing’s changed my mind. They're good players, they have good instincts.”
But as time went on his modesty for the youngsters started to break down.
“I liked the way Scheifele scored the goal. I think he probably took two hits before [that]. I think with Jacob Trouba, he's going to continually refine that game where you won't see him jumping in every time but he will jump in at the right times — kind of the Lidstrom factor,” said Maurice. “You know, make 90 per cent of your game the 10-foot pass and the last 10 per cent is what'll make you great."
High praise for a blue-liner with only 33 career NHL games under his belt. But that’s the kind of respect you earn from a city and from coaches who appreciate a consistent effort night in and night out.
There’s no argument Trouba has been one of the Jets most dominant players this season. He’s logged big minutes and plays in every situation.
Who would have guessed two thirds into his first season as a pro he’d be logging the kind ice time he does or making the offensive zone rushes he’s already proved he can do?
Congratulations if you had your hand up. For the others, I’m there with you.
Maurice brings confidence
But the feel good story around Saturday’s game wasn’t only about the play of two guys. For just over 61 minutes, the Jets showed a conscious effort to play more like a cohesive unit rather than separate parts.
The Jets are playing with confidence right now and according to the players, it’s all thanks to their new mentor behind the bench.
“The one thing Paul has done a good job of doing when he came in was getting our confidence up,” said Ladd. “The whole group, I don’t think was the most confident group when he got here, and he’s done a good job of building us up and letting us know we’re pretty good hockey players.”
For Wheeler, it’s the attention to detail Maurice possesses that has made the Jets a better team under his rule.
“After the second period we made some adjustments, refocused and got amped up to go there in the third period,” said Wheeler. “Mau(rice) did a great job of coming in and saying, ‘Look, this is fun. You’re at home, down one goal. This is a great opportunity.’”
And when opportunity came a knockin’, the Jets answered the door.
Hitting the road
The Jets now pack their bags and hit the California coast for the next two games with stops in Anaheim Tuesday and San Jose Thursday night. Winnipeg will have their hands full against a Ducks team that has yet to lose at home in regulation time.
In 22 games at the Honda Center this season, Anaheim is 20-0-2 with the only losses coming against New Jersey (4-3 OT, Nov. 20) and Los Angeles (3-2 SO, Dec. 3).
The trip will be a real measuring stick for Maurice and the Jets. With Maurice still yet to sign anything beyond this year, a win in the next two games could result in the ending Maurice has been hoping for as he continues to write his story with the Jets.
First star – Jacob Trouba, WPG
He scored two goals including the game-winner in 23:32 of ice time. Enough said.
Second star – Mark Scheifele, WPG
He made an incredible effort to score his ninth of the season, beating Oilers’ net minder, Ilya Bryzgalov, with his own rebound to give the Jets the lead in the third. Scheifele also finished the game with a team-high in shots with six.
Third star – Jordan Eberle
The Oilers standout up front had a solid game for his club. Eberle scored his 16th of the season on the power play after he converted some nice passing with a laser shot top-shelf. He finished with three shots in 19:03 of ice time.