SAN JOSE – This time, the Winnipeg Jets didn't need Connor Hellebuyck to steal them a win in San Jose. A complete team effort took the place of goaltender grand larceny.
The first-ever NHL goal from 19-year-old David Gustafsson gave the Jets a lead they'd never relinquish Wednesday night en route to an impressive 5-1 victory over the Sharks at the SAP Center.
"I didn’t see it go in the net. I was really surprised. I just heard the guys started cheering. It’s a good feeling," the rookie Swedish centre said following the game, a huge smile on his face and the team-awarded player of the game helmet tucked away in his stall.
Winnipeg improves to 15-9-1 on the season, including a stellar 9-2-1 in the month of November. San Jose, which came into the game having won nine of their past 10, falls to 13-12-1.
The Jets beat the Sharks 3-2 back on Nov. 1, despite being outshot 53-19. Hellebuyck was the only reason they escaped with two points, as Winnipeg was thoroughly dominated in every other aspect of the game.
Not so in this one.
"We played well, you know. I think we were a lot quicker than the last time we were in here. We were on pucks, quick sticks, moving our feet and able to make some plays," said captain Blake Wheeler, who had two assists in the game.
That was especially true after San Jose forward Melker Karlsson opened the scoring on a breakaway near the midway mark of the first period. It was pretty much all Winnipeg from that point on.
Patrik Laine evened it up at 13:15 of the first period when he one-timed a beautiful Wheeler seam pass with his team on the power play. Laine's seventh of the year is just his second with the man-advantage – and the first time all season the previously deadly Wheeler to Laine feed worked to perfection.
"It’s going to be there. I think ultimately that’s going to have to be our power play. We’re just going to keep working on it, keep growing. When it’s going, you can’t stop it. Too many options. We’ve just got to keep building that confidence and get it to where we want it to be," said Wheeler.
Then came Gustafsson's milestone marker at 18:09, which proved to be the game-winner. Gustafsson's line had been hemmed in their own zone for an extended period, but he eventually took a pass from defencemen Anthony Bitetto, skated out of his own zone, dodged a check and beat San Jose goalie Aaron Dell with a wrist shot near the top of the circle.
"The first thing I thought was just get the puck out of the zone. And then all of a sudden I saw I was one-on-one with the d-man. I thought I might go down and try to get a shot on goal and it worked out," said Gustafsson, who had been held without a point in his first 17 NHL games.
"I thought the first goal would be a puck bounce in or something. This was a nice goal, so I’m happy about it."
The Jets continued to pour it on in the middle frame. Mark Scheifele scored his ninth of the year at 3:29, finishing off a pretty passing play between Laine and Kyle Connor. Jack Roslovic made it 4-1 at 14:01 of the period, fittingly on a four-on-one that happened just as he stepped out of the penalty box for a roughing call.
"Just a good penalty kill. After I scored those were the first guys that I went to. It was good to see them get the job done and then for me to score on the other end," Roslovic said of what was clearly a turning point in the game.
Roslovic had a chance to increase the lead early in the third period after being hooked on a breakaway, but his penalty shot attempt went wide of the net.
"I'm switching sticks right now," he said. "I kind of laughed about it. Professionals mess up too sometimes. Just fanned on it."
Connor sealed the win with an empty-net goal with just over five minutes left in the game. San Jose coach Peter DeBoer took a gamble by pulling Dell early while down by three, and it backfired.
Laine had an assist on the goal to complete a three-point night. He's now back to a point-per-game, with 23 (7 goals, 16 assists) in 23.
Winnipeg's much-maligned penalty kill was another story, going a perfect 6-for-6. The power play went 1-for-3.
"We knocked a big chunk of the offence down at the blue line. And then we stayed very, very aggressive with it. We had a tough night the other night (Columbus scored three power play goals last Saturday). But our penalty kill has become a strength, actually, for us now from where it started. But we were so good at the blue line tonight that that’s real frustrating for the other team," said coach Paul Maurice.
Hellebuyck, returning to the scene of his previous crime, stopped 32 of 33 shots he faced for the win.
"I think we can play better, even. A little bit faster. I think we got a couple good bounces, scored quick, and kind of took over the game from there," said Roslovic.
The Jets are truly road warriors this season, going 9-4-0 so far away from the friendly confines at Bell MTS Place. They'll try to keep that going with two more stops on this California trip – a Black Friday matinee against the Anaheim Ducks, and a Saturday night date with the Los Angeles Kings.
Winnipeg currently sits third in the Central Division, one point back of the Dallas Stars and three behind the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
"I thought (Wednesday) was the first night in a while where it looked like we had some legs. We weren’t dragging ourselves through a road trip," Maurice said of the Jets, who hadn't played since last Saturday.
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 Thursday, November 28, 2019 at 12:34 AM CST: Adds photos
1:22 AM: Full write through. Final version.
November 28, 2019 at 8:26 AM: Corrects cutline