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Jets Victorious in Home Opener, Beat Ducks 5-1

Photos by James Carey Lauder

Jets Victorious in Home Opener, Beat Ducks 5-1

The Winnipeg Jets have won a game. Yes it took four tries, but the boys in blue and white stole a victory from the visiting Anaheim Ducks after falling behind early in their 2021-22 regular season home opener.

Connor Hellebuyck made 38 saves, Kyle Connor picked up two goals and an assist, while Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nate Schmidt each had multi-point outings as the Jets rolled over the Ducks 5-1 on Thursday evening in Winnipeg.

After 591 days, four waves of COVID-19, the presentation of two Stanley Cups, an arena name change and two complete offseasons, True North Sports + Entertainment re-opened the doors of Canada Life Centre to a crowd of 13,886.

“I enjoyed the national anthem,” head coach Paul Maurice said of the return of fans. “I thought that was outstanding. That was my favourite part of the crowd tonight; I love it when they sing the national anthem. And then just the general feeling of being home. We haven’t had that. It’s been so long since you’re a part of that, where you’re with the fans and the excitement of the game and just hearing the crowd cheer when you score a goal. It’s just a real nice thing to have happen, so we enjoyed it.”

Starting the season on an extremely disappointing California road trip, to which the team lost all three games and two players came down with COVID, Winnipeg began its first home contest with a drawn out set of player introductions, prior to a lovely fan-led rendition of ‘O Canada’. As lively as the building seemed, the Jets found themselves in trouble from the get go.

For the second season in a row, the Winnipeg Jets’s home opener was hindered by the threat of COVID-19. Last year it was winger Nikolaj Ehlers who underwent extensive COVID testing in order to appear in the game, now nearly two years into the global pandemic and Jets players are still catching the virus.

After captain Blake Wheeler was placed in a 10-day isolation following symptomatic testing, No. 1 centerman Mark Scheifele joined his linemate in quarantine after his COVID-19 tests came positive. Due to that news, Winnipeg was forced to dress 11 forwards and seven defencemen, including that of call-up Dominic Toninato.

Just moments after the opening faceoff, Paul Stastny was called for a hooking minor just 1:17 into the game, to which Winnipeg’s dismal penalty kill was put to the test. As it turned out, the Ducks found the eighth power play goal of the season against the Jets, as Troy Terry redirected a Cam Fowler point shot, dropping Winnipeg’s penalty kill percentage to a brutal 50 percent on the season (8/16).

However, the Jets struck back rather quickly. Scoring the equalizer on Winnipeg’s first shot of the game was Pierre-Luc Dubois. Potting his third goal of the campaign, PLD scored on a redirection from a Kyle Connor setup. The secondary assist on the play came from newcomer Evgeny Svechnikov, who earned his first point as a member of the Jets after coming over on a professional tryout from the Detroit Red Wings.

“Obviously, when you go two guys down, two important players like Scheifs and Wheels, it’s an opportunity for others,” Dubois said post-game. “I thought we did some good things, but I thought we can improve on it. We can play a full 60 minutes. Our line, or whatever line it is going forward, I think we can sustain 60 minutes of being dangerous offensively, being good defensively, winning battles and everything. But whenever you get a win after three losses, it feels good and now we just want to build from that.”

Although penalized one time, to which Anaheim found its opening goal and many of its first period shots, the Jets played a rather clean first period, but gave up 10 shots to the Ducks, only producing four shots on Anaheim goaltender John Gibson in the frame.

The middle stanza saw Winnipeg once again score on its first shot of the period. After Dubois did so in the opening frame, Andrew Copp also found his third of the season off a great read from defenceman Nate Schmidt. The blueliner one-timed a pass from Paul Stastny, directing the puck to the top of the crease, where Copp lost his defender and easily tapped the puck past Gibson and into the net.

The Jets registered 15 shots on net in the period, but Copp’s even strength tally was the score of the frame. Anaheim put up another impressive shooting performance in the second, directing another 17 shots on Connor Hellebuyck. But the Jets’ backstop bounced back nicely after the game’s opening goal, going on to stop 26 of 27 total shots through 40 minutes of play.

With Josh Manson in the box for tripping, Winnipeg scored a power play strike just 1:30 into the final period of play. Already with points to their respective names on the evening, Dubois and Schmidt worked the puck to defenceman Josh Morrissey, who hammered a cross-ice one-timer past Gibson, giving the Jets a two-goal lead with a handful of seconds left on the man advantage.

After hitting the post of an empty net with four minutes to go, Kyle Connor was rewarded with his fourth goal of the season, sliding the disc the length of the ice into an empty net. A minute-and-a-half later, he beat his man and scored his second of the game, placing him in a tie for first in league scoring.

“It feels good, get a little confidence going, especially early in the season,” Connor said of his goal-scoring streak. “It always starts for me with moving my feet. Paul says it a lot but it’s pretty true. Get that puck to the net.”

Although taking the 5-1 victory, Winnipeg was outshot 39-27 on the night. Connor Hellebuyck earned his first win of the season, stopping 38 shots in the process. John Gibson turned aside just 23 of Winnipeg’s 27 shots, taking the loss.

“It seems like whenever he’s not the best goalie in the world for a few games, it takes just one game like that for him to get right back there,” Copp said of his goaltender. “He was huge for us, he’s going to be huge for us. We have all the confidence for him. I feel like usually one of those performances kickstarts a little bit of a run for him. We’re looking forward to seeing how he can take that and run with it for the next few games.”

The Jets will now host the Nashville Predators on Saturday evening from Canada Life Centre, before heading back out to California for another game against Anaheim before other late-night battles with the Kings and Sharks take place. Saturday’s game features a 6:00 PM central puck drop and can be viewed live on Sportsnet and City TV.

Carter Brooks - Associate Editor of Game On Magazine - is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, MB. On top of reading and writing, his favourite pastimes include camping, car-modification projects and coaching hockey. Carter can be reached at carterbrooks1994@gmail.com.

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