Connor nets two, Hellebuyck gets his due as Jets blank Kraken 3-0


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SEATTLE – Kyle Connor's a pretty easy guy to shop for on his birthday. Forget a cake or any gifts. Just put a National Hockey League game on the calendar and he's a happy camper.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/12/2021 (476 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

SEATTLE – Kyle Connor’s a pretty easy guy to shop for on his birthday. Forget a cake or any gifts. Just put a National Hockey League game on the calendar and he’s a happy camper.

The Winnipeg Jets sniper celebrated his 25th in familiar style on Thursday, scoring twice to lead his club to a tidy 3-0 victory over the Seattle Kraken. It’s pretty much the same way he blew out the candles on his 21st (scoring against Tampa) and his 22nd (scoring against Philadelphia). The only thing that stopped him the last two years was the NHL schedule-maker giving the Jets an off-day in 2019, and the entire league going dark because of COVID-19 in 2020.

“Cool stat. I wish I knew. I would try and do that same routine every game, right?” Connor said with a laugh when asked for his secret to success. “Just all-around good game tonight. We kind of stuck with it throughout the whole game.”

Perhaps the Jets might consider petitioning the league to play a Dec. 9 game every season going forward, considering they are now 2-0-1 on Connor’s special day.

Winnipeg improves to 13-9-4 on the year, rebounding nicely after a disappointing 4-2 loss on Tuesday against Carolina to end a four-game homestand. Seattle, which entered the night on a 5-2-1 run, falls to 9-15-2.

Not to be overlooked in this one was goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. The former Vezina Trophy winner is at his best when he’s playing big, and boring. And he quietly stood tall against the Kraken, making 25 saves for his 25th career shutout, but first of this season.

“About time. About time,” said Hellebuyck. “I really wanted it. I wanted it for the guys and everyone was playing really hard in front of me. It was a good team game and I wanted it for everyone.”

The other big takeaway from the first-ever meeting between the Jets and Kraken was Winnipeg’s much-maligned penalty kill unit coming to life. They went a perfect five-for-five, showing a much more aggressive style than had been the norm.

“That was nice. A lot better than the previous 24 or 25 games, whatever it’s been,” said defenceman Brenden Dillon, who played his junior hockey in Seattle and had a happy homecoming of sorts by chipping in an assist.

“We were moving our feet. We’ve got mobile guys that kill (penalties) and if you ask any power play or offensively gifted player, you’ve got to try and take their time and space away. For these guys, they’ve got some skilled guys, guys who can make plays and when we pressure like that – I think we had a 2-on-1 and a breakaway – it was fun and it gives our team a little bit of life too. We’re not just sitting back and feeling like we’re taken in a little bit, we get some momentum from it. So, it was great.”

After the loss to the Hurricanes, the Jets had talked about the need to be quicker in all facets of the game. That was evident early in this one, and it was rewarded just 5:24 into the game when Paul Stastny stole a puck on the forecheck and fed Dominic Toninato in the slot. He wired a shot past Philipp Grubauer for his third goal of the year.

“It kind of starts with us forwards, too, getting a little skating, picks in the neutral zone or try to get in front of their guy coming in hard,” Connor said of moving better. “Even personally, when I’m not playing well, I get back to moving my feet. Focus on that, skating the check and more times than not, you’re going to create a lot of loose pucks and it’s almost second nature, your instincts kick in, you make plays and see the plays more often.”

Connor certainly did that in the final frame, scoring a pair of pretty goals. The first was a nifty give-and-go with Mark Scheifele just 47 seconds into the period, and the second was a high-speed split of the Seattle defence and wired a wrister past Grubauer. His mark of 17 goals now leads the Jets, and he only trails Leon Draisaitl and Alex Ovechkin for tops in the NHL.

“That’s a special set of hands. What always surprises me about Kyle is he does it at such a high rate of speed. So many players can make that shot, but very few can make it at speed, His hands are just fantastic,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice.

“He’s got so much skill and tonight was the way that NHL games look. You just grind a team out and then once your plays are available, you make them. And he’s got the skill to make them. Clearly,” added Hellebuyck.

The players in front of him took care of the rest with a relatively tidy effort in their own end that got better as the game wore on.

“I liked our third. I really did. I thought it was smart, we were patient. We had had some chances, but so had they. They have some skill, they’ll attack you on the rush. Their defence was way more active than they had been in the past, so that causes some problems. But I thought we built as the game went on,” said Maurice.

“Fragile’s not the right word, because I don’t think we were at all, but we were tense in the first I thought. And real slow moving the puck I thought. And then I thought we built as the game went on, and I liked our third an awful lot.

The Jets flew to Vancouver immediately after the game, and won’t have much time to savour this victory. They’ll face the Canucks on Friday night before heading home. Backup goalie Eric Comrie is expected to get the start in goal while Hellebuyck watches from the bench.

Neal Pionk’s two-game suspension is now over, but he’s not expected to return to the lineup as he’s currently in concussion protocol as a result of taking a Jason Spezza knee to the head last Sunday. Spezza was suspended for six games but is appealing. The Jets only have one healthy extra player on the roster right now in the form of defenceman Ville Heinola, who was a scratch against Seattle.

Twitter: @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 Friday, December 10, 2021 1:40 AM CST: Adds photo

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