WINNIPEG – They may be a bunch of guys you didn’t expect to see in the NHL this year, but they’re doing a heck of a job keeping the Winnipeg Jets afloat.
The patchwork defensive corps of the Jets, held together by duct tape, locked down the visiting Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday night 3-2 to help secure Winnipeg’s second three-game win streak of the season.
If a month ago someone had told you that two-thirds of the Jets defence would consist of Mark Stuart, Julian Melchiori, Brian Strait and Nelson Nogier, you would have thought they had the Jets confused with the Manitoba Moose.
But the group, obviously buoyed by the big minutes played by Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey, held the Flyers to 26 shots, most of them very low-risk opportunities on Michael Hutchinson, who got the win in his first start in over two months.
It was a snoozer, a game lacking any kind of buzz or energy in the building, through two periods. Things got chippy in the third with multiple post-whistle skirmishes, the discharging of frustration from two teams that will watch the playoffs from home this year.
Philadelphia opened the scoring early in the second as they managed to get Hutchinson flailing like a fish out of water, completely losing his bearings before Jordan Weal banged it into a wide open net.
The Jets would answer a few minutes later on the power play as a Blake Wheeler point blast ramped up Mathieu Perreault’s stick and past a helpless Steve Mason. Winnipeg would get a great chance to grab the lead but came up empty on a four minute man advantage.
The intensity ratcheted up a couple notches in the third before Wheeler gave the Jets the lead on a point-blank wrister. Scheifele would give the Jets some breathing room with his 29th as the top line continued to click, accounting for all eight points in the win. The Flyers would score with under two seconds left but it was too late to matter.
“They’ve been great, I think it really helps too as a young player when you come up and you get in the situation where you do play a lot of minutes,” Hutchinson said about his defence. “It was great to see Nogier, didn’t look like it was his first NHL game out there so I was really impressed.”
Nogier drew into the starting lineup in his first game, getting to experience what it’s like to stand on the blue line as 15,000 fans yelled ‘True North’ during the national anthem.
“The last 48 hours have been crazy. I got the call on Sunday night and I’m just soaking everything in that I can,” Nogier said as Scheifele tried to distract him postgame. “It’s all pretty amazing at this point and winning makes it that much better, too. I think I was happy with my game. A little shaky at the start, but I think that was to be expected, being a little nervous.”
The three-game win streak comes just a little too late to matter in the playoff race. Cynics would say it’s easy to play when you have no pressure on, when you’ve been reduced to the role of spoiler, but this win was the kind of effort you want to see, a team not quitting despite having nothing concrete to play for.
The Jets now hit the road to take on the Kings in Los Angeles Thursday night. It would not be a surprise to see Hutchinson back in net, having played solid hockey over the last four periods to secure a pair of wins. In the past he has struggled to string together good performances once the spotlight starts to shine a little brighter, but we will have to wait and see on Thursday. Puck drop in California is 9:30 p.m.