JETS BLOG: Vets show Jets the way

The kids are coming on — that, we know — but the old guard still has its collective hand on the wheel for the Winnipeg Jets.
Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler, second right, checks Calgary Flames' Mark Giordano, right, as Jets' Bryan Little (18) picks up the loose puck during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. (Canadian Press/John Woods)

The kids are coming on — that, we know — but the old guard still has its collective hand on the wheel for the Winnipeg Jets.

Bryan Little's second period goal got the home side out of an early funk and Dustin Byfuglien scored the winning goal with1:28 left to play as Winnipeg forced their way past the Calgary Flames 3-1 at MTS Centre Friday night.

The outcome served as a reminder that as the winds of change blow through the roster this season, the leadership torch — both in the room and on the ice — remains firmly in the hands of the veteran players.

As the Jets struggled to find some sharpness in through the first period and into the second, it was the Little line — the centre flanked by captain Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler — who figured out a way to inject some stability into the Winnipeg game.

The turning point was a simple one.

Go to the net

Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien's (33) shot goes past Calgary Flames' goaltender Karri Ramo (31) as Dennis Wideman, bottom left (6), and Kris Russell (4) defend during third period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. (Canadian Press/John Woods)
Throw the puck to the net and atch the other team fish the puck out of their net.

Little's goal, his third of the year after going scoreless through the first three games, never touched his stick. He redirected a Wheeler chance off his skate and past Karri Ramo to bring the Jets even with the Flames at 1-1. Give Ladd the other assist.

After that, Winnipeg calmed down, carried most of the play against the possession-challenged Flames and stuck with that style of game right through to a win. The Jets are 4-1 on the season and continue a six-game home stand with a date against the St. Louis Blues Sunday afternoon.

It's not as though the Jets were badly outplayed through the first half of the game. They just weren't sharp early (which is becoming a recurring theme; something to keep your eye on). Winnipeg seemed frustrated, trading chances with Calgary in a back-and-forth 30 minutes, each side giving up the neutral zone and giving up odd-man rushes like it was a pre-season contest.

But once Little scored, the worm turned Winnipeg's way.

They held the Flames to just nine shots through the final four minutes. They controlled the play, working the puck deep in the Calgary zone and not giving the Flames forwards any room to breath coming out of their zone. And the Jets drew penalties — not the other way around.

It was exactly the type of game head coach Paul Maurice wants.

Leave it to the vets

Winnipeg Jets centre Bryan Little, left, celebrates his goal with teammate Blake Wheeler against the Calgary Flames during the second period in Winnipeg on Friday. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)
And it was his veterans who figured it out.

How the experience responded when the team needed something to re-boot the game plan sheds a giant white light on the elephant in the Jets room this season.

As you may know, Ladd and Byfuglien are set to be unrestricted free agents this summer, with both looking for nice increases in terms of money and contract term.

Put their names on the short list as Winnipeg's most trusted and valuable players since arriving from Atlanta. Though both hover around the 30-year-old mark, it's easy to subscribe to the idea that both will continue to be important contributors for multiple seasons moving forward.

And so the questions come up again:

Is Winnipeg's roster ready to be turned over to the next generation, or should management do everything they can to keep both players around — even if it means eating some money (real and salary cap related) at the end of those potential deals?

What if the next generation isn't ready to assume the responsibility?

What if this is a window opening for Winnipeg?

If early season returns have shown anything, it's that the Jets have a bumper crop of young talent just starting to grow into solid NHLers. This team will be in the playoff conversation again.

But Friday night also showed this: Winnipeg still needs a veteran hand to guide them when things aren't clicking or going according to plan.

So, how much is that experience worth?


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