Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler and Winnipeg Jets crash Coyotes' opening-night party with 6-2 win



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GLENDALE, Arizona — His hockey helmet and pads off, and a gray jet pilot helmet on his head, Bryan Little looked more like a "Top Gun" extra than a center for the Winnipeg Jets.

Nevertheless, the headgear was Little's team-bestowed reward for scoring two goals in a 6-2 thrashing of the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.

Blake Wheeler scored twice in 15 seconds as Winnipeg ruined the season opener for the Coyotes before an announced sellout of 17,525.

Wheeler's goals were part of a four-goal first period for the Jets, who were in control almost from the start as Arizona goalie Mike Smith struggled early.

Wheeler also added an assist, his pass to Dustin Byfuglien for a tap-in from right in front at 12:31 of the second period to give Winnipeg a 5-1 lead.

"We got some good action around their net," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "Good start. Blake's just a big, powerful man, and he gets up and down that ice with so much speed. He's really started to settle in his game going back to last year."

And how about Little?

"Bryan's just exceptionally smart. He's probably underrated in the league for his position. He's got a great set of hands on him," Maurice said.

Ondrej Pavelec made 26 saves for Winnipeg.

The Jets, also playing their opener, put 16 shots on net in the first period to eight for the Coyotes. Little opened the scoring 7 minutes in on a 2-on-1 break, taking a pass from Andrew Ladd and shooting the puck past Smith.

"We were skating really well in the first period and we came out really hard," Little said. "We worked for those chances and we deserved them."

Arizona, formerly called the Phoenix Coyotes until rebranding in the offseason, tied the game less than a minute later when Mikkel Boedker took a pass from captain Shane Doan from behind the Winnipeg goal and slipped his shot past Pavelec.

Doan has 14 points in 19 career season openers.

Byfuglien had an assist in the first period, his 300th career point.

Wheeler, who led the Jets with 69 points last season, including a career-high 28 goals, scored on a turnaround shot at 11:27 of the first. Just 15 seconds later, he deflected in a shot by teammate Zach Bogosian with Smith partially screened immediately after a faceoff in the Coyotes zone.

"For him to play his best we need to play better in front of him," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "Too many errors with the puck, too little discipline."

The Jets made it 4-1 with defenseman Mark Stuart's goal, which sneaked past Smith between the stick side and the near post. The goal was reviewed and allowed.

The frustrated Coyotes served 17 minutes on seven penalties in the first period, including 5 minutes for fighting for Doan, who went after Wheeler in an apparent attempt to fire up his teammates. Wheeler also got 5 minutes.

"Everyone is obviously extremely disappointed with this start," Doan said. "It just goes back to us having to be ready for the next game."

Little skated around the defense of Arizona's Keith Yandle, moving the puck from his backhand to his forehand for a goal less than 6 minutes into the third period, the last one of the night for the Jets.

Martin Hanzal scored at 11:35 of the third for Arizona.

NOTES: Winnipeg's Evander Kane left in the first period after colliding with teammate Mark Scheifele in the middle of the ice. Kane didn't play in the second or third because of a lower-body injury, but no update was given on his status pending a medical examination. ... The Jets visit San Jose for their next game Saturday night, when the Coyotes host the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. ... Michael Buffer, widely known for his ring announcing at major boxing events and "Let's get ready to rumble!" catch phrase, introduced the Coyotes coaches and players during a pregame ceremony.

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