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This article was published 2/3/2020 (364 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Winnipeg Jets likely wouldn’t be in the playoff hunt if it wasn’t for goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
Now, with 15 games left and the Jets currently on the outside looking in, can the team afford to give their starting goalie a break? Head coach Paul Maurice seems to think so.
"Yes, we can. That’s a big number to run a goalie and Laurent (Brossoit) really played well (with) five of six points in his last three starts, so we can," Maurice said after Monday’s practice at Bell MTS Place.
Hellebuyck, who has played 54 games this season, likely won’t start all 15, but it would be a surprise to see him sit more than once or twice down the stretch. There will be some time to rest as this month’s schedule features four occasions where the Jets have a two-day break between games. The Jets have only one more back-to-back before the regular season comes to a close, with a road game against the Calgary Flames March 14 and a date in Vancouver against the Canucks the next day.
"We’ve paid for it with our schedule. We’ve had a higher number of games and they got jammed in," Maurice said. "The payoff was that we’d get into March this year and be able to have an off day, a full skate, (then) play. After (tonight’s game against the Buffalo Sabres), we get into three games in five days. That’s a real good rhythm you can get into. So, we feel at least we can go into these games rested."
There’s a strong possibility Brossoit won’t see the ice until that back-to-back, meaning he will have sat for at least six straight games.
"The challenge is going to be how long does Laurent stay out before you get him in because your schedule says you don’t have to (start him). You got two-day blocks, especially in these seven days coming up where we got (three) games. So, you know that you can run Connor and keep him fresh. Then, we’ll get into the back to back and start thinking about that."
Whether the schedule benefits the team or not, Hellebuyck said he will make the most of it and if his name is called every night, then so be it.
"I like to think I manage my game pretty well. When I get my rest, I really take full advantage," said Hellebuyck, who has a 27-21-5 record and a 2.67 GAA this season.
"When I’m back at the rink, I’m ready to go full tilt and give it. I like to think my game is in the right spot where I don’t expend any excess energy."
Hellebuyck said he’s always been good at knowing when to preserve his energy.
"Mainly, just don’t oversell yourself. I feel like my positioning is very good and I’m not overselling on pucks that I don’t need to. I think my game has always been like that," Hellebuyck said.
"I’ve taken some pride in not overdoing anything and really making sure my positioning is the main part of my game. That just goes back to as I was watching the game growing up and learning it and depicting it. It was just kind of the way I saw it."
Hellebuyck has proven he can handle a large workload and not show signs of slowing down. The 26-year-old Commerce, Mich., native played 67 regular-season games two years ago and his numbers were nearly identical in 17 playoff games in the team’s run to the Western Conference final. This year, Hellebuyck is second only to Montreal’s Carey Price (55) in games played. With 15 to go, Hellebuyck has a chance at topping his previous career-high: most goaltenders could only dream of numbers that high.
"I guess at the time I didn’t really realize how many games 67 actually was. But, I felt pretty good that year. I was just happy to be in the net... But, I mean, games played isn’t a huge deal to me. It’s more about what you do with them. Getting this team into the playoffs is my mindset and that’s all I really care about."
As for his expectations on how he’ll be used in the final weeks, Hellebuyck wasn’t tipping his hand.
"I’m just ready when my name is called," he said.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.