Balanced attack carries Jets past Wild
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — If you want to see arguably the biggest difference between the Winnipeg Jets of this year and every other season since they relocated in 2011, consider the scoresheet in their 7-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild at Bell MTS Place.
There were seven different goal-scorers, and nine out of 12 forwards and four out of six defensemen recorded at least a point.
And while it’s no surprise that the Jets’ top line of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor recorded nine points, the six points picked up by the fourth line of Matt Hendricks, Mathieu Perreault and Joel Armia is more than the fourth lines of teams of yore would get in a month. Or two.
The Jets (15-6-3) have been a top-heavy team for years, and when sniper Patrik Laine and former All-Star Dustin Byfuglien are held scoreless in a game like this, the newfound depth is all the more noticeable.
And then, of course, there is the reincarnation of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who stopped 17 shots in the Jets net for his 13th win of the season. After being pulled eight times last season, he has turned his game around and is among the lead leaders in wins, goals against average and save percentage.
Alex Stalock was largely left to his own devices in the Wild goal, surrendering seven goals on 28 shots.
Jets coach Paul Maurice was quick to sing the praises of his fourth line, which kick-started the comeback after Jason Zucker and Chris Stewart staked the visitors to a 2-0 lead early in the first period.
Hendricks tipped a shot from the point by defenseman Josh Morrissey that was stopped by Stalock, but right winger Armia was there to deposit the rebound for his fourth of the season with more than four minutes to play in the period. Just 88 seconds later, Scheifele evened things up, and the comeback was on.
“Tying it was critical and I think things got rolling pretty good for us after that,” Maurice said. “They’re good. They got a guy (Hendricks) who will win faceoffs and grind.
“All three of them are hard on the puck but pretty disciplined with their sticks. Perreault and Armia have a real high skill level. You don’t see guys like that coming off the bench fourth or whenever I would put them out there. (They are) a couple of veteran guys who like playing with each other and having fun. It’s a lot more fun where if you’re getting points. They’re creating offense.”
Wheeler, who is in his second year as captain, agreed with his coach’s assessment of the so-called fourth line.
“They’ve been playing great for us,” he said. “They’ve been playing with a ton of energy and they made a great play to get us going, got a bit of the momentum on our side and we closed that period out strong. That’s a lot of times their job. A lot of times they get overlooked for the energy they bring. They had a great night tonight and got us going.”
The last time the Jets erased a two-goal deficit was last March when they came back from 3-1 in the second period to defeat the Devils 4-3 in a shootout in New Jersey.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t want to single out any player for disappointing him, so he threw his whole team under the bus instead.
“From about the 13-minute mark of the first period, we just quit playing,” he said. “It’s easy to say we’re going to watch the video, but it’s a compete level. Once the Jets started to play a little bit better, it was like ‘woe is me’ and we didn’t compete against them.”
It was not just that performance that has Boudreau hot under the collar. He is particularly upset with his team’s defensive play over the past two weeks, during which the Wild have given up 30 goals in seven games, which followed three straight shutouts.
“That’s 4 1/2 goals a game. If you’re going to do that, you can’t win in the NHL,” Boudreau said. “It’s almost impossible for me to think you can get three shutouts in a row and seven games later you allow 30 goals. After those shutouts we were third in the league defensively.”
Another difference with the Jets this season is their newfound success against the Wild (11-10-3). With three wins in three games, they are guaranteed to win the season series against the notoriously stingy Minnesotans. They have also won 15 games in just 24 contests for the first time since moving from Atlanta in 2011.
“The first two games could have gone either way, 2-1 and 4-3 and they score with three minutes to go to win the second game,” Boudreau said. “The difference is they played an awful lot better tonight. This was the difference game. The other two games were pretty even where we didn’t get any points, but this was the game where they definitely outclassed us.”
Boudreau said he never considered pulling his Stalock and inserting No. 1 goalie Devan Dubnyk.
“It was 4-2 after two and it and it wasn’t really his fault that they were going in,” the coach said.
NOTES: The Jets recalled G Eric Comrie from the Manitoba Moose and placed G Steve Mason on the injured reserve list after he sustained a concussion when taking a slap shot to the mask on Saturday in a 4-0 loss to San Jose. ... The Wild lead the NHL with five short-handed goals in 24 games this season. ... The Minnesota North Stars went 26-20-3 versus the Winnipeg Jets 1.0 from 1979-93. ... The Jets’ last loss in regulation was against Columbus on Oct. 17. ... RW Blake Wheeler played in his 500th game with the Jets/Thrashers franchise.