September 30, 2020

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Solid penalty killing opens door for Jets' scrappy third-period rally

Rarely flashy, Nathan Beaulieu's a more-than competent defender who plays physical and isn't afraid to block shots. (Daniel Crump / Free Press files)</p></p>

Rarely flashy, Nathan Beaulieu's a more-than competent defender who plays physical and isn't afraid to block shots. (Daniel Crump / Free Press files)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/12/2019 (298 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

DALLAS — The penalty-killing unit hasn't been the strongest of motivating forces for the Winnipeg Jets this season but gets a shiny gold star for its conduct Thursday.

The game summary clearly highlights the Dallas Stars' lucrative power play, which accounted for two goals on five opportunities — Jamie Benn's game-opener late in the first period and Joe Pavelski's winner 2:02 into overtime.

But the final statistics don't tell the entire story about the work of Winnipeg's much-maligned penalty kill.

The Stars earned the full two points to improve to 16-11-3 and draw to within a point of the third-place Jets, now 17-10-2, in the wildly cutthroat Central Division.

Blake Wheeler, with his seventh goal, and Mark Scheifele, with his 11th, tied the game in the final frame for the Jets, who outshot the Stars 13-3 in the period. Scheifele’s equalizer came with just 44.6 seconds left in regulation and goalie Connor Hellebuyck lifted for a sixth skater.

But the resurgence began much earlier, even before the teams retired to their locker rooms for the second intermission, with the hosts up 2-0. With 6:23 left in the second period, Scheifele was tagged with a hooking penalty and then crossed a line in one official's mind with some yapping afterward to earn an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.

But the penalty killers, led by a Hellebuyck, the strong work of Adam Lowry at the faceoff dot and the shot-blocking of Luca Sbisa, survived four minutes of duress — and gave the squad a major shot in the arm. The Jets then earned a power-play chance of their own, didn't connect despite some good puck movement, but carried the momentum into the third.

"That kill was outstanding. And we got action on our power play, so we didn't come back to the bench frustrated. We felt we were right there," Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice said after the game. "The game changes... we ended up in the box more than our team ever is. But we got some good kills there, five-on-four, and gave ourselves a chance to have the third that we did. So, I was real happy with that."

Overall, Winnipeg is working at a rather unflattering 75.7 per cent efficiency rating when shorthanded, lower than all but six teams in the NHL. To gain some perspective, the San Jose Sharks are running at a remarkable 91.4 per cent, while 17 others are all north of 80.

The penalty kill in the second period, led by Connor Hellebuyck, gave the Jets a major shot in the arm. (Brandon Wade / The Associated Press)

The penalty kill in the second period, led by Connor Hellebuyck, gave the Jets a major shot in the arm. (Brandon Wade / The Associated Press)

That's the bad news. The good news is the Jets' performance on the penalty kill away from Bell MTS Place, now at 81.1 per cent (13th). At home, it's a ghastly 69.7 per cent, far and away the league's lowest. Indeed, it requires vast improvements during the stretch toward the holiday season, as they play seven of their next nine contests on Portage Avenue, beginning Sunday at 2 p.m. against the Anaheim Ducks.

A healthy Nathan Beaulieu might be a catalyst.

The 27-year-old defenceman suffered an undisclosed injury in the third period of the final pre-season game against the Minnesota Wild and missed 15 games. He returned to the lineup for nine games and, with his participation, the penalty-killing numbers rose from 70.9 to 82.6 per cent.

Then he took a blast to the hand during a home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets and was forced to the press box for another four games before getting the green light in Dallas Thursday.

He's been a bit of a journeyman blue-liner since he was selected 17th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2011 NHL Draft, but is proving to be a valuable commodity in his second season in Jets blue and white. Rarely flashy, he's a more-than competent defender who plays physical and isn't afraid to block shots.

"There's a physical strength with him, competitive. Nathan's been a part of a penalty-killing group that's really coming together and has played quite well," Maurice said before Thursday's game. It takes some minutes off (Neal) Pionk and (Josh) Morrissey, which is what we'd like to do in that PK role."

Beaulieu wouldn't divulge the severity of the damage to his hand, only that he experienced much more than just mild discomfort. Just one of the hazards of the job, he said.

'You just gotta (block shots). You have to forget about it. Say you block 200 shots, a lot of them are gonna hurt but a lot of them don't break bones and you just gotta think that way. If you do shy away from it, that's when you get injured, so just be confident in it," said Beaulieu, who played the right side on a third pairing with Anthony Bitetto

"In this league, there's so little room (between wins and losses), especially on the PK you try to get in lanes as much as possible. There's no art to it, you just try and get in front of it. Some bumps and bruises happen but you gotta be willing to do it."

With a healthy Beaulieu, the Jets sent blue-liner Cameron Schilling back to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League Friday morning.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
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).

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