The Winnipeg Jets are onto something with this new math — although it's a course they'd voluntarily withdraw from if given the chance.
Take a 22-man roster, subtract two multi-millionaires and what do you get? A pair of consecutive NHL victories on home ice, the latter a 6-4 decision over the Nashville Predators Saturday evening before 14,020 spectators at Canada Life Centre.
This one was no foregone conclusion. The Predators trimmed the lead to just two goals with their second power-play goal of the night with under seven minutes left in the game and pressured for more.
But the Jets held on to improve to 2-2-1. The squad heads out on a three-game road trip to California, starting Tuesday in Anaheim — its third meeting with Ducks.
Kristian Vesalainen's first NHL goal loomed large. The Finnish-born forward deflected a Nate Schmidt shot with 11 seconds left in the second period to provide the Jets with a two-goal cushion, a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes.
"I mean, it took a lot of weight from my shoulders. That was a long time coming, so it was really nice," said Vesalainen, Winnipeg's first pick (24th overall) in the 2017 NHL Draft. He had a pair of assist in 21 games over three seasons before notching the milestone marker.
He's not sure who scooped up the memento from the net behind Nashville goalie Juuse Saros.
"I was actually so glad that I scored so I don't know who picked the puck. I didn't see that at all but yeah, it's somewhere here for sure," said the 22-year-old.
Vesalainen's contribution wasn't limited to scoring. He showed some dogged determination on the forecheck, and was one of head coach Paul Maurice's chosen ones to protect the lead in the waning minutes as the Predators clawed to get closer.
He's taking full advantage of increased minutes and pressure-packed sitiuations, particularly in the absence of Scheifele and Wheeler.
"Yeah, of course, whenever you get a chance like that you have to improve your game. And, obviously, you have to be better on the puck and I think I've showed that a little bit more but I can do better, too," said Vesalainen. "It's a great chance for me ,so I have to take it, that's for sure."
Veteran centre Paul Stastny led the way with a pair of goals, while Adam Lowry, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor supplied singles.
Stastny's second goal was immense, coming just 26 seconds after Roman Josi had trimmed the Jets lead to 4-3 early in the final period. Connor's wicked one-timer that buzzed behind Saros, with the Preds a man short, upped the lead to 6-4.
Secondary scoring has been a crucial element in the early stages of the season, said Stastny
"Once those other lines chip in, I think everyone kind of relaxes a little bit and when other lines are scoring and when other lines are creating chances or are creating power plays, I think that’s all you can ask for," he said. "I think when Paul is comfortable rolling three or four lines, it makes the game a lot easier.
"I think when you play only three lines and you play heavy minutes, then it is a little tougher because you start cheating the game a little bit. When you have all the lines you can trust out there producing offensively and being responsible defensively, it just takes the burden off everyone and keeps everyone fresh..."
Connor has ripped six goals in five games and shares the NHL goal-scoring lead with Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid, Calgary Flames centre Elias Lindholm and L.A. Kings centre Anze Kopitar. Nikolaj Ehlers registered his first point of the season, a secondary assist on Connor's power-play marker.
Colton Sissons, Nick Cousins and Philip Tomasino also lit the lamp for the Predators.
Schmidt set up three goals and has five helpers in Winnipeg's last two outings.
In sick bay, Scheifele was asymptomatic, so he'll stay away from the squad until he returns two negative tests at least 24 hours apart. Wheeler, however, had symptoms and is in the midst of a minimum 10-day quarantine period.
Maurice employed the exact lineup that blasted the Anaheim Ducks 5-1 Thursday night. In the top-six forward group, Andrew Copp skated between Stastny and Ehlers, while Dubois centred Connor and Evgeny Svechnikov in the clash of Central Division rivals.
Consider the page turned on Dubois and his well-documented struggles from the abridged 2020-21 season. The 6-2, 205-pound was a fireball, scoring in his fourth straight game while generating a number of sensational chances for he and his linemates.
"He's looking faster now, for sure. He's always been a good defensive player," said Maurice. "His instincts low are very strong but he feels that pressure to put up numbers so what I'm hoping for is his game's good, he's feeling good, his decisions, some of the confidence — just, some of the basic plays, he's not forcing anything out there."
Dubois had just eight goals in 41 outings following the trade that sent Finnish marksman Patrik Laine to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He drew a minor penalty on the same shift as his tally, setting the stage for Stastny to poke in a rebound at to spark the Jets to a 3-1 lead.
"(Dubois is) going to get enough looks, power play as well. So I hope he's relaxed," added the Jets bench boss. "I think he had a tough year last year on just about every front. And he used his frustration of last year to push himself this summer so that he can have nights like he's having now."
Winnipeg's penalty-killing woes continued as Cousins batted a rebound behind goalie Connor Hellebuyck with under seven minutes left in the middle frame, and Tomasino did likewise in the third. In five games, opponents have struck for an almost unfathomable 10 goals on 22 power-play opportunities.
Predators winger Tanner Jeannot had an impactful first shift, lowering the boom on Neal Pionk behind the Jets net and then setting up Sissons for the game-opener just 75 seconds in.
Jeannot was rambunctious in the opening frame, administering four heavy checks — all well within league parameters. His antics exhausted the patience of Jets' seventh defenceman, Nathan Beaulieu, and the pair tossed down late in the frame.
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).