Jets dispatch Islanders to continue home run
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Winnipeg Jets proved that they don’t need Mark Scheifele to maintain their ascent to the top of the Central Division, as the other horses in their lineup blazed the way in defeating the New York Islanders 4-2 on Friday night.
Just 48 hours after losing their top center for six to eight weeks with a shoulder injury, captain Blake Wheeler and right winger Patrik Laine logged more than 20 minutes each of ice time and Connor Hellebuyck guaranteed himself a spot on the evening’s highlight shows stopping 42 of 44 shots — several of which halted Islanders shooters in mid-celebration — to record his 14th victory at home and 20th overall.
Wheeler, Kyle Connor and Adam Lowry each had a goal and an assist for the Jets (22-11-6) while Shawn Matthias opened the scoring with his first of the season after being a healthy scratch for 20 of the past 21 games.
Anders Lee scored both goals for the Islanders (20-14-4) and Jaroslav Halak stopped 33 of the 37 shots he faced.
The win propelled the Jets into sole possession of first place in the Central Division, one point up on Nashville and two points ahead of St. Louis.
Jets coach Paul Maurice said Hellebuyck played a big part in the team adapting to life without Scheifele.
“He really held us in (at the start). And then we got better, so our overall game after that (was) pretty good. They’re the second-best offensive team in the league and you know why. They made plays in our end of the ice that we don’t see a lot of teams make against us,” he said.
The Jets are no slouches in the scoring department either, as they sit tied for third overall with Toronto with 129 goals behind Tampa Bay (139) and the Islanders (135).
Maurice said he was happy to see Matthias, one of the Jets’ “Black Aces”, notch a goal after spending so much time in the press box this season. He didn’t get as much ice time as he might have because center Brandon Tanev went down with a minor lower-body injury late in the first period.
“He deserved to play more but it’s a testament to how hard he’s worked to say sharp and stay right,” he said.
Wheeler, a natural right wing who replaced Scheifele up the middle against the Islanders, said his teammates did a good job of stepping up to compensate for their fallen centerman.
“Unfortunately (Scheifele) is not coming back anytime soon, so we’ve got to rely on the guys in the room. Everyone takes responsibility in that, everyone has got to step their game up a little bit. Do a little bit more, do a little bit better. So far, so good.”
Wheeler was especially pumped to see Matthias light the lamp.
“It was awesome,” Wheeler said. “It’s a testament to guys being good teammates, staying with it and staying in the fight.”
Islanders coach Doug Weight said he wasn’t surprised to see the Jets come out hard so soon after losing Scheifele.
“Certainly, it’s going to hurt them long term. Whether they can keep playing like this (remains to be seen),” Weight said. “They’re a good team. Everybody pulls on those ropes.”
Weight saved special praise for Hellebuyck, who delighted the home crowd with a toe — make that toenail — save off former Jets captain Andrew Ladd in the third period, with the outcome still in doubt.
“We peppered him. He was good tonight in net, I tell you,” Weight said. “I think both goalies were good tonight. We had some point-blank chances where we got a lot of wood on the puck. He was incredible.”
Lowry, who has been known to use his size to get under the skin of his opponents, got on the nerves of Islanders center John Tavares midway through the second period. He caught up to the Islanders captain as he was carrying the puck out of his zone and took him out hard into the boards in front of the Jets bench. Tavares got up and immediately hooked the big center, drawing a two-minute penalty. The Jets were unable to capitalize on the power play.
“I probably got a little careless with my stick and probably shouldn’t have taken that penalty. He plays hard. I have no issue with that,” Tavares said.
NOTES: Native Winnipegger Butch Goring is a member of the Islanders’ TV broadcasting team. He was part of the early 1980s dynasty that won four Stanley Cups. ... Islanders LW Andrew Ladd was captain of the Jets for nearly five seasons until being dealt late in the 2015-16 season. ... The Jets are one of two teams to have already played more than half of their road games this season. Arizona is the other. ... Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was drafted in the first round by the Islanders in 1988. ... Jets rookie LW Kyle Connor is tied for fourth in rookie goal scoring with 12.