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Hellebuyck happy with state of his game

<p>A motivated and well-rested Connor Hellebuyck could be a good thing for the Winnipeg Jets down the stretch.</p>

AP PHOTO / GENE J. PUSKAR

A motivated and well-rested Connor Hellebuyck could be a good thing for the Winnipeg Jets down the stretch.

Connor Hellebuyck is feeling a bit territorial about his crease these days, and perhaps a bit sensitive about his own play in net.

The Winnipeg Jets' No. 1 goaltender wasn't a big fan of having to sit out Tuesday night's much-heralded meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights, which ended with Laurent Brossoit stealing the show by making 43 saves in a 4-1 Jets victory.

"It was definitely one I would have liked, because the Western Conference didn’t end well for us last year and that’s an easy game to get going in. But I’m not going to question the coach. He makes the calls and I’m going to be prepared when my name is called," Hellebuyck said Wednesday following an optional practice at Bell MTS Place.

The thing is, Hellebuyck's name may not be called as often as he expects if Brossoit keeps playing the way he is. The 25-year-old backup has now started two of the past three games and is likely to play one of these next two in either Nashville or Dallas before the Jets go into their bye week followed by the all-star game break. Brossoit leads all NHL goalies who have made at least 11 starts with a 2.01 goals-against average and .943 save-percentage, not to mention a 10-0-1 record in those games.

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Connor Hellebuyck is feeling a bit territorial about his crease these days, and perhaps a bit sensitive about his own play in net.

The Winnipeg Jets' No. 1 goaltender wasn't a big fan of having to sit out Tuesday night's much-heralded meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights, which ended with Laurent Brossoit stealing the show by making 43 saves in a 4-1 Jets victory.

"It was definitely one I would have liked, because the Western Conference didn’t end well for us last year and that’s an easy game to get going in. But I’m not going to question the coach. He makes the calls and I’m going to be prepared when my name is called," Hellebuyck said Wednesday following an optional practice at Bell MTS Place.

The thing is, Hellebuyck's name may not be called as often as he expects if Brossoit keeps playing the way he is. The 25-year-old backup has now started two of the past three games and is likely to play one of these next two in either Nashville or Dallas before the Jets go into their bye week followed by the all-star game break. Brossoit leads all NHL goalies who have made at least 11 starts with a 2.01 goals-against average and .943 save-percentage, not to mention a 10-0-1 record in those games.

As for the state of his game, Hellebuyck got defensive when asked if there's room for improvement. The Vezina Trophy finalist from last season has now given up at least three goals in 10 of his last 12 starts. Among goalies with at least 11 starts, Hellebuyck's 2.87 GAA is 33rd while his .908 SV% is 29th.

"I like a lot of things. I have a lot of wins and we’re in first place. Right? That’s correct? Just making sure. So, I like a lot of things with it. I don’t want to say it’s perfect because it’s not going to be perfect until playoffs come around and I want to make sure it stays that way. I want to peak at the right time," Hellebuyck said.

A motivated and well-rested Hellebuyck could be a good thing for the Jets down the stretch, provided he channels that obvious emotion in a positive way.

"I don’t know that it’s a burr. There’s benefits to know you’re on a team that’s got really good players. All the best performers are that because they can continue to do it night after night. He will be disappointed in just about every single game he doesn’t play in. Which is a great driver for him," head coach Paul Maurice said Wednesday.

Brossoit's play has forced the Jets to re-evaluate how they deploy their netminders, perhaps giving Hellebuyck more time off than originally planned.

"So we got a luxury here I’m not sure we’ve ever had. We’ve got two goaltenders who we really feel confident in playing," said Maurice, who indicated Hellebuyck would start Thursday night in Nashville as the Jets face the Predators for just the second time this season.

"I've got a plan for the next two games. And we’ll let the first one happen. I have no fear of putting Laurent in the net in any game this year," said Maurice.

Like the Vegas game he was forced to watch from the bench, Hellebuyck made it clear the Nashville game is one he's had circled on his internal calendar. The Jets were blanked 3-0 at Bridgestone Arena in October and haven't met since.

"I like that building. I like the rink and I like the ice and the fans always heckle you and that’s awesome, I guess," Hellebuyck said sarcastically.

To make it clear, he's as big a fan of Brossoit as anyone. The two are friends and off-season training partners, and Hellebuyck has enjoyed seeing the former Edmonton Oilers cast-off who was demoted last season to the AHL prove his worth as a bona fide NHL netminder.

"He’s playing with a lot of energy and a lot of confidence right now. It’s fun to watch. You can see it in practice, he’s working hard. I’m pumped for him," said Hellebuyck. "Playing at a high level helps you fit in anywhere. He’s got a lot of confidence and guys feed off that. He works hard, his habits are good and the guys enjoy that.

With Brossoit getting an increased workload lately, Hellebuyck has been getting some one-on-one time with goalie coach Wade Flaherty.

"Any time you get away and get some goalie skates in, it’s huge because it gets your mind right and gets your game where it needs to be. I’m going to use this and continue to build forward, and we’re just about half way, so there’s a lot of hockey to be played," said Hellebuyck. "My body’s not too bad. I had a nice two-day break and then got another one (Tuesday) night, so I’m actually feeling pretty good and ready to go."

Winnipeg (30-14-2) leads the Central Division by two points over Nashville (28-16-4) and has two games in hand. The Jets have won three straight games and five of their past six. The Predators are also hot, going 6-1-2 in their last nine games.

"I don’t think you need to be a stats person to know (the Predators) are a really good team and they are our No. 1 opponent in our division right now. So, just going back to last year we’ve had some really good games against them. This is going to be just exactly one of those games, two good teams going at it. We’ll see what happens," said defenceman Dmitry Kulikov.

Forward Brandon Tanev said last season's epic seven-game playoff series has only cemented the rivalry.

"We’re both in the same division and we compete to do well in this division. Last year in the playoffs, that escalated as well. Two good teams and we look forward to the matchup," said Tanev.

"We understand that we have a bye week coming up with the all-star game, too. We’ve got two games left before that break, so you go out there and give it your all and leave nothing out there."

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

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.

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Updated on Wednesday, January 16, 2019 at 5:50 PM CST: Updates photo caption.

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