The Winnipeg Jets continued their four-game road trip Sunday with an afternoon test against the Buffalo Sabres. The fast-paced, back-and-forth game was ultimately decided by a late, third period tally from Kyle Okposo, who put his second of the game past Connor Hellebuyck, handing the Sabres a tight 2-1 victory over Winnipeg.
What began as an inter-conference battle between an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference team, ended up being a competition between two former University of Minnesota linemates in Kyle Okposo and Blake Wheeler.
The two offensive forwards – who skated for the NCAA’s Golden Gophers during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons – took turns scoring for the two teams, alternating throughout the night, with Okposo ultimately getting the last laugh at home in the third period.
The 31-year-old Sabre scored first for Buffalo Sunday afternoon, putting a Connor Hellebuyck rebound into the Jets’ cage from atop the crease, just 9:58 into the matinee contest. The goal was the eighth of Okposo’s season – one that has been shortened significantly by injury.
Wheeler responded for Winnipeg, finishing off a pretty passing play for his 21st of the season with 3:23 left to play in the opening period. Neal Pionk kept the play onside, before Mark Scheifele and Jansen Harkins combined for a nifty setup play that saw Wheeler tap in a cross-ice feed from a recently promoted Harkins.
The middle stanza did not see any goals scored, while also serving as the period of time in which the least combined shots were taken. Through 40 minutes, the game was tied 1-1, while the shot charts were also balanced at 17 a piece.
Okposo collected his second goal of the game on a perfectly placed wrist shot upstairs, beating Hellebuyck from in tight with 12:13 to play in the third period. The goal was Okposo’s fourth in his past four games, and marked the 16th occurrence in his NHL career that the former 60+ point scorer has recorded two goals in one game.
The goaltending battle between Connor Hellebuyck and rookie backstop Jonas Johansson lasted the duration of the contest, with the latter picking up his first career NHL win, making 25 saves on 26 Jets shots. Hellebuyck stopped 23 of the 25 pucks he saw on the night. Winnipeg’s goaltender turned aside a Jack Eichel breakaway with ease, while the Buffalo keeper made a point blank glove stop on a low Nikolaj Ehlers shot from the slot.
After beginning their current road trip with a commanding 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. the now 32-27-5 Jets fell 4-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday evening, before dropping Sunday’s contest to the Sabres. The Jets will look to salvage the final game of the heater to bring their record to 2-2 on Tuesday against the Washington Capitals.
Tuesday’s 6:00 PM central game which will be available on TSN, will also serve as the first game of a home-and-home with the Capitals. Washington is expected to honour Alexander Ovechkin prior to puck drop on his recent accomplishment of reaching 700 career goals. The Jets host Washington on Thursday evening from Bell MTS Place.