WINNIPEG – A night that started with boos for Winnipeg’s old team ended with a well-deserved standing ovation for the new Jets.
Ondrej Pavelec made 33 saves and Brian Little scored the only goal Thursday as the Jets defeated Phoenix 1-0 in the Coyotes’ first game back in Winnipeg since leaving for the desert in 1996.
Some fans showed that hard feelings over the club’s relocation haven’t died. The Coyotes were booed when they came on the ice and every time a Phoenix player had the puck, including captain Shane Doan, one of the last original Jets left in the NHL.
Doan wasn’t surprised he and his teammates were booed.
“They’re a passionate fan base and they love their Jets,” he said.
The Jets gave the fans plenty to cheer for, playing a strong team game against one of the better squads in the Western Conference.
Pavelec was particularly impressive, rebounding from a shaky performance in Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to Ottawa in which he gave up five goals.
Pavelec was anxious to put that performance behind him.
“It’s always important after you don’t play well, especially me, I didn’t feel good in the Ottawa game,” Pavelec said. “It was great I had the chance to play again and bounce back. It’s always a good feeling when you help the team to win.”
After the game, the crowd gave the Jets a standing ovation and saluted them at centre ice as the players raised their sticks before leaving the ice.
Winnipeg snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 10-11-4.
Smith faced 31 shots as Phoenix (13-8-3) had its modest two-game winning streak snapped. He was out of position on Little’s goal off a rebound at 6:53 of the first period, but was otherwise solid.
Pavelec, making his 22nd start of the season, faced 33 shots but he said his teammates did a good job of ensuring few of them were dangerous.
“As soon as they crossed the red-line they threw the puck on me and the guys did a great job to (let) me see the puck,” he said.
“Outstanding effort, team effort, and that’s the way we want to play. We had a lot of scoring chances…We deserved to win and it was a great win.”
Doan was a rookie during that last season in Manitoba and is one of only three NHLers still playing from that old squad. The others are Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne and Edmonton goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
Doan later got a standing ovation from the sold out crowd of 15,004 at MTS Centre after the rink announcer asked fans to recognize his place in the Jets’ history.
“It’s what makes it fun to be in the building. By all means, as a fan that’s what you’re supposed to do–you’re supposed to cheer on your team and make it hard on the other team and they did a great job.”
The ovation he got in the first period did surprise him.
“What do you say other than thanks,” said Doan, who turned the puck over just before Little scored. “I was very thankful for that.
“That was above and beyond anything they needed to do, but I really appreciated it that fans would do that.”
He even added a joke at his own expense.
“I wasn’t sure if (the ovation) was for me turning the puck over on the first goal and giving it to them or if it was for something else,” he said.
Evander Kane assisted on Little’s goal when his shot hit the post and Little put in the rebound.
The 1-0 lead stood even as Phoenix outshot the Jets 16-9 in the second period and had a 27-19 edge after two.
The game featured only five penalties, with Winnipeg going 0-3 on the power play and Phoenix 0-2.
“That’s another big thing that we’ve been struggling on, is staying out of the penalty box,” Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien said.
“And tonight we did a great job on it.”
Winnipeg hosts New Jersey on Saturday and Phoenix is at home to Philadelphia the same night.