Make it 25 wins on the season for the Winnipeg Jets. Twenty of them now belong to last season’s Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck. Thanks to Saturday’s 5-0 shutout victory of the Montreal Canadiens, Hellebuyck now sits third in the league in wins, trailing only Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and Colorado’s Philipp Grubauer.
“He’s world class,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said of his goaltender post-game. “So the bench starts getting excited for him because you appreciate what he does for us. You get into that third period and nobody wants to be the guy that costs Helly a shutout. He means so much to us, so we’re still blocking shots in the third period and that’s a direct affection that the players have for the goalie and what he does for them.”
On Saturday evening, the Jets played out the second of two-straight matchups with the host Montreal Canadiens in the team’s longest remaining road trip of the season. Coming off a 4-2 win on Thursday evening, to which the team relied on a strong opening period, the Jets and Habs faced off in a very different-looking game Saturday.
Opting to ice the same lineup that his team finished Thursday’s game with, head coach Paul Maurice has already seen his team accumulate 13 road wins this season (second in the league), while owning a 5-2-0 season series record with Montreal thus far. With just one more matchup remaining against the Canadiens, Winnipeg turned to Connor Hellebuyck for his sixth-straight start.
A scoreless first period was highlighted by a desperation stick save by Mason Appleton on what looked like a sure goal from Jonathan Drouin midway through the frame. Each team exchanged chances on abbreviated power plays just minutes into the game. Finishing the period trailing 6-5 in the shot department, the Jets looked to turn things around in the middle stanza after registering their worst
Moments after a Jake Allen diving poke check on a Pierre-Luc Dubois breakaway opportunity, linemate Paul Stastny collected the loose puck and immediately fired it back on net, to which Allen was still far out of the crease. The disc snuck past the veteran netminder low glove side for Stastny’s 12th of the season with 9:47 remaining in the frame.
Winnipeg’s next best opportunity of the period came on a long-range Kyle Connor wrist shot that found not only the post but also the crossbar before bouncing harmlessly out of the way. The post was Connor’s ninth of the season.
Shortly after, the Jets were able to capitalize again. With Jonathan Drouin in the box for hooking, Winnipeg’s second power play unit gave the team a two-goal lead. A faceoff win led to Nikolaj Ehlers’ 17th marker of the season. Neal Pionk put the puck cross-ice to Ehlers, who fired a wrist shot through a perfect Mathieu Perreault screen. The Habs challenged for goaltender interference on the on play, but it was determined that Perreault remained out of the crease, as he took Allen’s eyes away.
“The goaltender hadn’t established original position and got skated through,” Maurice said of the challenge. “I wasn’t particularly concerned about the outcome of that – until it took as long as it did. So, I’m feeling pretty good during the first 35, 40 seconds of that and then as it gets longer and longer, you’re starting to wonder ‘are they interpreting this differently than you do?’ Had it been inside the paint, for sure. But once something gets outside the paint, even if a goalie has got forward position with his hands, he doesn’t have the right to that ice any more than a player does.”
Hellebuyck, who has been on the receiving end of many goaltender interference challenges also had no issue with the play.
“Personally, when I saw it, I thought it was a good goal,” Hellebuyck said candidly. “If that happens in the crease, I would say disallow it. But there was very minimal contact outside the crease and, for me, that’s free game.”
Perreault, who was the party in question, offered his explanation, as well as what the bench goes through during the moments leading up to the official’s announcement on the challenge.
“There is a screen at the head coach’s feet that we can kind of look at,” he said. “So I was sitting right there; I took a peek at it and right away I didn’t think they were going to turn this call over. I think it was just pretty obvious that I thought the goal was going to be good. So I mean you get maybe a little nervous but it’s just part of the game. If it’s no goal, then it’s no goal and you just go back at it. This time it worked out in my favor and it was a good goal.”
Then with just 28 seconds remaining the period, noted defensive defenceman Derek Forbort jumped up into the play and absolutely sniped his second goal of the season past Allen. Collecting the puck along the side boards, Forbort walked towards the Montreal net and put a perfectly placed shot top corner, over the shoulder of Allen and right under the bar. In scoring three goals in the frame, Winnipeg took over the shot lead at 17-14 through 40 minutes.
Andrew Copp sealed the deal for the Jets, picking up his 14th marker of the season just seven seconds into a Joel Edmundson roughing minor. Ehlers got the puck down low to Perreault, who quickly put it on the stick of Copp, who one-timed it into the net, high, glove-side. Filling in for the team’s injured captain in the top-six, Copp has made the most of his recent opportunity, collecting three points in the two games without Blake Wheeler in the Jets’ lineup.
“We have had a lot of goals from there,” Copp said. “So getting in behind that D and kind of finding that soft spot, great pass by Frenchie and I was able to bury it. So we are trying to diversify our looks as much as possible to give the other teams a lot to look at; we are executing pretty well right now.”
Adding insult to injury, Perreault collected a Canadiens turnover off the stick of captain Shea Weber, and wired his eighth of the season past a bewildered Allen. The Jets’ final goal of the game came with 9:18 left to play, giving Winnipeg its 5-0 lead.
Hellebuyck stopped all 19 of Montreal’s shots on the night, while seeing his record improve to 20-10-3 with the win on Saturday. The shutout was Hellebuyck’s second of the season. His counterpart Jake Allen turned aside 20 of Winnipeg’s 25 shots, who saw his record fall to 5-6-4 on the season. With the victory, Winnipeg’s record now sits at 25-13-3 through 41 games, giving the team 53 points and a .644 points percentage.
“I think a shutout, no matter where it comes, is awesome, especially in this league,” Hellebuyck reflected. “Most shutouts are a team shutout and tonight was no different. The guys are blocking shots and keeping them to the outside and letting me see the shots altogether and really applying the pressure in the o-zone. I thought we were a good team tonight.”
Now having concluded the two-game set with Montreal, Winnipeg will slowly travel back west, first stopping in Ottawa for another two-game battle, before moving to Toronto for one game against the Maple Leafs. The three-game-in-four day set will begin on Monday in Ottawa, before the club returns back to Bell MTS Place for a six-game homestand beginning Saturday against Edmonton.