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This article was published 22/9/2019 (431 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Winnipeg Jets have found the key to pre-season success: just put Laurent Brossoit between the pipes.
For the second time in as many starts, the home club skated to victory with its backup in net. Brossoit stood tall as Winnipeg beat a mostly non-descript group of Calgary Flames hopefuls and prospects 4-1 at Bell MTS Place.
Brossoit appeared downright bored at times, creating all kinds of adventure around his net with some puck misadventures. But he was up for the task, stopping 22 of 23 shots he faced.
The Jets are now 2-1-1 in the pre-season. Brossoit is a perfect 2-0-0, surrendering just two goals in the process.
"I’m building on what I worked on last season. The confidence built over the entire season and then coming into a relaxing summer, and then coming out of it and taking the good, I was working on a lot of stuff over the summer. I just feel pretty stable and pretty confident right now," Brossoit said following the game.
Winnipeg struck first with a textbook play off an offensive zone faceoff just 50 seconds into the game. Bryan Little won the draw and got the puck back to defenceman Tucker Poolman, who fired a low hard shot. Calgary goalie Cam Talbot gave up a juicy rebound and winger Jack Roslovic was there to bury it, going hard to the net and getting rewarded with his first of the pre-season.
That lead stood until early in the third period, when Calgary’s Adam Ruzicka tied it on the power play. But the Jets broke it open later in the frame with two goals in 72 seconds.
Captain Blake Wheeler took advantage of a fortuitous bounce and buried a loose puck, which had been fired by defenceman Anthony Bitetto and struck a Calgary defender on the way to the net. Then, Logan Stanley’s point blast was deflected by Finnish winger Joona Luoto.
Nikolaj Ehlers iced it with an empty-netter.
"We won a few battles in the offensive zone and started to play a little bit down there. It was just kind of one of those games where you just get through it. We turned it on a little bit in the third, so that was good," said Wheeler.
FIVE PLAYERS WE WATCHED CLOSELY:
F NIKOLAJ EHLERS: There’s a glaring vacancy on the left side of the dynamic Mark Scheifele-Wheeler duo, with Kyle Connor still without a contract. And that would seem to create an opportunity for Ehlers to move on up, as he did in Sunday’s game.
The trio combined for a pair of third-period goals and five points (Scheifele had two assists while Wheeler had a goal and a helper) after struggling to find much time and space against some stingy Calgary checkers in the first 40 minutes.
Ehlers had one of the highlights of the night when he alley-ooped a pass to himself to create a scoring chance — a sure sign he was feeling it. He finished with a team-high eight shot attempts, including three on net, and also had three takeaways, a hit and a shot block that briefly hobbled him in 17:44 of action.
Ehlers now has two goals and an assist in two pre-season games.
"(Ehlers) is at his best when he’s skating and has a shooting mentality and he had that tonight. It’s been an adjustment, I haven’t spent much time with Mark (Scheifele) here this camp yet, so there are some things you want to work on and you try to get the timing down and get to the right places on the ice. As the game went on, it got better and in the third period, we were pretty good," Wheeler said.
D DMITRY KULIKOV: Oh, what a difference a few months can make. Once thought of as a prime buyout candidate, you could argue Kulikov’s stock has never been higher than it is right now with the Jets. With so many departures on the blue line, Kulikov will likely get a chance to play a much bigger role than anyone envisioned. Whether that ends up being a good thing remains to be seen.
One positive appears to be his health, with Kulikov saying this is the best he’s felt in a couple seasons. He was certainly moving well Sunday while paired with 18-year-old Finnish speedster Ville Heinola, skating the puck out of trouble on a few occasions while also throwing his weight around.
However, that aggression got him and the Jets in trouble when he gave Glenn Gawdin a shove from behind, sending the Calgary forward head-first into the boards early in the third period. He was lucky to only get a two-minute boarding penalty, which the Flames quickly capitalized on to tie the game.
He played 19:24, with two shots, three hits and two giveaways.
F C.J. SUESS: There’s been all kinds of focus on who’s going to be the No. 2centre for the Jets, with Scheifele and Adam Lowry the only sure things. Little seems to have a leg-up in that department. But what about the No. 4 centre?
Veteran Mark Letestu might be the leading candidate, but it was interesting to see Suess get an audition in that spot Sunday. He’s quietly had a very good training camp and plays the kind of solid, two-way game that makes him easy to trust in multiple situations. If not at centre, he could also be an option on the wing in the bottom six.
He was fairly quiet Sunday, going four for nine in the faceoff circle and registering one hit in 13:59, which included a couple of effective penalty killing shifts.
F KRISTIAN VESALAINEN: His name isn’t on a milk carton just yet, but the Finnish winger was mostly invisible yet again on Sunday, just as he’s been for his previous two pre-season games.
Opportunity is staring him in the face and Vesalainen seems to be looking the other way. He had a lacklustre three games at the rookie showcase in Belleville — an event he should have dominated — and that’s carried over to main camp. He’s playing tentative, afraid to make any mistakes. He refuses to shoot the puck, with zero attempts on Sunday. He played 13:32, including 2:05 of power play time, but created no offence.
D TUCKER POOLMAN: Another strong performance, doing the kind of things that might just earn him a spot in the top six right out of camp.
He drew the primary assist on Roslovic’s goal in the opening minute with a perfect shot from the point, then drew a hooking penalty later in the period as he carried the puck out of his own zone with confidence.
He is also proving to be a tough customer. After getting into a fight last week in a game with Minnesota, Poolman was on the receiving end of a massive hit Sunday from Calgary’s Buddy Robinson (a former teammate on the Manitoba Moose). He went awkwardly into the boards, face first, but never missed a shift.
He had three shots in 16:01 of action, along with two giveaways while paired most of the night with Bitetto.
HOW THEY LINED UP:
On-ice sessions continue today at Bell MTS Iceplex, with two groups of skaters at 9 a.m. and noon. The Jets return to game action on Tuesday night in Calgary, which is expected to pave the way for a major wave of cuts coming on Wednesday.
The Jets still have 44 skaters in camp, and have to get down to their 23-man roster by early next week.
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.