Jets power play leads the way
Scores trio of extra-man markers while Rittich makes 37 saves to earn shutout
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The Winnipeg Jets are going to play a lot of team defence this season as they push for a return to the playoffs under new head coach Rick Bowness. While it’s a good bet there will be more low-scoring affairs than many in these parts are used to seeing, Wednesday’s game against the Calgary Flames was a good reminder the Jets still pack an offensive punch.
Led by the new-look No. 1 forward line of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers, and backed by a stellar performance from No. 2 goalie David Rittich, Winnipeg turned a solid effort in all three zones of the ice into a convincing 5-0 win over the Calgary Flames at Canada Life Centre.
Connor scored twice, Ehlers had a goal and a pair of assists and Scheifele added a goal to pave the way for the Jets, who improved to 3-1-1 in the pre-season. The Flames dropped to 2-3-0 with the loss.
“They’re all very creative offensively. They see the ice, they see each other, they know where they are. That’s how you play fast,” Bowness said after the game of his top line. “You get the speed out there, you get the skill out there and the ability to read off each other and make plays. They were very good tonight.”
The Jets dressed their most-veteran laden roster so far in this exhibition series, with only a few notable regulars not dressing, including forwards Pierre-Luc Dubois and Blake Wheeler, defenceman Brendan Dillon and Nate Schmidt, and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. The Flames countered with a group very similar to what they’ll dress once the regular season starts, minus forward Mikael Backlund and netminder Jacob Markstrom.
Much like Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers, where there were a combined 11 penalties, another 11 man-advantages were handed out on Wednesday. If the week has offered any early indications, it’s that the Jets’ power play run by new assistant head coach Brad Lauer is shaping up to be a lethal one.
Following a scoreless opening period, the Jets exploded for four goals in the second frame, with the first two coming on the power play. They would add another marker on the man-advantage in the third to end the night three-for-five on the PP.
Connor scored his second of the pre-season, finishing off a two-on-one with Sam Gagner with a shot over the blocker of Calgary goalie Dan Vladar, with Scheifele following that up just 44 seconds later by tipping an Ehlers’ pass that found the net high glove-side. Ehlers added a third power-play goal in the final frame, taking a pass from Gagner at the right side of the net before firing it past a scrambling Dustin Wolf, who replaced Vladar midway through the game.
“There’s a lot of potential there. All three of us play at such a high pace and got a lot of skill to make plays. We turn a lot of pucks over on the forecheck, too,” Connor said. “We’re very underrated forecheckers. Just get the puck back in our hands and make plays. I think we’re still learning tendencies and I think we’re only going to get better.”
Not to be outdone, the Jets penalty kill was just as dominant, stopping all six power plays assessed to the Flames. Winnipeg forward Dominic Toninato added insult to injury after he was sprung on a breakaway coming out of the penalty box before beating Wolf with a head fake and a cheeky on-ice shot that slid near the right post. Connor scored his second goal of the night minutes later, with just 1:09 remaining in the second period. Ehlers scored a power-play marker midway through the third to round out the scoring for the Jets.
It was an impressive outing for Rittich, who made 37 saves for the shutout. Rittich, who signed with the Jets in the off-season after rough stints in Toronto and Nashville, stood tall all evening, and was particularly strong on the penalty kill, including a glove save on Dillon Dube late in the game to keep the shutout intact.
“I mean, (I) prove (something to) myself. Prove that I can be in the NHL,” Rittich said. “That is obviously the No. 1 thing for everyone who is going into the training camp. Maybe to be in NHL, to be on power play. Those kinds of things.”
It was the first audition for forward Morgan Barron, who recently returned from an upper-body injury to play in his first exhibition game. Barron is fighting for a role on the third line, in a shutdown role alongside centre Adam Lowry and winger Mason Appleton.
The trio got a healthy dose of Calgary’s top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli, limiting the three dynamic forwards to no goals and very few scoring opportunities. Barron also logged some significant time on the penalty kill, with Lowry and Appleton also killing penalties, as the Flames went scoreless on the man-advantage.
“He did a good job on the penalty kill and was smart with the puck, made some really good decisions with the puck,” Bowness said of Barron. “A couple of good neutral zone angles taking time and space away. He did a lot of good things for us tonight.”
Bowness put two rookie wingers in Cole Perfetti and Brad Lambert together on a line with Toninato. Perfetti and Lambert were both coming off stellar pre-season performances of late, with each collecting a pair of points over the previous two games.
Wednesday was a reminder that the NHL level is a difficult one to adjust to, and the more experienced Flames lineup offered up a challenge that was unlike any they had seen before. Bowness matched the line with the Flames second trio of Dube, Nazem Kadri and Andrew Mangiapane but changed up his rotation as the game went on.
“The kids got a good taste tonight,” Bowness said. “Cole has played in the league before, Brad hasn’t. So, it was a good eye-opener for Brad, I’m sure. There’s a lot of good players on that team, it was a little intimidating the first time you see them all together.”
For those fighting for a spot on the blue line, no one really shot off the page, though some looked more poised than others.
Ville Heinola showcased his offensive prowess once again, but also had some of his defensive deficiencies exposed with a couple of bad giveaways and a holding penalty. Dylan Samberg and Logan Stanley were also stable at times, contributing well on the PK.
The Jets have just one remaining pre-season game to play, with a rematch against the Flames on Friday night. The Jets will remain in Alberta over the ensuing days, with three practices scheduled in Banff before returning to Winnipeg on Tuesday, ahead of the Oct. 14 season-opener at home against the New York Rangers.
It’s unclear if the Jets will make cuts ahead of Friday’s game, but Bowness did say he’s seen enough to make some final decisions on the roster. The Jets need to trim their roster to 23 players, with the likelihood of cutting two forwards and two defencemen.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.