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This article was published 29/10/2021 (205 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
LOS ANGELES — The Winnipeg Jets found themselves in an early hole to begin the season, but over the last week have managed to climb out and are hoping to build from there.
Winnipeg scored twice in the third period, with goals from Andrew Copp and Pierre-Luc Dubois, to edge the L.A. Kings 3-2 at the Staples Center Thursday night. It was the fourth straight victory for the Jets, who began the year 0-2-1. But with a stretch of wins, they are now 4-2-1 as they get ready to wrap up a three-game homestand through California in San Jose with a tilt against the Sharks Saturday.
Indeed, the good times keep rolling for Winnipeg, even as key contributors Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler remain out of the lineup.
"It's huge. The end of the season is so tough. You look at some teams and some make it to 97 points and don’t make the playoffs. I remember in Columbus one year, I think we won something like 17 of the last 20 games and we made the playoffs by one point," Dubois said after the game.
"You get to the point at the end of the season and not a lot of teams start to lose. The teams you’re in a race with they don’t lose a lot. So, it’s important that at the beginning of the year to get in that fight right away. The season can get far from you real fast, and you don’t want to be chasing points in December, you want to feel good about yourself; and before the playoffs start you play with that playoff mentality and when they start, you’re ready to go."
Dubois opened the scoring with his fifth of the season just 4:07 into the game. He picked up a Kyle Connor rebound at the left side of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick before travelling behind the net and wrapping the puck in for his sixth of the season.
It was another strong shift by the Jets' new top line, which also has Evgeny Svechnikov playing on the right wing. It will be interesting to see what head coach Paul Maurice will do in the coming days, as Wheeler and Scheifele are now out of COVID-19 protocol and not far from returning to the lineup.
Scheifele is back in Winnipeg skating and Wheeler, though with the team, is still in need of some conditioning after being off for 10 days. Together they made up two-thirds of the Jets' top line, along with Connor. But with the chemistry between Connor and Dubois continuing to brew, it's hard to think Maurice will be willing to make a change.
"(Pierre-Luc) and Kyle have something going on there; they’re pretty dynamic with each other," Maurice said. "Dubois never really got a chance to learn anybody, because his game wasn’t where it’s at and now we’re really just starting to see him develop"
With two goals, Dubois extended his point streak to six games (6G, 3A), while three assists gave Connor 12 points in his last five games, including five goals and seven helpers.
Unlike Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks, the Jets were much better through the opening 20 minutes, even if at times they were left scrambling in the defensive zone by a hard Kings forecheck. Some sloppy play in the offensive zone would prove costly near the midway mark of the frame, as Rasmus Kupari snuck in behind the Jets defence for a break in alone.
Kupari flipped the puck over the blocker of Eric Comrie for his first of the season, tying the game at the 11:23 mark. Phillip Danault and Alex Iafallo were credited for the assists, with Danault snapping a five-game pointless streak in the process.
"We came back, I think last couple games, same thing, we can play a little better. We were a little sloppy in the second. Found a way to win it," Connor said. "Stuck with it, there’s no quit in that group. I thought we were a lot better in the d-zone. They had some pretty extended shifts, but no panic in our team. We were able to talk some of those pucks out."
The Kings took early control of the second period, earning a 2-1 lead 1:41 into the frame with a goal from Adrian Kempe — who, like Kupari, earned his first goal of the season. Danault, who signed a six-year, US$33-millon contract with L.A. as a free agent over the summer, got his second assist on the goal.
Svechnikov had the best chance for the Jets in the second period. He picked up a loose puck on a Kings turnover in the neutral zone and with a two-on-one with Morrissey opted to keep. His shot got on net but was squeezed in the pads of Quick to keep the Kings up one.
Winnipeg outshot L.A. in the first period, 13-7, but with a 16-9 edge for the Kings in the second frame, the combined total favoured L.A., 23-22, heading into the third period.
"I liked the first and third (periods), for sure. I really liked the style of play in the first, getting under the pucks," Maurice said. "I felt we were really good in that first. And then there is going to be an answer and a push by their team. I liked the way we played in the third, I thought we got back to the way we played in the first."
The Jets have struggled mightily on the penalty kill this season, entering the game allowing 10 goals on 25 trips to the man-advantage, for a dismal 60 per cent success rate. But the Kings have been even worse, ranked 31st in the NHL — one spot behind Winnipeg — and were once again exploited when down a player.
Copp evened the score 2-2 on the power play, redirecting a Connor shot in the slot that beat Quick on the ice. It was Copp's fifth goal of the season and second in as many games.
Not done there, Winnipeg captured the lead with Dubois's second of the game, which was set up by another Connor pass. Neal Pionk received the second assist.
From there came some stellar play in net by Comrie, with the California native making his first start of the season in front of friends and family. Comrie finished with 29 saves to earn the victory, his first since Jan. 31, when he was a member of the New Jersey Devils.
"I felt good. I mean, the team was awesome. They played unbelievable. They were battling really hard and made it really easy for myself," Comrie said. "They did a really good job of clearing guys. I don’t think there was one deflection tonight at all. They let me see everything and that makes a big difference. I felt good. A lot of hard work went into that and a lot of preparation, so I’m just going to keep building on that and keep hoping for more success."
The Kings have now lost three straight, with Thursday's loss bringing their record to 1-5-1.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.