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Veja-Vu: Jets Struggle to Score on Vejmelka, Escape with 3-1 Win

Photos by James Carey Lauder and Rusty Barton

Veja-Vu: Jets Struggle to Score on Vejmelka, Escape with 3-1 Win

Two points are two points. No matter the score, no matter the level of competition.

On Tuesday evening, the Winnipeg Jets faced off against the league’s worst team, the recently-relocated Central Division’s Arizona Coyotes. Although heavily outshooting their competition, the Jets were not able to find the excess amount of goals that typically come with a high level of shots.

It wasn’t a blowout, but it was a game that the Jets won, albeit by just two goals.

“The NHL’s a good league. It’s hard to win in the National Hockey League,” Jets’ head coach Dave Lowry said post-game. “You look at the parity, anybody can beat anybody on a given night and there’s not a lot of blowout scores. There’s a lot of close games and, for us, we’re only going to benefit by playing in these games.”

Coming off an exciting 5-4 overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday afternoon, the Jets continued their road trip with a clash with the Yotes on Tuesday night.

After spending a day in the desert sun, Winnipeg turned its collective attention to hockey and avenging a 1-0 home loss suffered to the same Coyotes back at Canada Life Place in November. Goaltender Karel Vejmelka turned aside all 46 shots he faced in that game, recording a shutout over the shell-shocked Jets.

It just so happened that he got the nod against Winnipeg again on Tuesday evening. Heading into the clash with the Jets, the 32nd place Coyotes entered the game having only won two games at Gila River Arena this season; Vejmelka owned just one other win to his name (2-11-1).

After missing the past two games due to a lower-body injury, Evgeny Svechnikov returned to the Jets’ lineup, and did so in dramatic fashion. Collecting his third goal of the season, he opened the scoring for Winnipeg with 2:26 to go in the first period. Josh Morrissey, who picked up the puck at the blueline from a Kristian Vesalainen offering, made a move before sliding it over to Svechnikov, who made no mistake one-timing it past Vejmelka, scoring the lone marker of the frame.

After falling behind 7-3 in the shot department to start the game, Winnipeg pounced back and overtook the home team 8-7 at the time of Svechnikov’s tally. The heavy artillery did not slow down as the period – or next period for that measure – wore on. Finishing up the frame 10-7, the Jets actually pulled ahead 18-7 before Arizona put up its first shot in over half an hour midway through the second period.

Winnipeg scored again in the middle stanza, just moments after a power play expired. This time it was Pierre-Luc Dubois, who collected his 15th goal of the season on a strong solo effort. Taking the puck out from behind the net, he curled to the top of the crease and beat Vejmelka through his left armpit. PLD then proceeded the jam at the loose puck, shovelling it past the goal line and into the cage.

“Dubois is a big body and when he makes his mind up that he wants to get to the net and he wants to bring a puck to the net, he’s a hard guy to defend,” coach Lowry said. “I liked when he had the initial play on it at the net, but the thing was that he didn’t stop once he (made) the initial play. He banged in the rebound. Because if he doesn’t stay with it, they probably clear it.”

The Jets entered the third period up 28-17 in the shot department, while holding a slight 2-0 lead. And that lead grew slimmer just 6:39 into the final period of play. Arizona’s tally came from defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere, who intercepted a horrible Logan Stanley cross-ice pass and fired a wrist shot low, blocker-side, cutting Winnipeg’s lead in half.

In putting up their 47th shot of the game at the 13-minute mark of the third period, the Jets set a new season-high in shots on net. But it was the team’s 48th shot that was the most important. Coming from Winnipeg’s own blueline and off the stick of Nikolaj Ehlers, the team’s speedy winger put the icing on the cake with an empty-netter with just 44.9 seconds left in the game, sealing the deal on a 3-1 road victory.

“This is an NHL game, that’s what happens,” Hellebuyck said. “Sometimes, a goalie gets hot or a team just has to grind him out and continue to put up chances on him. Sometimes, you have to win it this way. You can’t win 5-4 every night.”

Hellebuyck turned aside 27 of the 28 shots he faced for his third-straight win and 13th overall (13-9-4). Vejmelka made 45 stops on 47 shots, taking his 12th loss of the year. Mark Scheifele picked up two helpers in the game, including the primary assist on Ehlers’ empty-netter. Brenden Dillon added the secondary assist on that insurance goal, extending his point streak to a season-high five games.

Winnipeg will conclude what was supposed to be a three-game road trip on Thursday evening with another Central Division matchup against the Avalanche in Colorado. But with the postponement of eight different Jets games over the course of December and January, many home dates were wiped off the schedule, meaning more road games will and less time back in Canada.

Thursday’s game in Colorado will feature an 8:00 PM central puck drop. The game will once again be broadcast live on TSN.

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 or on Twitter at @GameOnHockey.

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