WINNIPEG - Already one of the team's top playmakers, Blake Wheeler is starting to be the trigger man the Winnipeg Jets need him to be.
The big right-winger scored a pair of goals, his fourth and fifth of the season, to lead the Jets to a 4-0 victory over the struggling Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.
Wheeler struggled to score early in the season, but he has three goals in his last three games. He also set up Tim Stapleton's goal late in the third period, giving him 19 assists on the year.
Wheeler said he's glad to be contributing, as linemates Evander Kane and Bryan Little had been providing much of the Jets' offensive punch.
"I've been telling the guys to give me the puck once in a while and maybe I'll put it in," he said. "It's a team sport and our line has been putting the puck in the net. You want to ride the momentum…you never want to be too picky,if you aren't the guy scoring. If they slow down a bit, maybe I can pick it up for a little bit."
Tanner Glass also scored for the Jets, while netminder Ondrej Pavelec made 27 saves to register his third shutout of the season.
The Jets (16-13-5) earned seven of a possible 10 points on their current six-game home stand. They host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.
Carey Price made 30 saves for the Canadiens (13-16-7), who lost their fifth straight game.
Wheeler's first goal game on a pretty cross-ice pass from defenceman Dustin Byfuglien just three minutes into the game on the power play, and his second was a solo effort, racing down the right side and beating Price.
"The first (goal) was great. Byfuglien made a hell of a play. And the second one felt really good to just pick a corner finally," Wheeler said.
Jets head coach Claude Noel said when the towering six-foot-five winger is tough to defend when he's moving his legs.
"When he skates and has the puck, he's a real factor," Noel said. "He’s playing with more bite…when he plays like that, he’s a hard guy to handle."
Little missed his second straight game with a leg injury and was replaced on the line by centre Alexander Burmistrov.
Montreal still hasn't posted a win for interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth, who replaced Jacques Martin after he was fired last week. The move to promote Cunneyworth, a Jet for a very short time during the 1989-90 season, has sparked unrest in Quebec because he doesn’t speak French. It’s been decades since the Canadiens have had a non-French speaking head coach.
"We realize what's going on to some degree," Cunneyworth said. "(The Jets) worked hard and we have to work a little bit harder. It comes down to battling and competing and we didn’t have that compete tonight.
"You have to keep on trying and that's the bottom line. It comes down to competing, being physical and having some resolve in our play. I think it's about sticking together at this time. We are trying to figure out the pieces of the puzzle and everybody has to come together."
Young blue-liner P.K. Subban was a healthy scratch for the Canadiens.
"We have some young guys that are still learning a lot of things. We need to address certain issues with his game. He was one of a few we could have taken out of the lineup," Cunneyworth said.
Pavelec wasn't tested much in the first and third period, but made 16 saves in the second as the Habs pressed with four power-play opportunities.
"All I want is the win…two points," said Pavelec, who also had an assist on Glass's fourth of the season. "I'm not going to lie, it's nice to have a shutout, but we got the two points.
"We played great defensively, blocked a lot of shots, I saw a lot of the shots, and all four lines did a great job."
Gunning for a quick start against the slumping Canadiens, the Jets struck early with a power-play goal just over three minutes into the game with Habs’blue-liner Hal Gill serving a double minor for high-sticking.
Glass gave the Jets a 2-0 lead when he his fourth goal of the season at 13:13, finishing off pretty three-way passing play with Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood.
Despite allowing a pair of goals in the first period, Price was outstanding as the Jets outshot the Canadiens 13-6 over the first 20 minutes.
But just 39 seconds into the second period, Price surrendered Wheeler's second of the game on a shot from the right faceoff dot that the netminder likely should have blocked.
Stapleton rounded out the scoring for the Jets with under three minutes left in the third.