By Jim Bender, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Washington Capitals spoiled the debut for new Jets coach Dave Lowry on Friday night.
Centre Michael Sgarbossa and forward Alex Ovechkin salted the victory away with empty-net goals during the last 2:40 of the game as Washington beat the Winnipeg Jets 5-2.
Lowry, Winnipeg’s former assistant coach, was promoted to interim head coach when Paul Maurice suddenly announced his resignation on Friday morning.
“I thought we did play a fast game,” Lowry said. “I thought, you know, when you put up 40 shots, you’re doing something right. I thought it might have taken us a little while to get it going, but the second period I thought we did a good job of playing fast, managing the puck, creating opportunities.”
Caps goaltender Vitek Vanecek robbed several Jets players as he made 40 saves on 42 shots before 14,039 fans at the Canada Life Centre.
Brett Leason, Daniel Sprong and Conor Sheary also scored for Washington (18-5-7).
“Vitek was really good,” said Washington coach Peter Laviolette. “I thought the first period, we did the right things, we came out with the right mindset. They (Jets) pushed hard in the second period and that’s when I think Vitek was at his best.
“Then I thought we reset going out for the third period. We played really smart, much more on the attack in the third period and really doing a better job.”
Sheary, who scored the winner midway through the third, credited Vanecek for sparking the squad.
“He kept us in it in the second and, in the third, made the saves he needed to,” he said. “And we were able to bury the game-winner. It gives us a big boost on the bench when he’s making saves and doing that stuff and keeping us in the game. So, kudos to him.”
Brenden Dillon and Josh Morrissey replied for Winnipeg (13-11-5). Netminder Connor Hellebuyck made 34 saves on 37 shots.
“It was obviously a pretty emotional day,” Dillon said of the coaching change. “For us, trying to get going for tonight, that first period, we were maybe a little bit just kind of in the moment of everything going on, but as the game went on, we got better.”
But Vanecek stoned them.
“It is frustrating,” Lowry said. “But I think the big thing is, you look at it, that there are bounces, but you try to learn from those. You know, you put pucks at the net, you put bodies at the net and usually good things happen.”
Lowry admitted that he was taken aback by Maurice’s announcement.
“For myself, it came out of the blue,” he said. “I first had a conversation (Thursday) night with (Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff), that was the first that I had any inkling that something was going on. And yes, it was a surprise.”
The Jets will host the St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon, then embark on a two-game road trip.
The Caps will return to host the L.A. Kings on Sunday, the first of a two-game homestand.
NOTES: The Jets announced that, to comply with the latest Manitoba Health public health order announced Friday, their games at Canada Life Centre will be limited to 50 per cent capacity between Dec. 21 and Jan. 11. Sunday’s game versus the St. Louis Blues will proceed with full capacity before that takes effect. The Jets plan to contact current seat holders by Dec. 21 to explain how they plan to reduce capacity … The Jets have home games scheduled on Dec. 27 and 29, and Jan. 8 and 10.