WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets got some revenge on an opponent - and a goaltender -- that had tormented them this season as the Nashville Predators' seven-game road trip experienced some severe turbulence.
The Jets scored a season-high four first-period goals and rolled to a 5-0 victory against the Predators at MTS Centre on Friday. The Predators had taken the teams' first two meetings and came to Winnipeg after beating the Colorado Avalanche 6-4 in Denver two nights earlier.
But the Jets ended Nashville starter Carter Hutton's evening by scoring three goals on eight shots in the first 8:23 after the opening faceoff. Hutton had held the Jets to one goal on 39 shots in his season debut at MTS Centre on Oct. 20, a 3-1 Nashville win. Four nights later in Nashville, Hutton stopped 34 shots in a 3-2 overtime win against the Jets.
"We were light, we were on the wrong side of the puck, puck-watching, and they lit us up," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "We lost the game in the first eight minutes. That's absolutely unacceptable for me and this group."
Winnipeg (7-9-2) had lost seven of its past nine games and fallen to next-to-last in the Western Conference. Nashville (8-6-2) had been 2-0-1 on a seven-game road trip that included a victory against the Los Angeles Kings prior to the win against the Avalanche. The Predators visit the New Jersey Devils on Sunday.
"A night like tonight we'll take the 5-0 game," Jets coach Claude Noel said, "it wasn't necessarily a clinic, but we'll take the win. We've had enough heartache for a while; we'll take one of these."
Trotz had worried that his team might run into problems in Winnipeg and warned his team before the game that a struggling opponent needing to redeem itself would pose a challenge.
"I knew at some point we would run into it," Trotz said. "We were getting too loose here. We had got it in our mind that we wanted to score six, eight goals a night, but at the same time we were also giving up four a night. You've got to stay to your identity, and I think we got away from it."
"We got full of ourselves in the Colorado game," Trotz added, "and thought we were going to score six again. Every game is different."
Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who returned after backup Al Montoya had started the past two games, stopped 41 shots in his first shutout since March 1, 2012. Pavelec departed his previous home outing last Saturday in the second period after the Chicago Blackhawks beat him four times in a 5-1 loss.
"I [had not played] in a few games," Pavelec explained, "so I felt a little bit nervous. I just wanted to help the guys get the win. For me, I was just trying to stay focused all game and not get pulled."
The win also provided Winnipeg with some relief amid a schedule that has featured two meetings with the Blackhawks in the past week, a visit from the San Jose Sharks on Sunday and a visit to the Detroit Red Wings next Tuesday. Winnipeg had struggled against the Central Division this season, and was 2-7-1 against division rivals before beating Nashville.
"We knew it was a big game," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. "We were four [points] behind them, and now we're two and looking right behind them. That's a lot better outlook. We've dug ourselves a big hole already and we need to start digging our way out."
"Last year it seemed like everything I shot wasn't going in for me and I was kind of more of a ditcher last year trying to find my linemates, because they were the ones with the hot sticks," Little said of his scoring surge. "Right now, it just feels like everything I put on net is going in. I know it's not going to last forever, but I'll enjoy it right now."
Winnipeg owned a 3-0 lead on eight shots by 8:23 of the first period. Little scored the Jets' first goal of the night at 3:04 before Olli Jokinen had his third of the season at 6:47, breaking a nine-game drought. Eric Tangradi scored his first goal of the season, and Devin Setoguchi welcomed Marek Mazanec, Hutton's replacement, by scoring his fourth of the season at 16:45. Little added his second of the night midway through the third period.
"We gave up way too many chances," Nashville captain Shea Weber said, "too many odd-man rushes. We turned over the puck. The damage was done in the first half of the first period. We weren't ready."
Mazanec, whom the Predators recalled from the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League on Tuesday, made his NHL debut. He was 5-0-0 in his first five starts with Milwaukee with a 1.97 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. Mazanec became the fourth right glove-catching goaltender to play in the League this season.
Noel and the Jets acknowledged that Nashville controlled portions of the second and third period after the Jets had blown the game open, but the Winnipeg dressing room did not want to dwell on any struggles for one night.
"I don't need to sit and dissect the areas we didn't go so well in," Noel said. "We don't win 5-0 very often. I think it's important that we enjoy it."
The Jets feasted on the Predators from the start. Little scored on the Jets' third shot of the game, working the puck loose before releasing a shot that slipped through Hutton. Jokinen made it 2-0 when he took Evander Kane's centering pass from the right circle and redirected a shot past Hutton.
Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien helped end Hutton's night when he took a cross-ice pass from Grant Clitsome and drove a rising left-point shot that Tangradi tipped through Hutton's pads. Jokinen set up the fourth goal when he won a left-circle draw and shuffled the puck to the slot, where Setoguchi deposited it past Mazanec. Little close the scoring when he picked up the rebound of Wheeler's right-side shot and beat Mazanec under the crossbar at 9:53.