When times are tough for a team, counting on the big guns to lead the way is standard operating procedure.
So it should come as little surprise that on a night the Winnipeg Jets were looking to snap out of a two-game losing skid that the top line of Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd paced the offensive attack in what turned out to be a decisive 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night at the MTS Centre.
Little had two goals and an assist, Wheeler had four primary helpers and the back end chipped in with goals from Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers.
The effort featured the type of “playoff-type mentality” that Little urged his teammates to embrace following the morning skate.
“We were ready to play from the drop of the puck. We were just quicker all over the ice,” said Little, who nearly completed the hat trick during the third period but fired his shot over the net. “Everything we wanted to do better, we did that.”
The Jets, who got back to .500 at 15-15-2, play their final games before the Christmas break on Monday against the Edmonton Oilers and on Tuesday against the Calgary Flames.
While it was a team effort that included some nice work by the newly-constructed fourth line of Andrew Copp with call-ups Matt Halischuk and Joel Armia (who made his Jets debut), there was no doubt which line led the charge – and not just offensively.
“They need a game like because they do have a lot of heavy lifting to do for us,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice.
Along with chipping in on three of the four goals and combining for seven points overall, the Jets’ top line relished the other part of their job – shutting down the Rangers’ top trio of Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello before they were broken up in a bid to try and spark their own team’s offence.
“Our job is to make life tough on their top guys and at the same time, we’re usually playing against their top defensive pair too, we’re not just going out there seeing how many we can get and not worrying about our end of the ice,” said Wheeler, who now has 33 points in 32 games this season. “It’s got to be both ways. And some nights, you’ve got to sacrifice a little bit on the offensive side to make sure their guys aren’t having a good night either.
“It feels good to get rewarded for that. You’re going to have nights when everything goes and the puck seems to find you and you’re making plays. You don’t want to get too used to it because it’s kind of a rarity in this league.”
Making his fourth consecutive start, rookie goalie Connor Hellebuyck turned in a pretty strong performance to earn his fifth win in seven appearances, snapping a personal two-game losing skid.