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This article was published 8/11/2021 (235 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Connor Hellebuyck couldn’t tend to the crease or the cradle the last week.
The Winnipeg goalie was present for the birth of his son last Tuesday but then came down with a non-COVID illness and missed spending quality time with baby Hugh Joseph and wife and new mom, Andrea, for several days.
Hellebuyck was absent for three Jets games as well but returned to practice Monday and is the odds-on starter Tuesday against the visiting St. Louis Blues. Game time is 7 p.m.
Make no mistake, he wants to play.
"There’s definitely going to be a little bit of a reset, but I felt good on the ice (Monday)," said Hellebuyck. "It’s just about getting mentally up to speed. The structure is there. Now, it’s just about getting my reads back and making sure I’m doing things as quick as I possibly can."
With his return, the Jets reassigned goalie Mikhail Berdin to the Manitoba Moose on Monday and recalled winger Kristian Vesalainen from their American Hockey League affiliate.
Hellebuyck, who started the Jets’ first seven games of the season (3-2-2), was felled by COVID-19 in late August, at which point he was unvaccinated. He got his shots in September just before training camp.
His battle with the most recent bug was no picnic.
"There’s no way I could have played through what I had. It was definitely strange. I don’t know how I got it, but it is what it is," he said. "So, I had to stay away from him for a bit," said Hellebuyck, who sports a 3.42 goals-against average and .899 save percentage this season. "(Monday) was my first full day with everyone and baby slept great last night. He’s got a rockstar of a mom and she’s been handling everything and her grandma has been in town helping, which has been great.
"Being able to be around him and hold him, it’s just a feeling you can’t describe. I’m in the process of learning (the new dad stuff). Just enjoy every second, and I am."
In the meantime, Eric Comrie proved to be a capable fill-in, albeit in a small sample size, going 2-1-0 while stopping 70 of 76 shots for a .921 save percentage.
Watching from afar, Hellebuyck was duly impressed.
"I’ve been saying this since the beginning of the year, he’s played great and I thought he was ready from the start. He’s a battler and he handles the crease well," he said.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice said he’s eager to see how the No.1 netminder feels when he arrives at the downtown rink for Tuesday’s morning skate.
"Guys like me who don’t work out for awhile and then you go and have a workout, it’s not how you feel that day, it’s how you feel the next day," joked Maurice. "So, we’ll let (Hellebuyck) get his workout, (he’s a) professional athlete, and we’re pretty sure he’s gonna feel good. And if he feels good then we’re going to want to get him back in the net.
"Even if he’s not at that 100 per cent, he need to get back in the net to get to that. Those guys have to play games to get feeling good, so as long as he doesn’t feel like I do after my one workout a month, we’ll give him good consideration for the game today."
The Jets had a smooth ride Friday in a 5-1 victory over the struggling Chicago Blackhawks but hit some turbulence the next night, falling 2-0 to a rugged, defensively sound New York Islanders squad.
Maurice said the Blues, a formidable squad (7-2-1) despite a surprising 4-1 defeat Sunday to the host Anaheim Ducks, excel with dual personalities.
"You’re going to get a team that does what Chicago does well and what the Islanders do well in one package. They attack like Chicago does, they’ll get four on the rush and make plays, strip pucks and they’ve got good sticks and they’ll play with some quickness," said the Winnipeg bench boss.
"Then they would be more defensively structured, not in terms of systems but just personnel. They’ve got some veteran guys back there and they’re going to be a pretty heavy defensive team, they’re going to play hard on the defensive side of the puck. So, a bit of a hybrid between the two."
The Islanders yielded the blue line to the Jets but allowed very few golden opportunities in front of goalie Ilya Sorokin, who posted his third shutout of the young campaign.
Finding ways to infiltrate the dirty areas will be a task against the Blues, coached by Craig Berube, as well.
"That was similar to a playoff game (on Saturday), in the sense where there are very few chances and when you get them, you have to bury them and make sure that you capitalize on them," said Connor, who is fourth in NHL scoring with a team-leading eight goals and eight assists.
"We looked at some video, we try to get better every single day of the season and progress. So, we’re going to work on some things. You’re always trying to learn from your losses and wins."
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