Connor grabs Vegas spotlight

Jets winger stars again in Sin City


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LAS VEGAS — Move over Wayne Newton. There's a serious challenger to your title as Mr. Las Vegas.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/01/2022 (453 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

LAS VEGAS — Move over Wayne Newton. There’s a serious challenger to your title as Mr. Las Vegas.

That would be Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor, who is no crooner but is developing quite the knack for breaking the hearts of hockey fans here in Sin City. His latest showstopper came Sunday afternoon, when the Michigan product scored on a dazzling solo dash in overtime to give his club a 5-4 victory over the Golden Knights.

“I had to regroup a little bit and just trying to build speed,” Connor said of silky-smooth play in the three-on-three session that led to his team-leading 19th of the season. “You try and do as many crosses, switches, trades, create as much confusion as you can out there and they kind of got tied up in the neutral zone, mixed up who had who and came in 2-on-1 and the d-man gave me a lot of space there and I wasn’t going to pass up that shot.”

No, he didn’t, and former Jets teammate Laurent Brossoit was unable to stop the wicked wrister at 2:39 of the extra frame that capped a wild comeback. Winnipeg, playing for the first time since a 4-2 triumph over St. Louis back on Dec, 19, improves to 15-11-5. Vegas, which began the day having won 10 of its last 12, remains on top of both the Pacific Division and Western Conference at 22-12-1.

It was a case of deja vu all over again for Connor, who also fired the overtime winner the last time Jets visited T-Mobile Arena way back in November 2019. No doubt this is an act that will never get tired for the Jets and their fans.

“I owe him $500 for the game winner,” joked Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt, who was playing his former team for the first time since an October 2020 trade and apparently had some money on the board as extra motivation.

“KC is a guy who can open up the game anytime, and it’s always fun to have those types of players on your team that can do that. All it takes is one. To have that type of danger, to have that type of threat….as a defenceman you always have to know where he’s at. That three-on-three is tailor made for a guy who has speed and can get up and make a play. It’s awesome. I will happily be paying him.”

The prospect of escaping Vegas with two points seemed remote after one period of play, as the Jets were nearly run out of the building. Outshot 22-10, outscored 2-0 and looking very much like a team that had done nothing but practice over the past two weeks, with five games all postponed due to pandemic-related reasons. That they were facing a red-hot opponent, one that had already notched a couple post-Christmas wins, didn’t help the cause.

“The first period was pretty ugly.,” said Schmidt. “They were skating, and you could tell that our legs weren’t really going yet. We know this is the way that they play. I’ve been on that side of things, especially an afternoon game where they came out flying in the first period. That’s about as tough as my legs have felt in a first period in quite a while. But I’m really proud of our guys and the way that we responded.”

Indeed, the Jets sprang to life in the middle frame as they got contributions from a pair of unlikely sources. First up was Jansen Harkins, playing an elevated role in the lineup on a line with Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois, who skated himself into a prime scoring area and beat Brossoit just 2:19 into the period.

Before the marker could even be announced in the rink, Kristian Reichel notched his first-ever NHL goal 20 seconds later. He made his big-league debut two weeks ago against the Blues and confessed to a rather interesting scoring strategy.

“I was told to be a shooter and I just tried to put it on the net. I picked the corner there and just closed my eyes there. It was lucky a little bit,” said the undrafted 23-year-old, who has become a valuable asset down on the farm with the Manitoba Moose.

“Feelings were unreal. I don’t know what to say. It was great work down low by (Adam Lowry) and (Andrew Copp) to pop it to me. I just shot it.”

The Jets weren’t done, and took their first lead of the game only a few minutes into the third period when Paul Stastny went to the front of the net and made a perfect deflection off a Josh Morrissey shot for his eighth of the year. Barely 90 seconds later, Copp got three cracks at a loose puck in the slot to slide it past Brossoit with the Jets on the power play.

Interim coach Dave Lowry has placed a heavy emphasis on net-front traffic and battles, with the past week of practice dedicated to improving that part of Winnipeg’s game. It clearly paid off.

“You look at goals that are scored throughout the league, this isn’t rocket science. It’s simple, hard hockey,” said Lowry. “If you go to the net and get pucks to the net, you are going to get rewarded.”

With the Jets seemingly in control at this point, Vegas took advantage of a puck that bounced over the stick of Dylan DeMelo and made it a one-goal deficit at 13:37 courtesy of a Mattias Janmark breakaway. Janmark then struck again, with only eight seconds left in regulation, as he deflected a teammate’s shot in front of Connor Hellebuyck. It came only seconds after Stastny had hit the post on an empty-net.

Rather than be rattled by a blown two-goal lead, the Jets re-grouped for overtime and got the walk-off winner from the most likely source.

“I think that there’s a lot of things about that game we can look at and clean up, but to be able to come in here and win after two weeks…Giving up a goal with a couple seconds left, coming back to win, there was a lot of stuff going on. But it was fun to be a part of. Good hockey game. Fans got their money’s worth,” said Schmidt.

Hellebuyck finished the game with 42 saves, while Brossoit made 32 stops in the first meeting between the good friends and former job-share partners.

Winnipeg played the final two periods with only 11 forwards, as centre David Gustafsson suffered a lower-body injury in the opening frame and didn’t return. Lowry didn’t know the severity, saying further medical examination would occur over the coming days. Forward Evgeny Svechnikov missed a second straight game with a knee ailment, but is close to a return and could take his spot. The Jets also have forwards C.J. Suess (healthy scratch Sunday) and Cole Perfetti (taxi squad) travelling with them on this three-game road trip.

The Jets flew to Phoenix following the matinee and will practice Monday to get ready for Tuesday’s date with the Arizona Coyotes. After that, they head to Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night.

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.

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