WINNIPEG – Ondrej Pavelec couldn’t have asked for a better return after a two-game absence.
Pavelec made 41 saves as the Winnipeg Jets shut out the Nashville Predators 5-0 on Friday with the help of a four-goal first period.
It was Pavelec’s first shutout since March 12, 2012, 11th of his career, and came after he was replaced by Al Montoya the past two games.
“I didn’t play a few days so I felt a little bit nervous,” Pavelec said. “I just wanted to help the guys get the win. That was my goal today and so I’m happy we get the win.”
It was only Winnipeg’s (7-9-2) second win in its last six games, as Montoya backstopped the Jets to a 4-2 victory over Detroit on Monday and then a 4-1 loss in Chicago on Wednesday.
Bryan Little, Olli Jokinen and Eric Tangradi scored for Winnipeg in the first 8:23 of the opening period, followed by Devin Setoguchi making it 4-0 at the 16:45 mark of the first period.
The first-period barrage was the most goals the Jets have scored in a period since March 1, 2012, when they recorded five against Florida.
Fans at the MTS Centre gave the Jets a standing ovation as they left the ice for the first intermission.
The Predators, coming off road wins against Colorado and Los Angeles, move to 8-6-2.
“I give a lot of credit to Pavelec,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “I mean, to me, if we can get through that first period 3-0, I believe we have a chance to come back. Not saying we would’ve, but we have a chance to get back in the hockey game.
“I thought the killer goal in that game was the fourth goal.”
Little added his second goal of the game, and 10th of the season, midway through the third period to make it 5-0.
“I think we just kept it simple,” said Little, who leads his team with 15 points. “We came out really hard, which was great.”
Andrew Ladd, playing in his 550th NHL game, and Blake Wheeler each had a pair of assists and Jokinen added an assist to go with his goal.
Jokinen wasn’t over-excited about the victory.
“It’s good we scored four goals in the first period, but it was far from a complete game,” said a subdued Jokinen. “The last 40 minutes was not the way we should play. We take two points and we can be happy, but there’s no reason to plan the parade on Portage Avenue.”
Tangradi’s slight redirection of a Dustin Byfuglien point shot sent goalie Carter Hutton to the bench in favour of Marek Mazanec at 8:23 of the first.
Mazanec, called up from Milwaukee of the AHL on Nov. 5 and playing in his first NHL game, turned aside 21 of the 23 shots he faced.
Hutton stopped five of the eight shots he faced in 8:23 of work.
Nashville is without veteran netminder Pekka Rinne, who was placed on injured reserve Oct. 24 with what’s now being reported as an E. coli infection in his hip.
When asked about the report, Trotz said he hasn’t talked to Rinne about that.
“I know that the doctors are still working with him and he’s on schedule,” said Trotz.
That schedule was “when he was supposed to return,” which had been about six weeks.
Winnipeg’s scoring began with an unexpected move by Little that earned him his team-leading ninth goal.
After picking up a rebound in the slot off a shot by Ladd, Little moved to the face-off circle with his back to Hutton, but then spun around and fired the puck past the netminder at 3:02.
Jokinen scored his third of the season with a close wrist shot at 6:47 off a pass by Evander Kane, but he wasn’t over-excited about the victory.
Byfuglien’s blast from the point caught a bit of Tangradi as he was screening Hutton.
Mazanec entered the game and Setoguchi scored on his team’s 11th shot of the night after Jokinen won the faceoff and passed the puck to his teammate in front of the net.
“He’s a battler,” Trotz said of Mazanec. “He’s a young man who has a lot of talent. Still has to learn to play goal. It was a good night for him to go in for us.”
Little’s second goal couldn’t miss as Mazenec was stretching back across the front of the net to follow the rebound off a Ladd shot, but Little fired the puck over his body at 9:53 for the 5-0 gap.
Nashville was 0 for 4 on the power play and Winnipeg 0 for 3.
The fans gave the Jets another loud standing ovation during the final minute of the game.
“A night like tonight we’ll take the 5-0 game, but it wasn’t necessarily a clinic, but we’ll take the win,” Jets coach Claude Noel said.
“We’ve had enough heartache for a while, we’ll take one of these.”
Winnipeg hosts San Jose on Sunday, while Nashville continues its season-long, seven-game road trip with the fifth stop Sunday in New Jersey.