The Winnipeg Jets continue to be a decent hockey team, even without their leaders, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
Saturday night at Canada Life Centre, captain Wheeler and alternate captain Scheifele, remained on the COVID-protocol list and yet the Jets got two goals from Paul Stastny, the first career NHL goal from Kristian Veselainen, Adam Lowry’s first goal of the season and a goal and an assist each from Pierre Luc-Dubois and Kyle Connor as they beat the visiting Nashville Predators 6-4.
It was Winnipeg’s second win of the season and the second straight win without Wheeler and Scheifele in the lineup. It also gave the Jets a home sweep this week and left them at 2-2-1 as they head out to the West Coast on Monday.
“You see guys elevate their games in time of need,” said Jets rock-solid defenseman Nate Schmidt. “When you look at it, you have to have contributions from everybody. You have to have guys in your lineup get on board. I think tonight was a real good indication of how successful you can be with that.”
As well, after a shaky start to the season for goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, the former Vezina Trophy winner was solid again on Saturday as he, too, won his second straight game. The Jets have claimed five of six available points in their last three outings.
Of course, it wasn’t an easy win. Nothing comes easy for the Jets these days.
Nashville scored on the first shot of the game. The new Copp-Stastny-Ehlers line couldn’t clear the puck out of their own zone, and Nashville’s Tanner Jeannot took the loose puck to Hellebuyck’s left side and then feathered a perfect pass to Colton Sissons on the right side, who easily tucked it past the Jets goalie to make it 1-0 at 1:15.
But it didn’t take long for the Jets to tie it. In fact, they scored on their first shot of the game. Jansen Harkins made a good play to get the puck out of his own zone to Dylan DeMelo. DeMelo made an even better play to send Adam Lowry in alone on a breakaway and Lowry slid the puck between the legs of Juuse Saros to tie it at one. It was Lowry’s first goal of the season at 2:42.
However, as almost always happens, the defence and goaltenders settled down and the early scoring became a memory. By the end of the period, both teams had eight shots and the score remained tied at 1-1.
The Jets got on the board again quickly in the second period as Pierre-Luc Dubois continued his solid play by tipping home a shot from the point off the stick of Nate Schmidt. Evgeny Svechnikov drew the second assist as Winnipeg took a 2-1 lead at 1:11.
Then, the Jets made it 3-1 at 2:34 as Paul Stastny banged home a rebound off a Kyle Connor shot. It was a power play play goal, Statsny’s first tally of the season.
However, the Preds got back into it with a power play goal at 13:27 as Nick Cousins scored his first of the year by banging home a bouncing puck in front of Hellebuyck. That made it 3-2 and. not was still anybody’s game.
However, with just 10.7 seconds remaining in the middle period, Nate Schmidt drifted a little writer toward the Nashville net and it was tipped in perfectly by Kristian Veselainen. It was the first NHL goal for Veselainen and while Schmidt drew the primary assist, DuBois picked up the secondary assist to give himself two points on the night. More importantly, the Jets let 4-2 after 40 minutes.
The Jets outshot Nashville 15-6 in the second period and had taken over the game.
And yet, Nashville wasn’t out of it. At the 3:10 mark of the third period, Dante Fabbro blasted a shot from the point that appeared to be tipped into the net by Roman Josi high stick. It wasn’t. It was ruled a good goal and Nashville had cut the lead to 4-3.
But just 46 seconds later, Paul Stastny tipped home a point shot from Neal Pionk and the Jets had their two-goal advantage again. It was Stastny’s second of the game (and the season).
The Jets took a 6-3 lead at 6:14 of the third period when Kyle Connor took a pass from Nate Schmidt and blasted a laser-like one-timer past Saros from the top of the circle. It was power-play goals, Connor’s sixth goal of the young season and also Nate Schmidt’s sixth assist. Nikolaj Ehlers also drew a helper, his first point of the campaign.
But Nashville still wasn’t out of it. With Brenden Dillon in the penalty box, the Predators’ Philip Tomasino was sent in alone on Hellebuyck and he slid the puck past the Jets netminder to make it 6-4 with 6:19 remaining on the clock.
Not long after, the Preds pulled net minder Saros and went with six attackers but despite getting six late shots on Hellebuyck, that was all for the evening. The Jets held on to win 6-4 and improve to 2-2-1 with their second straight win.
With the late surge, Nashville, who is now 1-4-0 on the season, outshot Winnipeg 30-29 (16-7 in the third period). Winnipeg won 63 per cent of the face-offs and outhit Nashville 24-23. Winnipeg went two-for-three on the power play while the Preds were two-for-four. The Jets also blocked 22 shots.
The three stars were Veselainen, Schmidt and Lowry, but Connor, Dubois, Stastny or Pionk could all have been stars.
Connor, Veselainen and Dubois had great lines. Connor had a goal and an assist and was plus one with five shots on goal in 21 minutes and 47 seconds of ice time. Veselainen had a goal, was plus-two with fours shots and a hit in 15:30 and Dubois had a goal and an assist, was plus one with a shot, two blocks and 59 per cent efficiency rate in the face-off circle in 18:14.
The Jets now head back out onto the road and will play in Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose this coming week. They’ll face the Ducks for the third time this season on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. CST on TSN 3.