WASHINGTON, DC – Facing the Washington Capitals, it wasn’t enough for Blake Wheeler and the Winnipeg Jets’ reconfigured top line to play well offensively. They had to dominate on both ends of the ice.
“When you play teams that are loaded with talent up front, when you simplify things and make them go the length of the rink for their scoring chances, it can make it a tough night for them, make them not really want to work for their chances,” he said.
The Jets’ 4-2 win was a vampiric effort: Sucking the life out of the Verizon Center on opening night, keeping the Capitals’ energy level flat and forcing Coach Adam Oates to break up his top line during the game.
“That’s a credit to how we played. When a road team comes in, isn’t turning the puck over and controlling the play … it can be kind of a boring game, but that’s what a road team does,” said Wheeler.
The Jets (1-1-1) played in Boston on Monday afternoon, but still had more jump than a Capitals team that hadn’t played since Saturday. That’s thanks in part to the new top line of Wheeler, Olli Jokinen and Evander Kane that combined for two goals on the night.
“We juggled the lines a little bit. We wanted to get guys on track,” said Coach Claude Noel.
Wheeler had the primary assist on Kane’s goal, a flukey one on the power play in the second. There was no fluke on Wheeler’s goal, on a play in which Kane flew past the Capitals’ defense and fed him for a layup shot against Brayden Holtby at 14:32 of the second.
“It’s a good start for us. Never been put together as a unit,” Wheeler said. “We’re just trying to play that speed game. It’s always nice when you capitalize.”
It’s been an adjustment for Wheeler, who played for Munich EHC for 15 games during the NHL lockout.
“On the big sheet over there, you can kinda get lost. Play in your own little world sometimes. In this League on that little ice, you have to support each other,” he said. “I was getting caught flat-footed, not supporting my wingers.”
That wasn’t the case on Tuesday night, as Jets' newly formed top line helped carry them to a key division win.