Record: 52 – 20 – 10
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This article was published 9/10/2017 (256 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
EDMONTON — The Winnipeg Jets lost momentum Monday night to the Edmonton Oilers, but Danish speedster Nikolaj Ehlers stole it back.
Just when things were looking bleak, the Jets young left-winger pumped two goals in 69 seconds late in the second period to spark the visitors to a 5-2 NHL victory.
Ehlers completed the hat trick with a power-play goal in the third period as the Jets earned their elusive first win of the 2017-18 season, demonstrating moxie and resolve against one of the league’s most dangerous squads.
Leading 2-0 after the first period, the Jets surrendered goals within 40 seconds by forwards Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins just past the midway point of the second. Jets coach Paul Maurice called a timeout after the Oilers tied it. Then Ehlers went to work, firing back-to-back beauties and the Jets, buoyed by the strong play of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, held firm.
Afterward, Ehlers was elated — and not because of the three-goal effort.
"We played well," he said. "We came back strong and got the two points, so we’re really happy."
Ehlers said the little break called by Maurice gave the club some time to re-focus.
"It was big. We all knew what we needed to do. We knew what we were capable of. We didn’t do that the first two games but (Monday night) we showed it," he said.
Hellebuyck had no measure of past success against the hosts to draw from as he stood between the pipes in his first start of the season, confronting the high-flying Oilers for the fifth time in his career. He came into the contest with an 0-4-0 record, a 4.76 goals-against average and .857 save percentage against the Pacific Division squad.
But he put on a goaltending clinic at Rogers Place, blocking 37 shots, including 21 in the first period, as the Jets weathered an early storm, crafted a lead and — this time — didn’t crumble.
"A win’s a win. I’m really proud of the guys in front of me. Everyone here really dug in and dug deep and pulled out a team win," said Hellebuyck. "I was seeing a lot of pucks and that means the guys in front of me are doing the right things, keeping them to the outside, a lot of good blocks and so many good back checks."
Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot finished with 39 saves.
Winnipeg kicked off the season with a 7-2 defeat to the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs and then jumped out to a 3-1 first-period lead in Calgary on Saturday night before falling 6-3 to the Flames.
Maurice told reporters Sunday Mason deserved a break after a pair of onslaughts, and Hellebuyck was getting the assignment.
Hellebuyck, who had just a period of action prior to Monday’s start, replacing Mason in the third period against Toronto, stopping nine of 11 drives, appeared confident, athletic and agile against Connor McDavid and the Oilers. He was particularly sharp in the initial frame, withstanding an early barrage of rubber as the Oilers power-play unit peppered him with seven quick drives.
He stopped a hard snapper from McDavid and then turned aside a couple of shots from in tight by Milan Lucic. Later in the period, he moved quickly across to stop Oscar Klefbom’s blast, and then did the splits to get a pad on Ryan Strome’s try on the rebound.
Winnipeg, outshot 10-2 after just seven minutes of play, kicked its own game into high gear. Centre Mark Scheifele swatted in his third goal in as many games near the midway mark of the first period for the Jets, while defenceman Dmitry Kulikov’s nasty wrist shot beat goalie Talbot to the blocker side with just under four minutes left.
Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler tossed out the word "desperation" when discussing the mood of the team but eased off and opted instead for "urgency," during a chat with reporters following the team’s morning skate.
Either of those descriptors captured the essence of the Jets’ performance. The visitors bent but refused to break in the second period after the Oilers knotted the game 2-2.
"All the pieces... we had real good goaltending, we had a number of our defencemen — difficult to single them out because they I thought they were all pretty good," said Maurice. "Up front, Nik scores the three but that was the most dominant Scheifele and Wheeler have been, going both ways."
Ehlers added an assist, Scheifele finished with a goal and two assists, while Wheeler had three helpers.
Ehlers picked up a pass on the fly from defenceman Jacob Trouba and ripped a shot that beat Talbot high to the blocker side at 16:48 of the middle frame. Credit Wheeler with orchestrating Ehlers’ second tally. The Winnipeg captain made a nifty move down low and, instead of shooting, slid an across-the-crease pass to his wide-open linemate.
Full marks to the Jets for a defensively responsible, hard-checking effort in the third period with the Oilers pressing. But Ehlers got the only goal to seal the win.
The Jets close out the three-game road trip Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks.
Dustin Byfuglien was held out of the lineup with an injury and is listed as "day to day." The big blue-liner hasn’t skated since tweaking something in Saturday’s defeat in Calgary. Tucker Poolman took his place in the lineup, making his NHL debut in a pressure-packed situation, and looked very comfortable working alongside veteran Toby Enstrom.
Meanwhile, Marko Dano dressed in place of Joel Armia on the club’s fourth line. Armia had gone pointless and was a minus-4 in the first two games of the year.
Mark Letestu, a Jet killer the last couple of seasons, was held off the board.
The 32-year-old centre has nine goals and a pair of assists in 16 career games against Winnipeg, including five goals in three straight victories last season.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
Updated on Monday, October 9, 2017 at 11:59 PM CDT: Changes blocked shots to 37 for Jets goaltender.
October 10, 2017 at 7:36 AM: Fixes typo