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This article was published 10/1/2017 (1109 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Connor Hellebuyck has his groove back.
He’s coming off his third shutout of the season — a 2-0 whitewash of the Calgary Flames Monday — and he has six wins in his past nine starts.
The state of his game is trending upward.
"I like where it’s at," the 23-year-old Winnipeg Jets goalie said Tuesday afternoon. "I’ve got my confidence back. I’m comfortable in the net, the work we put in and kinda seeing some of it show itself. I’m excited because I know there’s so much more I can get better at, so much more I can keep improving at."
Hellebuyck is still relatively inexperienced. The third-year pro has made just 58 NHL appearances, including 32 games so far in 2016-17, but he appears to be coming to grips with the often crushing pressure of being a No. 1 goaltender in the bigs.
"There’s a lot that goes into it," said Hellebuyck, who could get the start tonight when the Jets host the Montreal Canadiens (6:30 p.m.). "I don’t know if I can sit here and tell you exactly what goes into that. But I know how I’m feeling now and I like it."
Head coach Paul Maurice admitted a more stable roster situation has helped. A prolonged injury crisis had as many as seven regulars out of the lineup simultaneously.
"We didn’t have a lot of support in front of him for the first 30 games," Maurice said. "We just didn’t have the personnel or the rest to be good in front of him. And so, if there were inconsistencies in his game, it was probably very consistent with what our team was going through. We got off that stretch, we got a little bit healthier and other than one (game)... he’s played very, very well. He looks more relaxed and comfortable."
Hellebuyck’s ability to overcome a bad game and grind out better performances the next time out has been crucial. He’s won three of four starts since getting pulled after allowing four goals in 15 shots in a New Year’s Eve loss to the New York Islanders.
"For sure, the ability to cut a tough game off and come back and play — so we’ve seen that in his game," Maurice said. "For all of these (younger) guys, (they have to) develop a routine. Wear and tear is different here on your body, the mental strain of being the No. 1 guy is different. But you still have to work and he still has to grow and spend time in the net and practise."
Meeting the champ
Former UFC heavyweight champion and current WWE superstar Brock Lesnar attended Monday’s game and he spent some time visiting with his buddy, Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, and other members of the team in the locker room.
"That was cool. That was really cool," Jets forward Mathieu Perreault said. "I was really jacked to see him. I’m a UFC fan, too, so I liked when he was fighting UFC...
"I shook his hand — it’s like a bear. It’s huge. It was extremely impressive."
Perreault, made one, ahem, mistake. He led Lesnar, an American who lives across the Manitoba border in Maryfield, Sask., across the locker room, trampling the Jets logo in the process.
"I know, and I walked him right through it, too," Perreault said. "I didn’t think about it and the guys started yelling. It was funny."
Facing the Habs
Perreault, a Quebec native, spent his formative years as a fan of the Nordiques, but playing against the Canadiens is a very big deal.
"It always is because the game is on RDS back home," Perreault said. "Lot of family and friends there watching. It’s always fun to play Montreal."
The Habs and all-world goalie Carey Price will also be a big test for Mark Scheifele.
"Obviously, a lot of skill," Scheifele said. "(Defenceman Shea) Weber with the big shot. (Max) Pacioretty’s been on fire lately. We know they can score goals, we know they can make some plays, obviously some great goaltending. But the biggest thing for us is sticking to our game plan."
The Jets have been much improved defensively in 2017.
"Before last night, eight of our nine periods were great and you add three more last night," centre Nic Petan said. "I think we’re on the right track. We’ve just gotta play consistent. I think once we start worrying about our opponent, we kinda stray away. So we focus on ourselves we play well."
And what to do about Price?
"Lots of... shots," Petan said. "He’s a great goalie and whenever we have lots of shots on net, we seem to be playing the right style."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.