WINNIPEG, Manitoba — You can excuse the members of the Jets’ fourth line if they’re not reading each other’s thoughts on the ice yet. After all, they’ve only played two games together this year.
But a little verbal communication went a long way toward an impressive 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils at Bell MTS Place on Saturday afternoon.
The trio of center Matt Hendricks, right winger Joel Armia and left winger Mathieu Perreault combined for two goals and six points while Connor Hellebuyck stopped 34 shots for his 11th win of the season. Hellebuyck has given up two or fewer goals in 11 of his 14 starts this season.
Hendricks, along with Patrik Laine and Jacob Trouba stuck the dagger in the Devils with three goals in 95 seconds in the second period. Perreault and Hendricks had a goal and an assist each while Armia had a pair of assists.
Left winger Kyle Connor opened the scoring for the Jets (12-4-3) while defenseman Will Butcher and left winger Brian Gibbons replied for New Jersey.
Cory Schneider stopped 17 of 22 shots for the Devils (11-5-3) before being pulled after surrendering five goals in the second period. Keith Kinkaid stopped 12 shots in relief.
The Jets didn’t have any power plays on this afternoon but would the fourth liners have been lobbying for some ice time if they had?
“No,” Hendricks said with a laugh. “Maybe? There were some great plays out there tonight. We had a good talk yesterday as a line after practice. We were feeling good coming into tonight and we wanted to start contributing a little bit more. It’s nice to be able to help the team on the scoreboard.”
“We thought we’ve been playing pretty well. (Perreault’s) first game back (Thursday’s 3-2 win over Philadelphia after missing 12 with an injury) he scored a big goal for us, obviously, but we thought we could have brought a little bit more throughout the course of the game. We had some real good spurts and then kind of lacked a little bit. We wanted to have a more consistent game (today).”
Hendricks’ second goal of the season was particularly pretty. Perreault took the puck behind the Devils’ net shortly after the Jets had taken a 3-1 lead in the middle frame, made a few dangles and fakes reminiscent of a guy who used to wear No. 99, before finding an open Hendricks at the top of the crease. He roofed it over Schneider’s glove just before the midway point of the game.
Jets coach Paul Maurice said he has the utmost confidence tapping his fourth line on the shoulder in a way he never has during his tenure in Winnipeg. Hendricks and Perreault, in particular, are enjoying each other’s company during practice and games.
“They’re excited when the game starts, they’ve both got big smiles,” he said. “They both play hard on the puck and can make plays. They just enjoy it, they’re fun to have on the bench because they’re wired start to finish. I think they just like playing the game and they’re not worried about the minutes, they’re just going out as hard as they can. They’re chirping all the time and the bench is up. It’s fun.”
A battle between two of the fastest teams in the NHL started out as a track meet with both squads exchanging scoring chances and great saves. So, what triggered the floodgates being thrown open in the second? Nothing, according to Trouba, and that’s the best part about it.
“We didn’t do anything differently. We talked about it after the first period. It was a tight game and there wasn’t really much there, but I don’t think we had to change anything. We just trust the game we’ve been playing,” he said.
“We know we score goals when the opportunity is there so no one was really pushing for it or doing anything different. It just kind of happens and that’s how it goes.”
Schneider said he was disappointed that he was unable to keep the game from getting out of hand so quickly.
“It’s never something you want to kind of snowball like that. For me, it’s about making a save or two to stop the momentum,” Schneider said. “To give up three or four goals on four or five shots in that short amount of time, it’s tough as a goalie. If you give up one, you bear down and make sure they don’t get that second one. Tonight, I just wasn’t able to stop the bleeding.”
The Jets, currently in second place in the Central Division and Western Conference, have picked up points in 12 of their last 13 games, with a loss against the Vegas Golden Knights a couple of weeks ago the only blemish.
Butcher’s goal, the first of the 22-year-old’s young NHL career, wasn’t exactly the kind of stuff of childhood street hockey games. He swiped the puck into the net just past the halfway mark of the third period after left winger Taylor Hall’s shot had squeaked between Hellebuyck’s pads and rolled slowly toward the goal line.
“You always dream about scoring your first goal in the National Hockey League. In my mind, I drew it up a little bit different than just pushing the puck three inches across the line. At the end of the day, it’s still a special moment,” he said.
NOTES: The Jets are 124-92-23 all-time in Winnipeg, including 7-2-1 this season, but they are just 19-28-13 in afternoon games. ... The Jets scored on three of four shots in a shootout against Philadelphia, tying the franchise record, which has been done six times, including three times since 2011. ... Devils G Cory Schneider played his first three professional seasons with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. ... Devils LW Taylor Hall has 17 points (six goals, 11assists) in 12 career games against the Jets. ... Devils RW Drew Stafford played parts of three seasons in Winnipeg before being traded to Boston at the trade deadline last season.