Saturday evening marked the start of a new era in Winnipeg: that of a Jets team sans Patrik Laine. Despite missing the past three games, Laine will no longer be representing Winnipeg following his trade to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday morning, alongside that of hometown product Jack Roslovic.
With recent acquisition Pierre-Luc Dubois tuning in via airline television during his private charter flight to Manitoba, the Jets took to the ice on Saturday evening in the first of two-straight late-night contests this weekend. Facing off against a familiar foe, Winnipeg received a familiar result, winning 6-3 and sweeping the mini series 3-0.
Following a hearty scrap between Nate Beaulieu and known agitator Micheal Haley, Nikolaj Ehlers extended his goal-scoring streak midway through the first period. The speedy Jets winger pulled out his best Patty Laine impression, firing a power play one-timer past Marcus Hogberg with 25 seconds left in a Mike Reilly tripping infraction. Neal Pionk and Adam Lowry picked up helpers on the only goal of the frame.
Winnipeg received some help from starting netminder Connor Hellebuyck in the opening period, as the reigning Vezina Trophy winner made two sensational saves in the early going, including an ‘old school’ sliding pad stack on a breakaway. Despite trailing after 20 minutes, Ottawa did lead in the shot department nine to six.
It didn’t take long for the Senators to get on the scoreboard in the second period. Interestingly, after failing to put up a single goal in the opening 20 minutes, the visitors scored three times in the middle stanza. Alternating goals with the Jets, the Senators received goals from Evgenii Dadonov, Brady Tkachuk and Nick Paul in the frame, as Hellebuyck failed to impress in stopping just five of eight shots he faced.
Winnipeg responded with a Kyle Connor strike off some nifty offensive zone passing between he and linemates Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Finishing the period trailing Ottawa 3-2 to Ottawa, the Jets actually pulled ahead 18-17 on the shot chart.
After falling asleep in the second period, Winnipeg came out to play to start the third period. Taking just 2:24 to find the game-tying marker, Paul Stastny cut to the middle of the offensive zone and faked a shot before sliding a pass to Andrew Copp. Waiting on the doorstep, Copp tapped home the setup play, knotting the game at threes with 17:36 left to play.
It took until 4:15 left in the final frame for the Jets to pull back ahead. With Derek Stepan in the penalty box for delay of game, Paul Stastny gave Winnipeg its final lead of the game, scoring from the slot on a one-time setup from Scheifele and Wheeler. Andrew Copp added his second of the game 1:10 later providing some insurance for the Jets.
“We just tried to keep it simple through the neutral zone,” Copp said. “We turned pucks over too many times, especially in the middle frame. We were swinging off pucks and we were a little loose with it, so we kind of got back to the game that we know how to play and we know that is going to make us successful and our skill is going to come out from there.”
As it turned out, Chris Tierney did score for Ottawa on a redirection from a long Stepan shot with 2:42 to go. However, coach Maurice opted to challenge the call on the ice for an offside zone entry. His gamble paid off and the call was reversed, helping Winnipeg regain its two-goal advantage. Mark Scheifele calmly added an empty-netter helping the Jets seal the deal on Ottawa.
“Every game counts, as usual,” Ehlers said post-game. “We are going to keep fighting no matter how much we are behind in a game; we are going to keep fighting until the end. We have been able to do that the last couple of games, so that’s exciting. We also want to continue with the lead and keep that going and get the two points, but the way we played tonight we can do better than that. We know that. But the important thing is we got the two points and now we need to get ready for tomorrow.”
Despite getting the win, Hellebuyck was not sharp on Saturday, giving up three goals on just 21 Ottawa shots. Marcus Hogberg faced 37 Winnipeg shots, giving up five goals. Saturday’s game marked the start of a season-long seven-game homestand at Bell MTS Place.
It will be a quick turnaround for Winnipeg, as the Edmonton Oilers have already arrived in Manitoba and are ready for a Sunday evening matchup with the hometown Jets at 8:00 PM central. Coming off a 4-2 loss to Toronto on Friday, Connor McDavid and the Oilers will be hungry for a victory against a 4-1-0 Winnipeg team. The game can be viewed live on TSN.