They booed Shane Doan loudly and every other Phoenix Coyote almost as much at the MTS Centre Thursday night. And then they cheered for the Jets, who beat the Coyotes 1-0, and for goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who made 33 saves to get his second shutout of the season.
For many fans this was sweet revenge. Everyone here remembers all too well that Phoenix was the place the old Jets fled to in 1996 because Winnipeg supposedly wasn’t capable of hanging onto an NHL franchise. With the tables now turned and Phoenix the league’s weakest link, at least ownership-wise, it was a chance for fans to take out 15 years of frustration. And they did.
Boos rained down every time a Coyotes player touched the puck, particularly Doan, who many Winnipeggers believe dissed the city last year when there was talk the Coyotes could move to Manitoba. (Doan insists he never said anything bad about Winnipeg, he just didn’t want to leave Phoenix.) Even after the announcer urged the crowd to recognize Doan, who once played for the old Jets, the crowd managed one hearty cheer, with some fans offering a standing ovation, and then went right back to booing.
The Jets harnessed that energy and came out strong, dominating play early, getting the best scoring chances and generally pushing the Coyotes around the ice at first. It was a far cry from the team’s weak first-period performance against Ottawa two days ago that helped cost it the game. And the better effort paid off.
Less than seven minutes into the game, Bryan Little poked in a rebound after a strong two-man rush with Evander Kane that flustered Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith. Phoenix didn’t do itself any favours early on with seven giveaways in the first period, compared to three for the Jets, and many sloppy passes that ended up on Jets sticks. Pavelec also made at least three superb saves, including one on an open shot by Kyle Turris, something he did not do Tuesday.
“I didn’t feel I helped the team to win the last game,” Pavelec said afterward. “So it was great to have a chance to be back in the net and bounce back. ... We deserved to win, we played a great game and we had a lot of scoring chances and played great defensively and got two points.”
The Coyotes put up more of a fight in the second period, coming at Pavelec in waves. But the Winnipeg goalie did more than hold on, he made 16 saves in the second, allowing the Jets to hang on to their slim lead. Winnipeg didn’t sit back. The Jets took the play to the Coyotes as well, especially some strong rushes by Kane and Little, forcing Smith to make several smart saves. He stopped 31 shots in total on the night.
For Winnipeg, getting a lead has been relatively easy lately, keeping it has not. The Jets gave up a two-goal lead in Boston last Saturday and lost. They gave up two leads against Ottawa on Tuesday and lost. So heading into the third period the pressure was on, especially since, coming into the game, Winnipeg had been outscored 28-19 in the third.
“I was a bit nervous,” Little said after the game. “I think everyone was a bit nervous. You are only up by one and when it’s in your end you’re kind of holding your breath.”
But the Jets kept up the pressure and this time it was the opponent, Phoenix, who couldn’t keep up. Coyotes defenceman Derek Morris helped the Jets, too, giving up the puck to Chris Thorburn who nearly scored and then hooking Kane to give the Jets a power play late in the period.
“It’s a big part of the game, playing with the lead, and we’ve kind of hit the panic button a bit when we had leads lately,” said Little. “But tonight I thought we did a lot better job of managing it and not giving them many scoring chances.”
Jets coach Claude Noel agreed and added that “as far as an overall 60-minute game, I think this was one of the better games we’ve played.”
He noted that the Jets took just two penalties and although they didn’t score on three power plays, the Coyotes are notorious for not giving up many power plays at all. “We played a lot better, a lot better than what we saw Tuesday,” Noel added.
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said he expected the Jets to come out strong. “We just kept turning over the puck and feeding their fire,” he said after the game.
“We gave it away in the first 10 minutes,” added Doan, who said his turnover led to the Little goal. “We're a lot better team than we played in the first 10.”
Doan said he appreciated the ovation he received at the urging of the announcer. “It was pretty special. It's not too often you get to experience something like that,” he said. “It meant a lot to me.”
The Jets go to 10-11-4 on the season and are now tied with Tampa Bay for third in the Southeast Division. Phoenix is now 13-8-3.
Winnipeg continues this long homestand Saturday with a game against New Jersey and then 10 more at home this month.