Avs snowed under by Jets

Winnipeg dominates from start to finish


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Blake Wheeler may want to silence the rhetoric, squashing any talk about his team being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender while they’re still fighting for a playoff spot.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/02/2018 (1929 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Blake Wheeler may want to silence the rhetoric, squashing any talk about his team being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender while they’re still fighting for a playoff spot.

But a few more dominant performances like Friday night’s — where the Winnipeg Jets laid waste to the Colorado Avalanche by the tune of 6-1 — may turn the local chatter into a full-blown roar.

Wheeler led the way, breaking a 15-game scoring drought with a pair of goals and an assist, as the Jets once again served notice to the rest of the NHL that they are a dangerous team when all cylinders are firing.

Colorado Avalanche's goaltender Jonathan Bernier (45) saves the breakaway attempt by Winnipeg Jets' Kyle Connor (81) during first period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday, February 16, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

“The emphasis was to play fast. Even the mistakes we made were all done doing fast things. Typically when you do that, you tend to be on the right side of the puck. You tend to make the right play. Things were clicking,” the captain said following his team’s latest victory.

The Jets flexed their muscles — both figuratively and literally — as they overpowered the Avalanche in all facets of the game. Winnipeg improves to 34-15-9 on the season and pulls into a tie with Nashville for first place in the Central Division. The Predators have two games in hand. Perhaps more importantly, the Jets are now 11 points clear of the Avalanche (31-22-4), who are just outside the playoff line.

It all started with Wheeler, who got things going early. It wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty — a behind-the-net bank shot off goalie Jonathan Bernier — but we’re guessing it looked pretty good. Wheeler hadn’t lit the lamp since Jan. 5, although he did have a dozen assists during that stretch. And his lack of goal scoring wasn’t exactly hurting the club, which went 9-4-2 in that span.

“With the amount of ice time I get, the guys I play with, the expectation would be that you’d score a goal once in a while. Sometimes it doesn’t happen,” said Wheeler. “It’s a crazy game. I had 13 shots the last two games before this one, and one behind the goal-line goes in. I don’t lose much sleep over it. Like I said, the expectation is you gotta produce given that opportunity. But I think we try to make an impact on the entire game. The goals, the assists, the plays. They’re going to come and go.”

Jets head coach Paul Maurice’s new-look line combinations seemed to find instant chemistry right off the hop.

The third line of Andrew Copp, Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers was buzzing, with Ehlers just missing on a great re-direction. Rookie Jack Roslovic, playing on the second unit with Mathieu Perreault and Bryan Little, fired just wide of what appeared to be an open net. And Kyle Connor, playing on the top unit with Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, was also denied during a two-on-none break.

“We probably weren’t happy with our last two, three games. So really important to get a really solid effort under our belt and get back to the way we’re capable of playing,” said Copp.

The Jets really got going in the middle frame. Connor scored his 19th of the year, showing great hands from in close to beat Bernier. Dustin Byfuglien won an intense board battle with Colorado’s Gabe Landeskog to retrieve the puck and feed Connor.

Winnipeg took four minor penalties in the frame and actually came out on the plus side, not only killing them all off but scoring short-handed on the last one. Scheifele stripped the puck in his own zone from Mikko Rantanen and sped down the wing, feeding Copp who buried the pass for his fifth of the year.

“I saw Rantanen was left alone. Thought I’d take a jump at him. Happy I did, and obviously (Copp) put himself in the right spot, put himself in the right lane to take that pass and make that shot. Beautiful shot, post and in,” said Scheifele.

For Copp, it was a nice way to mark his 200th career NHL game.

“It’s a nice little added bonus. It’s crazy how time flies. It’s not something I really thought would happen but I’m trying to enjoy it as much as possible. Definitely a nice cherry on top,” he said.

The Jets cashed in on their own power play in the final minute of the period. Laine fired a one-timer for his 26th of the year, and league-leading 15th with the man advantage. The Finn also added an assist on the night.

Winnipeg Jets' Ben Chiarot (7), Mark Scheifele (55), Dmitry Kulikov (5) and Andrew Copp (9) celebrate Copp's short handed goal against Colorado Avalanche's goaltender Jonathan Bernier (45) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday, February 16, 2018.

The game took a nasty turn in the final seconds of the second. Byfuglien went after Colorado’s A.J. Greer, who had cross-checked Wheeler in the back in response to a big hit thrown by the captain. Byfuglien and Greer dropped the gloves, with the Jets defenceman delivering what appeared to be a half-dozen punches with Greer already down and being smothered by the linesman.

Byfuglien was given an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct and a 10-minute misconduct for his role, which had the Avalanche bench up in arms. It was an eventful night on the scoresheet for Byfuglien, who also chipped in with two assists.

Ehlers made it 5-0 early in the third, tipping a Tyler Myers point shot for his 22nd of the year. And then Wheeler capped off his great night with a five-on-three power play goal, after Colorado had come unglued with a pair of undisciplined penalties.

“It’s nice to see a guy get a payoff he deserves. He’s earned big-point nights on his effort alone. He’s had a bunch that haven’t gone for him and those guys do (need to score). He needs to score goals to keep that shooter’s confidence. He doesn’t change his game when he wasn’t scoring,” said Maurice. “He’s played so very well for a long time without putting a goal in the net and we were winning hockey games. It doesn’t affect his play. He’s not cheating the game. He’s not barking at guys to feed him the puck. He’s all about winning all the time, but you want that kind of guy to have a pay off, too.”

Rantanen broke Connor Hellebuyck’s shutout bid with just under six minutes left in the game, beating the Jets goaltender with a wraparound. Hellebuyck made 30 saves in recording his 30th win of the season, the most of any Jets goalie since the NHL’s return to the city.

Scheifele, meanwhile, had three helpers. He’s up to seven points (two goals, five assists) in his past three games and looks like he’s quickly returned to old form after missing 16 games with injury.

“I feel better and better every shift. Obviously a great team win. We did the right things all game, we didn’t get away from it. And it showed,” said Scheifele.

Winnipeg is now 5-2-1 in the first eight games of their season-long 10-game homestand. They return to action Sunday night when they host the Florida Panthers.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.


Updated on Saturday, February 17, 2018 7:47 AM CST: Updated

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