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This article was published 16/12/2017 (937 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Top-flight goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck helped to power the Winnipeg Jets to the top of the NHL’s Western Conference earlier this month.
Winnipeg’s pace has slowed lately, enough to drop the 18-9-5 Jets into fifth spot entering Friday’s action. It’s no surprise that Hellebuyck hasn’t been as good, either.
The latest hiccup, a 5-1 loss to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night, was due, Hellebuyck asserted, to some bad luck all around.
"I still like my game," said Hellebuyck, who finished the game with 25 saves. "I think I’m moving well and I’m seeing pucks well and I’m patient on the pucks. A little bit of a tough-luck situation for me in the last couple of games. Pucks have been bouncing and that happens during the season... It’s nice to have a practice day here and there and work on some things, too."
The Jets are in St. Louis tonight for a matchup with the 21-10-2 Blues. The teams play a return engagement in Winnipeg Sunday night and Jets head coach Paul Maurice said No. 2 goaltender Steve Mason will make his first start since Nov. 25 in one of the weekend games.
Hellebuyck is focused on reversing his fortunes.
He still owns a sparkling 16-4-4 record, 2.55 goals-against average and .917 save percentage, but in six of his past eight games he’s had a sub-.900 save percentage, with the high-scoring Jets winning only two of those games.
The 24-year-old Commerce, Mich., native was happy to finish the game after the Blackhawks took a 4-0 lead on 23 shots heading into the third period.
"I felt really good in the game," Hellebuyck said. "I thought I was moving well and I was seeing the pucks well. So the fact I played the whole game helps my stats and that’s personal. It doesn’t only help me but it helps the team believe in me — that I’m going to battle no matter what happens."
Maurice knows Hellebuyck is determined to ride it out, even when games appear out of reach.
"You know what, I’ve done that (pulled him) to him in the past," Maurice said. "And we talked about it. He wants the chance to fight through it. The first one he can stop, but I don’t expect him to, it’s a one-time, two-on-one. The next couple he doesn’t see, I don’t think he’s got a chance. But he’s earned the right to stay in the fight and see if we can get things going again. So I didn’t want to pull him or hang it on him."
Mason, for his part, is itching for his first action since suffering a concussion in San Jose nine games ago. The Jets play five games in the next eight days and so he knows he will get the call.
"It’s more or less the way the whole year has gone," Mason said. "I’m kinda used to it... I’ve always played the majority of the team’s games, so this year has been an entirely new experience. I think I’ve handled it well. But you just have to make sure that you’re utilizing the practice time to be the best that you can and make sure you’re giving yourself the best chance to succeed when game time comes around.
"We’re so busy. I’ll be getting some games and trying to be ready for them."
In eight games, the 29-year-old Mason is 2-4-1 with a 3.45 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage.
"We haven’t really practised, it’s been pre-game skates," Mason said. "I’ve been trying to work hard and try and stay sharp but games are different. I’m confident the work I put in will help me."
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Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
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Updated on Saturday, December 16, 2017 at 9:02 AM CST: Photo added.
9:37 AM: Cutline fixed.