Hold for a shaky start to which the home team couldn’t get out of first gear, the Winnipeg Jets found top speed against their North Division opponent Thursday evening. Using a scoreless opening frame as motivation, the now 8-4-1 Jets came out of the gates flying in the second and third periods, wrapping up a 5-1 victory in the first of back-to-back contests with the Senators from Bell MTS Place.
The first period was nothing more than 20 minutes to forget for Winnipeg. Opting to go with just 11 forwards and seven defencemen, head coach Paul Maurice spent the majority of the opening frame juggling defensive pairs and offensive lines. It did not go over well for the Jets. Giving up 17 shots against, as compared to six shots for, the Jets struggled even more so in shot attempts, falling behind 30-9 through the first period.
“Our D had a tough time,” coach Maurice said post-game. “They put an awful lot of pressure on those guys. We were sluggish, clearly, at the start of this game, and then got markedly stronger as the game went on. I thought our forwards got into it. I think that might have had something to do with some of our defencemen couldn’t get any quickness or rhythm into the game. So I liked it.”
Whether it was something Maurice said between periods, or if it was just Winnipeg becoming the beneficiary of some bad Ottawa bounces, the Jets bounced back with a rather strong second period. Taking just eight seconds to score the opening goal, Mason Appleton picked off a bad Matt Murray pass and found Paul Stastny alone in the slot, who put the puck past the out-of-position netminder, making it 1-0 with 19:52 left to play in the frame.
Appleton’s assist brought him to eight points on the season, matching his season total from 2019-20, to which he also put up eight points in 46 games last year. It took just 13 games this year, a difference of 33 games.
Nikolaj Ehlers found his ninth of the season on a double-deflection. This time it was Kyle Connor who picked off another bad Murray puckhandle behind the Senators’ net and got the disc back to DeMelo. The steady defender put it on net, and after a couple redirections it found the twine, giving Winnipeg a 2-0 lead eight minutes in the period.
With Erik Gudbranson in the box late in the period following a weak crosschecking penalty, the Jets capitalized on a run-around Senators’ penalty kill. Stastny found Blake Wheeler, who put his fourth of the season past Murray, extending the home team’s lead to three goals with 27 seconds left to play.
“Like any good power play, sometimes you’re going to score on a nice play early on, but a lot of times, when you do score on a nice play it’s because you’re getting those second chances, they’re getting tired, their goalie is tired and that’s when you create more,” Stastny said. “For us, it was about getting those shots and then getting those rebounds and playing quick, instead of trying to slow it down.”
Both teams registered nine shots in the middle stanza, bringing the game total to 27-15 through 40 minutes of play.
Marcus Hogberg came in in relief of Murray to begin the third period. But unfortunately for Ottawa, he did not seem to fare much better than his counterpart, actually giving up a goal on the Jets’ second shot of the period. He finished the night with nine saves on 11 Winnipeg shots. Murray made 12 saves on 15 shots through 40 minutes.
Just 2:58 into the final period, Mathieu Perreault collected a pass from a patient Mark Scheifele and ripped a wrist shot past Hogberg, extending the Jets’ lead to four goals. But with 8:18 to go, Scheifele lost his battle with Josh Norris in front of his net and the Senators’ youngster tucked a loose puck past Hellebuyck, spoiling his bid for a shutout.
In putting 11 pucks on the Senators’ net, the Jets had their most productive period in the third. Neal Pionk gave Winnipeg its fifth goal on a wraparound just 2:03 after the visitors’ lone strike.
Connor Hellebuyck, who allowed just the one late-game tally from Norris, ended Thursday with an impressive 41 saves on 42 Ottawa shots, while improving his record to 6-3-1 on the season.
“I got into a rhythm and got into it early,” Hellebuyck reflected. “The guys were keeping them to the outside and allowing me to see a lot of shots which is great from my position. They got a lot of shots but I thought we controlled where they were coming from and we handled the rebounds and we controlled our zone. Yeah, they got a big number (of shots) there but I thought our team controlled it well.”
Next up for Winnipeg is a rematch with Senators on Saturday afternoon as the first game on the slate of the annual Hockey Day in Canada. Puck drop is set for 2:00 PM central time from Bell MTS Place. The game can be viewed live on Sportsnet. Following Saturday’s contest, the Jets will head out on the road for 16 of their next 22 games.