Defeating the Ottawa Senators has become almost routine for the Winnipeg Jets in recent memory — and Saturday night was no exception.
Though victory didn’t come easily for the Jets this time around, a solid performance in the third period after struggling for much of the first 40 minutes was enough for Winnipeg to walk away with a convincing 6-3 win.
"That Ottawa team plays hard. There’s a cost to each game. And if you got two (points) in the bank like we did coming into tonight, there’s just the human nature effect, there is less urgency," Jets head coach Paul Maurice said. "But I thought we found the urgency and that was really important."
With the victory, the Jets improve to 4-1-0 on the year and now boast a 9-1-1 record against the Senators dating back to 2017. Ottawa had lost its last four games, falling to 1-3-1 in 2021.
Andrew Copp scored twice, and Paul Stastny and Mark Scheifele each added a third-period goal to erase a 3-2 deficit.
Stastny scored on the power play to take the lead for good, wrapping up a dominating sequence on the man-advantage with a shot on the ice that beat Ottawa goalie Marcus Hogberg.
Copp added insurance just over a minute later and Scheifele put the game on ice with an empty-netter.
Connor Hellebuyck earned his fourth win of the season, turning away 18 of 21 shots. Hogberg, who was making his first start of the year, finished with 32 saves.
The Jets opened the scoring with a power-play goal from Nikolaj Ehlers 14:03 into the opening frame. Ehlers was emotional earlier in the day after close friend and road-trip roommate Patrik Laine was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Pierre-Luc Dubois, among other pieces.
As far as tributes go, Ehlers did his best Laine impression on the goal, wiring a one-timer slap shot that squeaked through the pads of Hogberg. It was Ehlers' third goal in as many games against Ottawa this year and fifth point of the season.
"We’re going out there and we’re going to fight for those two points and we did that," Ehlers said. "It wasn’t a fun morning and not a fun afternoon, but we did what we had to do to get ready for this game and get out of it with a win."
The score did little to tell the story of the first period. The Jets were mostly outplayed, and should be thankful once again for the steady play of Hellebuyck.
Having lost the first two games of the mini-series, including a dominating 4-1 victory by the Jets in the most recent meeting Thursday, it was the Senators that came out of the gate controlling play.
Within the first minute, Senators forward Connor Brown was sent in alone only for Hellebuyck to stand tall for the save. Shortly after, Drake Batherson also caught the Jets defence sleeping but couldn’t get a handle on a backhand attempt in close. Then there was a 2-on-1 where defenceman Christian Wolanin did get a piece of the cross-crease pass but Hellebuyck flashed the glove just in time.
The Jets, clearly needing a spark, would get a boost from defenceman Nathan Beaulieu, who dropped the gloves with Senators tough guy, Michael Haley. Beaulieu already had a cut above his eye from a scrap with Senators young gun Brady Tkachuk.
"I mean that's everything we want to build our team around. That's why it was imperative for us to keep Beau around. For me, it was right at the top of our list this offseason was to keep him on our team," Wheeler said. "He's a heart and soul type player. He'll stand up for any guy on the team; he'll stand in front of any shot. Those are the types of plays that you win hockey games with. You need guys like that on your team and we're lucky to have him."
It was Ottawa that once again came out of the intermission ready to play — and this time it would pay off.
Evgenii Dadonov made it a 1-1 game four minutes into the period with a goal that Hellebuyck will surely want back. Senators Nick Paul started the momentum in the neutral zone, dishing a backhand pass to a skating Dadonov. Gaining speed, Dadonov drove around Derek Forbort and just as Forbort used his stick to take out Dadonov’s feet from under him, drawing a delayed penalty on the play, the 31-year-old was able to sneak the puck through Hellebuyck’s five-hole before crashing dangerously into the back boards.
The Jets would regain the lead minutes later with a pretty tic-tac-toe goal. Scheifele started the play with a no-look pass to Blake Wheeler, who slid the puck over to Kyle Connor for the empty-net marker. It was Connor’s team-leading fourth goal and eighth point of the season.
Winnipeg had just killed off a Logan Stanley tripping penalty before Connor’s goal and looked to be in control of the game. But the Senators, a club that many pundits believe will finish at the bottom of the All-Canadian Division, showed why they won’t be an easy out.
Ottawa scored twice over a span of three minutes and 10 seconds to take a 3-2 lead through 40 minutes.
Tkachuk scored his second goal of the season, benefiting from a bit of puck luck. Austin Watson backhanded an innocent shot towards the net from the high slot, with the puck bouncing off teammate Josh Norris before landing on the stick of Tkachuk, who did a quick spin-around shot to beat Hellebuyck again through the five hole. Paul made it 3-2 with another questionable goal, beating Hellebuyck with a shot from outside the left circle that found the far top corner.
"When we’re playing good, when we’re playing the way we want to play, we’re kind of playing our style, we’re not watching," Stastny said. "I think the games we’ve struggled a little bit, the periods we’ve struggled, too many times we’ve kind of been watching and seeing how the other team was going to come out. And I think in this game you try to put your imprint on the game as quick as you can."
The Jets haven’t exactly been strangers to fighting from behind. Winnipeg never played with the lead through the first three games this season, despite earning two victories.
They were up to their old tricks once more, evening the game at 3-3 just before the three-minute mark of the third period.
Stastny, who cut from the right side into the slot before fooling a pair of Senators defencemen and sliding the puck over for an easy goal, set up Copp. It was Stastny’s first point of the year since being acquired in a trade from Vegas in the offseason.
That set up an eventful finish for the Jets and ultimately another victory under their belt. The Jets won’t have time to gloat, as they’ll return to Bell MTS Place Sunday to take on the visiting Edmonton Oilers.
"The best part about this league is that you don’t have time to be pissed off and pout, you don’t have time to get cocky and be happy about it because the next day, or two days later you play right away. That’s what makes it fun," Stastny said.
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.