Jets send Panthers packing
Hellebuyck steady between pipes as Connor, Scheifele each score twice
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The Winnipeg Jets have climbed back atop the Central Division with a convincing 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers at Canada Life Centre Tuesday night.
The Jets got a pair of goals each from Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor, along with a stellar 39-save performance from Connor Hellebuyck between the pipes. Pierre-Luc Dubois finished with three assists, while Adam Lowry rounded out the scoring with an empty-net marker in the final minutes.
With the win, the Jets improved to 16-7-1 and move into a tie with the Dallas Stars for first place in the Division, while having played two fewer games. The Panthers, who were wrapping up a season-high five-game road trip, fall to 12-10-4 with the loss.
“You have to pay attention to the standings, that’s what we’re here for,” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “We talked about that today. You want to be here fighting for first, you want to be here fighting for your life. The guys are enjoying that fight for that first place and we’re going to stay in that fight.”
The Jets are riding a two-game win streak after a disappointing 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets to kick off a busy December. Winnipeg entered the night having played the third fewest games in the NHL, but things are going to ramp up this month, with 16 games over 30 days.
Needless to say, we’re going to find out an awful lot about this club over the next few weeks, but before we look too far ahead, let’s take a deeper dive into Tuesday’s win.
1) It’s comical now to think there was any concern over Connor having a slow start to the season, after the speedy winger had just one goal — an empty-netter, no less — through the first nine games. The 25-year-old received a ton of love heading into the year after scoring a career-high 47 goals in 2021-22, so expectations were high for this year.
Well, Connor is back to his old tricks, including his ninth and 10th goals against the Panthers. He now has nine over his last 15, as well as 13 assists over that stretch to give him 26 points in 24 games.
The Michigan native scored late in the opening period, shooting a spinning puck past Spencer Knight to regain the Jets lead just 17 seconds after Carter Verhaeghe tied it for the visitors. Connor made it 3-1 fewer than two minutes into the second frame, finding the back of the net with a low shot five-hole that ultimately chased Knight from the net after the 21-year-old allowed three goals on 15 shots.
2) Connor (2G,1A) and Dubois combined for six points on the night and continue to show chemistry with one another despite a revolving door of players auditioning for a spot on their left wing.
Right now that belongs to Mikey Eyssimont, who joined the trio late last game and was back there against the Panthers. Eyssimont is a great story this season; he had a strong training camp but was sent back to the Moose, only to be called up after a slew of injuries and it’s looking like he’s here to stay.
“We dealt with that a little bit last year, so we’re familiar with it. I think whoever is in that spot, we’ve got full confidence in them,” said Connor. “We’ve got a really deep team and there’s a lot of guys that could do that job. I think Mikey’s been great.”
3) Bowness was lamenting a poor effort from the power play in the loss to the Blue Jackets last week, claiming it to be the difference as the Jets went 1-for-5 on the night, the lone goal coming during garbage time.
Winnipeg answered back the next game in a 5-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks Sunday, scoring once on four trips. They were even better against the Panthers, with Scheifele notching his team-leading 14th and 15th goals on the man-advantage.
Scheifele buried a loose puck in front for his first of the game, then finished a beauty cross-ice pass from Connor for his second. The Jets finished the evening 2-for-4 with an extra man and now have power-play goals in each of their last five games, going 7-for-19 over that stretch.
“That’s big confidence for us,” said Scheifele. “It’s tough when the power play isn’t going well, but we were all supporting each other well, we were in the right spots, and we got good chances. It was good to pop two home there and we need more of that.”
Winnipeg’s penalty kill had been rolling of late, going a perfect 9-for-9 over the last three games, and were ranked third in the league with a success rate of 83.9 per cent. Meanwhile, the Panthers were ranked 21st on the power play, but had scored three times on four trips to the man-advantage in a 5-1 win over the Seattle Kraken Saturday.
It took Florida 47 seconds on their first power play of the night to find paydirt, with Verhaeghe firing a hard shot past the glove of Hellebuyck for his 15th of the season and third over the past two games. Winnipeg shut them down from there, however, killing off Florida’s next three power plays.
4) Tuesday marked the return of Paul Maurice, who after leaving Winnipeg midway through last season signed a multi-year deal with the Panthers.
The Jets used a commercial break midway through the first period to pay tribute to their former bench boss, as well as former assistant coach Jamie Kompon, who is also part of Florida’s coaching staff. The fans soaked it up, giving Maurice a standing ovation, while Maurice, with his arm around Kompon, saluted the crowd.
“It’s a special place for Jamie and I, isn’t it? We really appreciated it; it was good on the bench, it was good in the stands,” said Maurice. “That was very classy, as they always are.”
Maurice spent parts of nine seasons in Winnipeg, leading the Jets to a franchise-best record of 52-20-10 during the 2017-18 season, before losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final.
UP NEXT: The Jets wrapping up a four-game homestand with the win and will now head out on the road for the next two. They’ll play both over a 48-hour span, beginning with the St. Louis Blues Thursday followed by the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night.
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.
Updated on Tuesday, December 6, 2022 11:03 PM CST: Corrects Hellebuyck save statistics from 38 to 39