Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wheeler working overtime

Has played key role in all three Jet wins in OT this season

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Blake WHEELER is certainly developing a flair for the dramatic.

The Winnipeg Jets big right-winger set up the overtime winner Saturday afternoon, racing around Oiler defenceman Jeff Petry -- only to fail in stuffing his attempt behind Ilya Bryzgalov -- before feeding a streaking Jacob Trouba for the decisive goal.

"I've started to play with Troubs enough to know his knack for getting in those scoring areas is awesome," said Wheeler. "You could see the momentum of everyone swaying and going with me. The goalie was with me, both the defencemen were with me. Once I saw out of the corner of my eye that he was streaking down the side I was damned if that puck was going to get behind me (as Petry attempted to clear a loose puck).

"I just really wanted to get him the opportunity to put it home after missing the empty net myself. He sure barked out for it. I'm sure everyone in the province heard him on that one."

Interestingly, the Jets have won three games in OT this year and Wheeler has had his fingerprints all over each of them -- setting up Mark Scheifele for the winner in Tampa on Dec. 7, scoring the winner in Colorado on Dec. 29 and then finding Trouba on Saturday.

500 AND COUNTING: Dustin Byfuglien appeared in his 500th NHL game against the Oilers. And while he was held off the scoresheet, he did finish plus-1, manned the point on the power play, played some minutes shorthanded and finished with three hits, a blocked shot and two takeaways.

So while some saw the shift from defence to forward as a way for the Jets to showcase Byfuglien before the trade deadline, there's also no mistaking the new coach's affinity for how unique the big man is as a player.

"I think this guy's a good player," said Paul Maurice. "A really, really good player... He's that good. I liked his game."

UNDERSTANDING HOME ICE: Maurice has been behind the bench at the MTS Centre before, but with two games under his belt as the Jets' boss, he's also developing an understanding for what the crowd can bring. He also was impressed with how his crew didn't stray from the game plan.

"This is what I like about the game: We've got this building and it's a bit of a powder keg," he said. "If we can get a goal in the first five minutes this place will rock for the rest of the night. But what we didn't do tonight in a 0-0 game or when we're down one, was open up our game or change. You know that run-and-gun game we've seen? All the teams do it, but tonight we didn't. Keep it focussed, stay with what we're doing, and we were really good with that."

QUOTABLE: "I don't think they've looked like rookies for a long time. They're both playing like they've been in the league for a while. They're both comfortable and confident right now. It's just another good game by them tonight." -- Bryan Little on Mark Scheifele and Trouba.

CAUTION: SIZE LARGE OBSTRUCTIONS AHEAD: The Jets deserve full credit for their current three-game win streak, decisions over Phoenix, Calgary and now Edmonton. But they are in Anaheim and San Jose next week and, following a home date with Toronto, Chicago.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2014 B5

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