By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
After dropping their last five, a completely different Winnipeg Jets team came out against the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night and dominated for nearly 60-minutes on their way to a 5-2 victory in front of a sold-out MTS Centre.
“It’s good that the team showed that part of us because it tells me that they’re capable,” said Winnipeg bench boss Claude Noel. “To me, this is our A-game… and that’s where the bar sits.”
The bar is now set high, as the Jets played efficient, up-tempo hockey from goaltender Ondrej Pavelec on out while outshooting an extremely offensively-skilled Tampa squad 39-32. Winnipeg went 1-for-1 on the power play, and killed six Tampa advantages, including 1:17 of 5-on-3.
Watch post-game reaction:
Not only did they play a incredibly different game then they have been as of late, but the Jets looked different too. After an abysmal outing against the cellar-dwelling Blue Jackets on Saturday, Noel decided to shake things up by rearranging both his forward and defensive lines.
Beyond the always effective — and taxing — “GST” line of Glass, Slater, and Thorburn, the new forward lines of Wellwood, Antropov, Ladd — Kane, Little, Burmistrov — and Wheeler, Jaffray, Stapleton, seemed to re-spark some emotion and urgency in the staggering 6-9-3 Jets.
“It’s good to switch things up and get the guys focused a little more,” said captain Andrew Ladd, who had been matched up with Little and Wheeler since the season began. “It’s nice to play with the same people and be comfortable, but at the same time, when things aren’t going well and things aren’t clicking, things need to change.”
The underachieving Dustin Byfuglien played arguably his best game of the year while paired with a new line mate — the defensive-minded Mark Stuart.
“I know he’s always back there,” said Byfuglien in an extremely rare post-game interview. “I know what he’s going to do. He’s an easy guy to read, and it’s just good playing with him.”
Byfuglien finished the night with a goal and an assist while logging a team-high 24-minutes of ice time.
While a convincing win over a strong Lightning team may appear to leave things rosy in Winnipeg for the time being, things won’t get any easier as the Jets face the division-leading Washington Capitals and conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers this week before heading out on a three-game road trip.
The big question is if can they sustain this level of play, and Noel knows this.
“We know we’re able. We’re capable. Can we do this, and can we do this on more than back-to-back nights?”
This week will be telling.
ChrisD.ca video/Darrin Bauming