It’s not every day that Jets defenceman Mark Stuart scores a goal in the National Hockey League.
In 465 NHL games, the sturdy blue-liner has found the back of the net just 20 times.
So when he opened the scoring 11:27 in to the second period of Wednesday’s 3-2 win over the New York Islanders, surely he must have taken a second to savour the rare moment.
“Not really,” said Stuart following the game. “It’s nice to contribute offensively, I mean you always want to help the team out, so anytime I can do that it’s nice. It doesn’t happen a whole lot but yeah, it felt good.”
Then at the very least the 29-year-old native of Minnesota must have taken some solace in knowing he’s now a member of the NHL’s 20-goal scorer fraternity.
“Really?” Stuart questioned before letting the not-so-amazing feat sink it. “Wow, it only took nine years. That’s pretty cool.”
Cool, indeed. So what did the goal scorer himself see when he took a pass from winger James wright on the left point before letting go a hard shot through a crowd, off the right post and in the back of the net?
“I didn’t see anything,” said Stuart. “I just kind of shot it. Just a knuckle ball that found its way in to the net.”
A knuckle ball? Like the one from the hit '90s trio of movies, The Mighty Ducks?
“It was kind of like Mighty Ducks,” he said, taking a minute to visualize the exact scene from the movie before giving up. “What’s his name? Fulton Reid? No. The other guy. Knuckle puck guy.”
Knuckle puck guy … or what he’s formally known as in the movie, Russ Tyler. I’ll admit I too had a hard time figuring it out, forcing me to Google “Mighty Ducks knuckle puck guy” to find out.
Playing with a lead
But unlike the difficulty displayed in trying to figure out names from past Disney movies, the Jets appear to have, for now, got over their inability to play with a lead.
It’s the second consecutive game Winnipeg has held on to win after scoring go-ahead goals.
And although there were some close calls by the Islanders attack late in the third period, the Jets deserve credit for winning not only in back-to-back games, but games on the road as well.
“You’d like to be perfect when you’re going into a situation where you’re [ahead] 3-1,” said head coach Claude Noel during his post-game chat. “The other team’s pressing and that’s one thing that you have to recognize. They’re also pushing the envelope on things but I think the good thing is we’re finding a way to win the game.”
The Islanders managed to cut the Jets lead to a single goal after a late third-period marker from Isles’ superstar, John Tavares. New York continued to press in the late stages of the game, putting the Jets on their collective heels in the final minutes.
“[Is it] the ideal way to close out games? I would have to say no, it wouldn’t be,” Noel said. “It’s all part of game management so for me. That’s an area where we’ve battled at trying to get better but that’s something we still have to obviously work on 'cause I don’t like the way that we’re doing it. But I’m happy that we get the win.”
At one point, with only minutes left in the game and the Jets mercilessly hanging on to a one goal lead, the puck laid exposed under the pad of Jets net-minder Al Montoya until Winnipeg was fortunate enough to get to it first and clear it out of harms way.
“I’ll take that 'cause nine out of 10 times that’s going in,” commented Montoya on the play.
That special feeling
Montoya made 28 saves for the Jets in the win against an Islanders team that gave him his first shot in the NHL.
What made it even more special was that it happened in the Nassau Coliseum, the same building he’d built fond memories in at the earliest stages of his professional career.
“Yeah, love it. This is great,” he said. “This is a team that gave me a chance here. Those are my friends over there. It’s something very special to come back to this old building and get a win.”
Montoya is now 3-2-1-1 this season with the Jets, and 6-3-1-2 since being acquired by Winnipeg prior to last season. He’s been good when called upon, and something Noel has come to expect from his backup goalie.
“He made some big stops for a good portion of the game and I thought he did well,” said Noel.
“He looked comfortable. He looked poised so I was happy with Al and that’s what Al’s given us. He goes in and he does the job for us — finds a way to win games.”
Gone streaking: Rookie Mark Scheifele recorded an assist on Devin Setoguchi’s second period goal to extend his point streak (1g, 2a) to three games. The goal also gives Setoguchi his second in as many games, preceded by an empty net goal in a 3-1 win over New Jersey Monday.
Here’s Johnny: Tavares added to his point total against the Jets, chipping in a goal and an assist in the loss. He now has three goals and eight assists in eight career games against the Jets.
O Canada, oh boy: Anthem singer, Jill Shackner, gave her own special rendition of O Canada prior to puck drop, adding the line “god shine his light on thee” midway through her solo. The hiccup caused a few of the Jets players to break from their serious look and into a fit of smiles.
Up next: The Jets now travel to Philadelphia where they will practice today before an early game (10:30 CT) against the Flyers Friday. It’s the second match against Philly this season with the Jets edging out a 3-2 shootout win back on Nov. 15.
First: Andrew Ladd, WPG
The Jets captain did was he always does — played a 200-foot game and never gave an inch to the other team. He scored a beauty goal, capping off a give-and-go play with linemate Blake Wheeler and was a plus-1 in 19:28 of ice time.
Second: Devin Setoguchi, WPG
His second period goal was his second in as many games and would eventually become the game winner after the Islanders scored late in the game to make it 3-2. Setoguchi finished the game a plus-1 in 16:15 of ice time.
Third: Andrew Macdonald, NYI
He was the first to get on the board for the Islanders, ripping a slap shot high glove to beat Montoya on the power play. He also ate up big minutes for New York, finishing the game a plus-3 in an incredible 30:16 of ice time.