Connor Hellebuyck proved once again why he’s the best goaltender in the game. Meanwhile, head coach Rick Bowness coaxed, coerced and convinced his banged up Winnipeg Jets that they were better than their diminished roster might suggest.
Saturday night in Edmonton, the Jets closed out 2022 with a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Oilers.
Once again, the Jets played without Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, Cole Perfetti, Mason Appleton and Nate Schmidt. Once again the Jets were outshot, this time 32-17. And once again, they were hounded by penalties as NHL officials continued to do everything in their power to take Winnipeg right out of contention. And still, with a team put together by duct tape and bindertwine, Bowness’s crew held on against the best power play in hockey.
In fact, the Jets penalty-killing unit was so good, it held the Oilers scoreless on five chances including a four-minute minor penalty called on Brenden Dillon with just 2:24 to play in the third period.
It was a remarkable performance by a team that really has only one line capable of scoring and almost three full lines of players who should be leading the Manitoba Moose.
This one was all hard work and sacrifice as Winnipeg won its second straight game and improved to 23-13-1 on the season and remained in second place in the Central Division.
The Jets opened the scoring on the power play at the 15:44 mark of the first period when defenceman Neal Pionk slipped in from the point and one-timed a perfect pass from Kyle Connor between the legs of Edmonton netminder Jack Campbell. Pierre-Luc Dubois drew the other assist as the Jets carried a 1-0 lead through two period despite being outshot 10-5 in the first and 10-5 in the second.
Edmonton tied the game in the third period when Klim Kostin beat Hellebuyck with a well-placed wrister at 4:29, but the Jets didn’t quit and at 6:55 Kyle Connor tipped in a wrist shot from the point by Pionk to give Winnipeg a 2-1 advantage. It was Connor’s 16th goal of the season and his 22nd point in the month of December as he led the team in scoring for the final month of the year.
From that point on it was all guts and goaltending. The Jets finished the game with 20 blocked shots while Hellebuyck displayed the same skill and determination that won him the 2020 Vezina Trophy. As the Oilers poured on the pressure the Jets makeshift defence kept blocking shots and breaking up plays. Anything that did get through, Hellebuyck handled as Winnipeg put a halt to Connor McDavid’s 17-game scoring streak.
The three stars were Hellebuyck, Pionk and Kostin. Hellebuyck made 31 saves and was outstanding from start to finish. The Jets won 60 per cent of the face-offs and were outhit 36-23. Winnipeg went one-for-three on the power play while Edmonton was zero-for five.
Pionk had the best stats line of the night. He had a goal and an assist with two shots on goal, a hit and two blocked shots in 23 minutes and 15 seconds of ice time. Meanwhile, Connor had a goal and an assist and was plus-one with two shots and a hit in 19 minutes and 16 seconds of ice time.
The Jets play again on Tuesday night at Canada Life Centre as they welcome the Calgary Flames to town. Game time is 7 p.m.