In a young season filled with surprises, the Winnipeg Jets came up with another one Sunday night — beating the high-flying Edmonton Oilers despite not scoring a goal during 65 minutes of action.
The former Smythe Division rivals produced absolutely no offence in regulation, then traded chances during a wildly entertaining five-minute, three-on-three overtime session which failed to produce a winner.
Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine then lit the lamp in the shootout, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid were turned away by goalie Connor Hellebuyck. The end result was a desperately needed 1-0 victory for the Jets (5-5-0) that halts a three-game losing streak. The Oilers dropped to 7-1-1.
"It’s good to get a result. Obviously, it’s been tough around here. I think the quality of our play isn’t reflective of the results we’re getting recently. So, it’s good to finally get one," captain Blake Wheeler said.
"We’re a fairly confident group, so you just kind of stay with it and keep grinding. It’s a real battle every shift for us right now. So, when we’re not getting results, it feels like an uphill climb. But I think our group has stayed in the fights for the most part and it gave us a chance to win a hockey game."
Hellebuyck stopped all 28 shots he faced to register his first shutout of the season. His biggest came on a McDavid breakaway during overtime.
"I think we had a lot of energy and attitude. I think we’re sick of getting scored on," Hellebuyck said of keeping the likes of McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and James Neal in check. "I thought we played great. The guys in front kept everything to the outside and really controlled the shots and drove the pace the entire game."
You can file this game right under the category of "Didn’t see that coming" along with a pair of other wins this year: a 5-4 shootout victory in New Jersey — after erasing a 4-0 deficit — and a 4-1 victory in Pittsburgh with a massively depleted lineup, which snapped an 18-game, 13-year winless drought in the city.
Head coach Paul Maurice hit a milestone by recording the 700th win of his career on Sunday. He’s seventh all-time among coaching victories and third among active coaches. Players celebrated the achievement by giving Maurice a musical tribute in the room.
"Almost feel embarrassed by it. You know, a little sheepish. But nice. It would have been nice if they got the song right, I think it was Hells Bells. That’s a tell, they think that’s my personality. Clearly we needed a Zeppelin song. I was a little surprised by Hells Bells," Maurice said.
"Hopefully, I will stick around here long enough that we can do another milestone. Kashmir would be nice, I guess. That’s a Zeppelin song, for those of you under 30."
The Jets thought they had grabbed the lead in regulation time as defenceman Carl Dahlstrom scored what would have been his first NHL goal with 11:33 left in the third period, off a great pass from Laine. But there was just one problem: Mark Scheifele was offside. The Oilers successfully challenged the play and the goal was washed out.
That’s just the way it’s been lately for the Jets, who have now gone 238 minutes, 13 seconds since they last scored a five-on-five goal, courtesy of Mathieu Perreault just 1:47 into last Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh.
In the nearly 12 periods since, Winnipeg has only scored four times, all on the power play. Not including the shootout tallies, of course.
This was Edmonton’s only visit to Winnipeg, and a sold-out crowd likely expected a bit more action from a pair of offensively gifted teams. But both sides appeared to be committed to defensive detail on this night, and it showed.
"They have some pretty dynamic offensive players, arguably two of the best, if not the best, in tandem. Especially the way they’re feeling it to start the year. We can take that as a positive, The way this team has been scoring a lot of goals to start the year, to hold them to nothing is one of those moral victories," said defenceman Josh Morrissey.
"It feels good to get the win in the fashion we did. As a coach you probably want to win 1-0. I feel like that’s probably the best reward or best 700th win we can give (Maurice)."
Winnipeg didn’t register its first shot of the night until just past the eight minute mark, a harmless wrister off the stick of Bryan Little, who was playing his first game of the season after missing the first nine with a concussion.
"I felt like I had a lot of energy, legs and some adrenaline, it felt pretty good, for the most part of the game. I definitely could have used some hands, but that will come," said Little.
Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jack Roslovic all had good looks in the opening period but fired wide on goalie Mike Smith, a common theme in this case. Consider: The Jets only had two shots on goal through 20 minutes, with another six shot attempts missing the net and five others blocked.
"When you’re playing a big bulk of the game the right way, you’re not scoring like we’re used to scoring and some breaks are going against us, it’s tough to want to stay in that game, it’s tough to stay in that fight when you’re not seeing the results, the fruits of your labour," said Wheeler.
The Oilers came into the game with the best power play in the NHL, while the Jets had the league’s worst penalty kill. However, Winnipeg survived a pair of infractions on the night to Tucker Poolman and Little. Meanwhile, the Jets looked dangerous on four power plays of their own, generating a dozen total shots but no goals. One of those penalties went to McDavid, who went after Wheeler after he threw a big hit on Patrick Russell.
Winnipeg bucked a recent trend at Bell MTS Place, which has been a house of horrors for the home team. The Jets began the night just 1-9-0 in their past 10 games and outscored 41-20 dating back to last season, not including exhibition action. It’s also been a rough stretch of hockey at the downtown rink, with the Jets and Moose going a combined 0-7-0 over the last nine days heading into Sunday’s game.
Now they have something to try to build off as the Los Angeles Kings pay a visit to Bell MTS Place Tuesday night. Not to mention trying to get win No. 701 for their bench boss.
"What an accomplishment. (Maurice) been in the game a long time and turned into an old man on us. The biggest quality with Paul is his ability to adapt to different seasons and different teams throughout his tenure as a coach," said Wheeler.
"Players never tune him out, never get sick of his message because he’s able to keep it fresh and refreshing. You see teams start to fall off, when plays stop buying into the message. Not even close to what’s happening here, so that’s a really strong quality, especially in today’s game."
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.
Updated on Sunday, October 20, 2019 at 10:39 PM CDT: Writethrough: adds quotes, details.
October 21, 2019 at 7:05 AM: Adds embed, photos