Forward Blake Wheeler and coach Paul Maurice were both happy with what could be the Winnipeg Jets' top line this season after delivering big time Saturday night by closing the pre-season with a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames.
It was the first time the Jets have iced anything close to what will be their regular-season lineup and it was also the first time the Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Evander Kane line has had serious success, scoring or assisting on three of those four goals.
"It wasn't really instant," said Wheeler of the line's progress in camp. "It took us a few games, a few practices, more than anything just getting on the same page, having a little dialogue, just trying to establish an identity."
Despite their obvious skill with the puck, Wheeler says that identity is more focused on the power they can generate than fancy moves.
"The expectation is the final result, you know, getting the puck into the net, but there's a way that we're going to do it to be successful, and it's not going to be a cute thing, it's not going to be a pretty thing.
"We're a big powerful line and we need to approach the game that way and play the game that way and I think we did a better job of that tonight and you could see the results."
Wheeler redirected defenceman Paul Postma's blast from the point to scored first, then made it tough for Flames' netminder Jonas Hiller to see the second — from defenceman Jacob Trouba off a feed from Kane.
Kane then made it 3-1 just over two minutes into the third off a feed from Scheifele — the third member of a line Maurice is hoping, perhaps more than anything, will finally exploit Kane's full potential.
Wheeler is already successful, coming off career and team-scoring highs in 2013-14.
The coach had reason to smile after the game.
"It was the start of good things," he said
"They haven't spent a lot of time together at camp, again with some minor injuries, but I thought that they played a simpler game, which made them faster, a little more shot-oriented game. I'm glad that they got a little glimpse of what they can do."
It was the first goal for Wheeler, Trouba and Kane in the pre-season. Bryan Little finished things off with a short-handed empty-net goal at 18:20 of the third.
David Jones scored the only goal for the Flames (5-4-0), who featured their youngsters as they beat the Jets (minus a few starters) 4-2 in Calgary on Thursday. The Jets finished the pre-season at 3-4-0.
Winnipeg generated almost all the offence in the opening minutes, despite giving up some early power plays, and Calgary's failure to capitalize was critical, said Flames coach Bob Hartley.
"We didn't get much of a sniff and that's where you generate momentum," he said. "You get those power plays early in the game and you don't take advantage of them, you know it's going to come back."
He said overall, he's satisfied with what the Flames accomplished in training camp, despite being outplayed by the Jets Saturday.
"They (the Jets) played well. They're a big team. They can skate, so time and space was tough to get tonight. Some guys battled, other guys I would have liked to battle harder, but that's our business."
Jones, just back on the ice after a tripping penalty, was the only Calgary player who managed to get the puck past Ondrej Pavelec and the more effective Winnipeg defence Maurice has spent much of camp developing.
They limited the Flames to just five shots in each of the first two periods.
Jones pulled the puck out a scramble behind the Winnipeg net to slip it between Pavelec and his goalpost.
"I lost it," Pavelec admitted. "I thought the guys had it between their legs or under their feet. I just lost the puck for a second and they put it in. It was a bad goal."
But Wheeler evened things up with his power-play goal at 12:08 and then positioned himself in front of Hiller again, although the puck didn't touch him off Trouba's wrist shot 4:30 into the second period.
Kane and sophomore centre Scheifele played a little give-and-go to beat Hiller in the third.
It was a rough, penalty-filled contest and also a good game for Postma, said Maurice, "a good young puck-moving defenceman who can shoot the puck," who has been sidelined a couple of times by injuries.
Notes: Winnipeg defenceman Toby Enstrom was boarded by Michael Backlund in the third period and left the game but Maurice says early signs are positive. Even though the Jets are getting healthy, Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien didn't play Saturday. Calgary got veterans like former Maple Leaf Mason Raymond and Jones back from the injured list for Saturday's game.Suggest a correction