Laine, Jets keep Wild winless with 5-2 victory in home opener

Big winger tied for NHL scoring lead after four-point outing

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They may not be deep as they once were, the result of living in a salary-cap. But as the Winnipeg Jets are discovering, a sizzling top line and a hot goaltender can help cover a lot of perceived deficiencies.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/10/2019 (1147 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They may not be deep as they once were, the result of living in a salary-cap. But as the Winnipeg Jets are discovering, a sizzling top line and a hot goaltender can help cover a lot of perceived deficiencies.

Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele combined for eight points while Connor Hellebuyck made 38 saves as the Jets downed the Minnesota Wild 5-2 in their home opener Thursday night at Bell MTS Place.

Laine had two goals and two assists and sits tied with Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid for the NHL scoring lead with 10 points through five games. Wheeler had a goal and a helper, while Scheifele had two assists. 

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Minnesota Wild's Ryan Hartman grimaces as Winnipeg Jet Patrik Laine fires at netminder Devan Dubnyk Thursday.

“All the things that come from spending another year in the NHL. You get bigger, stronger, faster, you learn the game, you become more confident and you have an appreciation when you play on that line for the other things that you gotta do. So it’s noticeable, Patrik’s game is considerably different than last year, but so is Mark Scheifele’s game,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “Blake I just take for granted, he’s going to come out, work harder than anybody else. But Mark, his drive now is to the point that most guys, even though they’re three righties, can find ways to make those plays. And Patrik’s just maturing as a player.”

It’s not often the turning point comes on a pair of offsetting minors, but that was the case Thursday when Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers tried to run interference on the Wild’s Carson Soucey and got clotheslined to the ice for his efforts near the midway mark of the third. The four-on-four game suits the speedy Jets just fine as they left the slower, aging Wild defenders in their dust and tool control of a game that was up for grabs, tied 2-2.

Laine set up the winning goal with just over 11 minutes left in the third period, finding a wide-open Kyle Connor. Winnipeg took advantage of the extra ice again just 28 seconds later as Jack Roslovic buried a rebound off a shot from defenceman Josh Morrissey, who returned to the lineup after a two-game absence.

“We’re a group, with time and space, we can make some plays. Got a couple breakdowns. Obviously the first one was pretty spectacular, it’s a game-breaking type of play, and we’re lucky to have players like that on our team,” said Wheeler.

Winnipeg improves to 3-2-0 on the year, while Minnesota drops to 0-3-0. 

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods Winnipeg Jets' Patrik Laine celebrates his go-ahead goal over the Minnesota Wild during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Thursday.

“I would say I felt almost the same way as I have in the first four. There were parts of our game I really liked, and clearly we’ve got some work to do. The bench is really good, they’re working hard, they’re trying. They’re not cheating the game, so I’m pleased with the outcome. We had some really strong performances, our goaltender was really good,” said Maurice.

Hellebuyck, coming off a sparkling 37-save effort in Tuesday’s 4-1 win in Pittsburgh, was sharp again, displaying the kind of form expected from the one-time Vezina Trophy finalist. That’s an encouraging sign after a tough first game in New York (31 shots, five goals against) led to backup Laurent Brossoit starting the next two games.

“Connor’s looked aggressive and sharp. We had a conversation before the Islander game, the day off before, and he was clear with me that he felt really good, that he liked where he was at better than at any point last year, he had lots of confidence in his game. And he has shown it,” said Maurice.

Minnesota struck first at 13:08 of the opening period after rookie Jets defenceman Ville Heinola was taken down in front of the Jets net by Ryan Hartman, who fired the puck past a surprised Hellebuyck. Replays showed Hartman appear to clip Heinola’s leg, but there was no call on the play.

The Jets have now given up the first goal in all five games this season.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Minnesota Wild's Ryan Hartman sweeps the puck under Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck's stick for the game's first goal, Thursday.

Winnipeg tied it just 1:37 into the middle frame as Scheifele took on two Wild defenders behind the net, came away with the puck and found Wheeler in the slot. The captain’s third goal of the season was his 700th career NHL point. He was given a lengthy ovation by fans who also chanted his name, and Wheeler responded by applauding them back. Laine also drew a helper on the play.

“Obviously I feel real lucky, You hit certain milestones or whatever it might be and you don’t really reflect on it at this point, obviously you’re in the thick of things. But there’s been some outstanding opportunities, especially here. I play with great players. And when you’re given those type of roles, you’re going to have opportunities to put up some numbers. It’s been fun,” said Wheeler.

The top trio struck against at 9:10 of the period, with Scheifele making an incredible cross-ice pass to a wide-open Laine, who blasted a one-timer past Wild netminder Devan Dubnyk for his second of the year. Wheeler had the other assist.

“I had no idea he was going to pass that, I think he was probably the only one who knew he was going to pass to me. He didn’t look at me once. I was pretty sure he was just going to dump it in and we were going to change,” said Laine.

Minnesota tied it 3:09 into the third period as the Jets got stuck in their own end on a prolonged shift, with forwards Mathieu Perreault and Jack Roslovic whiffing on clearing attempts. Wild defenceman Brad Hunt took advantage, beating Hellebuyck. 

THE CANADIAN PRESS / John Woods Minnesota Wild's Jared Spurgeon battles with Winnipeg Jets' Nikolaj Ehlers during the second period Thursday.

Laine then notched his team-leading seventh assist of the year when he set up Connor. Laine had 20 assists last season. The 21-year-old winger finished off a terrific night by stealing a puck and scoring an empty-netter with just over a minute to play. He also had a team-leading eight hits.

“I’m not going to back off. Doesn’t matter who it is, I’m still going to be physical. That was the big thing I wanted to add to this year, to get engaged, try to create loose pucks, win my own battles,” said Laine, whose decision to bet on himself by taking a two-year bridge deal appears to be paying off.

“My goal with him is by the time I’m out of here, he’s one of the best forwards in the league, in that conversation. He’s a guy that has a ton of success at a young age. He’s been a huge part of our team success and when it doesn’t go well and you’re a young player, you’ve got to fight through it. Sometimes your emotions get the better of you and it’s hard to realize what you need to do,” said Wheeler.

“I talked to him this summer and I think he realized some of those things and he realized that ultimately the onus is on him to take those next steps and his determination so far this year has been outstanding. He’s just battling on pucks and typically when you have a guy with his size and his skill set battling that hard, the puck’s going to find him and we all see what he can do in open space.”

Winnipeg returns to action Saturday night in Chicago, then fly home for a Sunday night date with the Penguins. 

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Minnesota Wild's Jordan Greenway takes out Winnipeg Jets' Mark Letestu at Bell MTS Place Thursday.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Copp attempts to get past Minnesota Wild's Joel Eriksson after a face-off during the second period, Thursday.
PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Minnesota Wild's Mikko Koivu and Winnipeg Jets' Adam Lowry battle in the corner.
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.

History

Updated on Thursday, October 10, 2019 10:04 PM CDT: Adds photos

Updated on Thursday, October 10, 2019 10:16 PM CDT: Adds thumbnail

Updated on Thursday, October 10, 2019 11:18 PM CDT: Full write through, adds post-game quotes.

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