WINNIPEG, MB – Coming off of a 2-1 shootout victory on Saturday evening, the Winnipeg Jets put together another solid performance at home against the visiting Vancouver Canucks Sunday evening. Although appearing noticeably worn out at times on the ice, Winnipeg managed to pick up two points for the second straight night – albeit a very low-scoring 1-0 victory. Not to be outdone, the Canucks too, were coming off of a Saturday evening game in which they lost 5-2 to the Oilers in Edmonton.
As may have been easily predicted, both teams appeared slightly flat-footed in the early going. With regular starter Jacob Markstrom sitting Sunday’s contest out, Vancouver’s goaltending reigns were handed to backup netminder Anders Nilsson.
Heading into Sunday’s matchup, the Jets had walked away victorious in both of the previous contests between the Western Conference foes, with scores of 4-2 (October 12th) and 5-1 (December 11th).
Although exchanging power play opportunities in the early going, neither team could find the twine with the man advantage in the first period of play. It took nearly 12 minutes of game time for the Jets to strike. As has been the case in both previous matchups with Vancouver, Winnipeg came out of the first period with one goal – this time it came off the stick of Patrik Laine.
Following a significant shift of momentum – in which the Jets recorded five shots in a one-minute span – team captain Blake Wheeler picked up a pass from Kyle Connor behind the Canucks’ net and fed a perfect pass to his Finnish linemate. Laine made no mistake hammering the puck past Nilsson and into the Vancouver cage, giving Winnipeg a 1-0 lead after one period of play.
Although boasting a significantly less dangerous power play without the presence of Mark Scheifele – as the Jets’ 2016-17 leading scorer continues to nurse his upper body injury – Winnipeg certainly did not lack opportunity while on the man advantage.
The second period provided very little excitement, as Saturday’s late night of travel for both teams clearly made an impact on their respective energy levels. After two periods of play, the Jets held a significant 28-21 lead in the shots department.
After a Blake Wheeler offensive zone giveaway, Markus Granlund took off down the ice, beating a tired Patrik Laine to the loose puck. But in failing to coral the bouncing disc, Granlund was met by a diving Connor Hellebuyck at the top of the circle, as the Jets’ netminder made the quick decision to aggressively challenge the Vancouver forward. The decision paid off, as Granlund ended up sliding across the ice, while the puck was cleared out of the Winnipeg zone – only after a very close call with the short side of the Jets’ goalpost.
With 3:39 to go in the third period, Canuck Thomas Vanek drove hard to the net and clipped Hellebuyck with his elbow, knocking the netminder’s helmet off, and cutting side of his face in the process. Following a lengthy injury break, the 24-year-old returned to his crease, much to the delight of the hometown crowd.
“Yeah everything is fine with my eye,” Hellebuyck said following the game. “It’ll just take a night to heal – that would be nice.”
Hellebuyck stood his ground and stopped the final shots of the frame, preserving the Jets’ 1-0 victory, while picking up his fourth shutout of the season in the process. The American improved his record to 25-6-6, and pushed the Jets to within three points of the league-leading Vegas Golden Knights.
Although managing four points in two days, the Jets’ offence has quietly dried up. Beginning the new year with 17 goals in a span of four games, Winnipeg has only scored four total regulation goals in the four games since – certainly an area of improvement for the boys in blue.
“The opponents always have good goalies,” Laine said following Sunday’s contest. “It’s not easy to score in this league. It’s one of the most important things to have good goaltending, and we have two really good goaltenders. Connor has been awesome this year and has given us so many chances to win every night, like today. It’s easier to win if he doesn’t allow any pucks behind him; it’s nice to win these one goal games.”
Following Sunday’s 1-0 victory, the Jets will embark on a brief west-coast road trip, as they take on the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, before heading to Anaheim for a matchup with the Ducks on Thursday. Both games will have significantly later starting times, but will still be available on TSN3. Puck drop from San Jose is 9:30 P.M. Central on Tuesday, while Thursday’s test in Anaheim gets underway at 9:00 P.M. Central.
Carter Brooks, Manitoba Post
Photos by James Carey Lauder