It wasn’t exactly the way John Albert envisioned his first shift in the National Hockey League.
The 24-year-old was one of five disgruntled Jets trapped in the defensive zone when the New York Rangers jumped out to an early 1-0 lead just 2:49 in to the first period.
“You never want to get scored on in any situation but I just put it behind me,” said Albert, who was recalled from St. John’s on Saturday. “It was the first shift and I wanted to go out there every shift after and work hard.”
The former 2007 sixth-round draft pick salvaged his NHL debut with a go-ahead goal in the second period, making good on a partial breakaway to score on his very first shot in the NHL.
When asked if anything had ever felt as good as scoring his first big league goal, Albert just smiled.
“Absolutely not. I’ve been dreaming [about] that since I was three years old,” he said. “It was awesome. It was the greatest feeling I’ve ever experienced.”
The milestone was made even more special by the fact that Albert’s parents, John and Cindy, were both in attendance. But that’s just status quo for a proud parental duo that Albert said rarely misses a game.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said about being able to share the moment with ma and pa, who travelled all the way from Concord, Ohio.
“They haven’t missed a game in probably 10 years. They obviously don’t come to St. John’s when I’m there but they come to all my road games.”
And they’ll be leaving Monday's game with what surely has become the household’s most prized possession — the very puck that Albert used to score.
Thorburn makes promotion count
Albert wasn’t the only unsung hero in Monday’s 5-2 win over the New York Rangers.
With Evander Kane shelved for with a lower body injury, Chris Thorburn made the unorthodox jump from the fourth to the second line, playing alongside Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi.
The trio connected for two goals – Michael Frolik took a shift late on Jokinen’s second goal — in the win. Thorburn finished with a pair of assists, his only two points in 19 games this year, and was a plus-2 in 12:10 of ice time.
“I was excited, nervous though,” said Thorburn of the move up in the depth chart.
“I’ve been around for a little bit. I’ve had some opportunities throughout my career. I’ve been fortunate enough that when I’ve got those opportunities to play with some great players that don’t make you feel too uncomfortable or don’t make you feel like you don’t deserve to be there.”
Thorburn understands the move may only be temporary, that eventually he’ll be reverted back to his old role on the fourth line. But for the 30-year-old Sault Ste. Marie product, Monday’s game was a chance to prove to his coach, and to himself, that he could be relied upon for more than just his fists.
“Throughout the course of this year I wanted to be strong defensively and earn the coaches' confidence in me to put me out a little more,” he said.
“That’s where it kind of starts — the confidence in the coach to know that you can play defensive hockey. And with that opportunity comes offensive opportunity and tonight … just an example of it paying off.”
For head coach Claude Noel, it was the kind of game he expected from his veteran forward.
“I thought Chris was good,” said Noel. “I thought he checked well. I thought he wanted to get involved physically. I thought he did the things necessary with that line.”
Hot hand: Rangers captain, Ryan Callahan, added to his impressive career point total against the Jets. His second-period goal gave him seven, to go with five assists, in eight career games against Winnipeg.
Wheeler snaps drought: Blake Wheeler snapped a 14-game goal-less drought with an empty net marker. Prior to that, Wheeler’s last scored during a 3-2 loss to St. Louis back on Oct. 29.
Peluso return: Tough customer Anthony Peluso made his return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the last five games. He played 11 shifts, logging five penalty minutes in 8:40 of ice time. His biggest impact of the game came in the final minutes of the first period when he sparked his team by dropping the gloves with Rangers tough-guy Justin Falk, landing a number of jabs in what was a one-sided bout in favour of Peluso.
Up next: With the win, the Jets improve to 3-1 on their current six-game road trip. Winnipeg will now fly to the Sunshine State where they’ll take on the Florida Panthers Thursday night followed by a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
First: Olli Jokinen, WPG
The old veteran stepped to the plate when his team needed a big win. Jokinen scored two goals in the third period to take the lead and give his team a two-goal cushion. He added an assist and was a plus-3 in 15:23 of ice time.
Second: Dustin Byfuglien, WPG
He made a smart play to intercept a New York rush, leading to the goal by Albert to take a 2-1 lead in the second. Byfuglien finished the game with one assist, two shots and was a plus-1 in 28:38 of ice time.
Third: Ondrej Pavelec, WPG
He played another solid game for the Jets, finishing with 35 saves in the win. It was just another day at the office for one of the Jets' best players this season.