On Thursday evening, the San Jose Sharks rolled into a blustery Manitoban capital for a Western Conference matchup with the Winnipeg Jets. Although scoring the opening goal of the game, the Sharks were unable to muster up much more in terms of offensive excitement.
Kyle Connor scored his 10th goal of the season – which put him just one tally behind league-leader Alexander Ovechkin – while Connor Hellebuyck earned his fourth win, as Winnipeg improved its record to 7-3-3 with a 4-1 victory over Morweena, Manitoba’s James Reimer and the San Jose Sharks.
Much of the first period was a runaround for the Jets. Failing to corral bouncing pucks, Winnipeg surrendered a number of odd-man chances up and down the ice before ultimately giving up the game’s opening goal. It came off of what would have been a routine passing play for Brenden Dillon back in his Sharks days.
The Dillon turnover came off of a San Jose dump in, which then in-turn landed on the stick of Brent Burns, via Dillon. Burns got it to Andrew Cogliano, who potted his second of the season past a confused Connor Hellebuyck.
Winnipeg’s No. 1 goal scorer Kyle Connor responded for the Jets, with each of his linemates chipping in on the goal. An Evgeny Svechnikov saw a deflection by Pierre-Luc Dubois, before landing on Connor’s stick, who calmly guided the puck into the Sharks’ net. A relatively even frame saw the teams combine for 20 total shots, 10 apiece.
“Once we get the puck, all three of us can skate, and personally, me too,” Connor reflected. “I’m moving my feet way more and I think that’s where we create a lot of chances with our speed coming through that neutral zone. And we get the puck in zone, it’s kind of almost the same thing: get your feet moving, try and beat a guy and making a defender miss, make someone else come to you, you open up another guy as well.”
The middle stanza featured an offensive explosion by way of the hometown team. First, Nate Schmidt collected his first goal as a member of the Jets, rifling home a long-range shot from the point. An offensive zone faceoff win saw Blake Wheeler and Josh Morrissey pick up the helpers, with the captain providing the screen.
“When you draw something up and it ends up working out, that’s always pretty cool,” Schmidt said of his set-play with Morrissey. “Mom and dad were here tonight too, it was their first game in Winnipeg and I could here my mom whistling. Seriously, from when you were a kid. It’s wild, that was cool.”
Then with just 44 seconds left in the frame a lineup shuffle saw Adam Lowry and Jansen Harkins emerge up-ice on a two-on-one. Lowry outwaited San Jose defence before sliding the puck cross-ice to Harkins, who tapped in his second of the season, giving Winnipeg a two-goal lead. The Jets heavily outshot the Sharks in the frame, taking a 23-18 lead into the third.
“Yeah, it’s a big goal,” Lowry said. “Harks going to the net and it starts and it starts in our own end. We’re not really cheating, just trying to bust something open and then you come back with five guys in the zone. It’s a lot easier going into the third period with a two-goal lead. You’re feeling better, you’re getting rewarded for some of the chances. Going into the third up 3-1, it bodes well for your chances.”
The final 20 minutes passed by without incident, with both teams exchanging chances. Winnipeg continued with its shot advantage, through to the final buzzer. San Jose pulled Reimer for the extra attacker with 1:45 left in the game, which only resulted in a Pierre-Luc Dubois empty-netter. Nikolaj Ehlers unselfishly got the puck to Andrew Copp, who slipped its cross-ice to Dubois who tapped it home, sealing the deal on a 4-1 home ice victory.
“We were good in the second half and on,” head coach Paul Maurice said of his team’s effort. “We got a little more physical on our forecheck, we got more pucks on the wall, we got more zone time. Second half of the game we were good, which I was pleased with. Because the first half of that game it was like parts of the other game, where it could have gone either way and it didn’t.”
Winnipeg owns a 3-1-1 record through five games of its current season-high seven-game homestand. Next up for the Jets is a visit with the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, before Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers roll into town on Tuesday evening. Saturday’s 6:00 PM central matchup can be viewed live on Sportsnet or CITY TV, while Tuesday’s game will be aired on TSN.