PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh has not been friendly to the Winnipeg Jets… ever.
Entering the game losers of 19 of their past 20 in Pittsburgh, Winnipeg was able to build off of some of the positives from Thursday night in Buffalo, and put together one of its best performances all season in a 4-1 victory over Sidney Crosby’s Penguins on Friday night.
Connor Hellebuyck got the night off, so backup David Rittich put together a decent performance, giving up just one goal on the 23 shots he faced.
Mark Scheifele potted two goals, while Cole Perfetti matched a career-high with three assists on the night, as the team’s second line combined for seven points with the addition of Blake Wheeler’s goal and assist. Kyle Connor extended his point-scoring streak to nine games, while Nikolaj Ehlers has now recorded eight points in five games since returning from injury.
“It was a total buy-in from everybody tonight,” said defenceman Dylan Demelo, who also collected two assists on the night. “First line, second line, third line, fourth line, we all looked the same without the puck. … It was a great job by everybody and a big two points for us.”
With the win, the 28-14-1 Jets have moved into a tie with the Dallas Stars (25-11-7) for first in the Central Division.
The Jets looked great in Pittsburgh tonight. Even the Penguins home announcers praised this guy and his team. Jets now tied for first in the Central after a decisive 4-1 win over the Pens. Five games in eight days, Jets go 4-1-0 with two road wins. Impressive. pic.twitter.com/X9CHwPJQaa
— scott taylor (@staylorsports) January 14, 2023
Wheeler opened the scoring for Winnipeg, as the team’s second power play unit jammed in the game-opener with Jake Guentzel sitting in the box for high sticking 10 minutes into the contest. Mark Scheifele then redirected a Neal Pionk point shot past Dustin Tokarski, but upon coach’s challenge, the linesmen determined Scheifele had entered the offensive zone prior to the puck, meaning the goal would not count.
As it often goes, the other team managed to make something of a bad situation, as the Penguins scored exactly one minute after Scheifele thought he had given his two a two-goal cushion. With Dylan DeMelo all tangled up at his own blue line, Drew O’Connor finished off a two-on-one on a pass from Kasperi Kapanen, knotting the game at ones.
With just 1:45 left in the frame, Pionk hammered a one-timer past Tokarski, but this time it was the referees who waved the goal off, citing goaltender interference from Pierre-Luc Dubois. Rick Bowness challenged the play, but after an inconclusive review, the officials stuck with their initial call and handed Winnipeg a penalty for delay of game. The Jets killed it off and entered the second period tied 1-1 with the host, despite leading 15-8 on the shot chart.
“That’s the toughest one. Offside is pretty black and white. Goaltender interference isn’t,” Bowness said. “You have to stick up for your players too. If they’re doing everything you ask them to do, and you think they’re in the right, you have to challenge it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”
It should have been 3-1, or maybe even 3-0 for Winnipeg after 20 minutes, but the team was able to find a couple more in the middle frame.
Scoring twice in a span of 22 seconds was Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers. Cole Perfetti and Blake Wheeler set the play up in the Penguins’ end, before Wheeler slipped the disc to Sheifele last second, for the Jets’ leading goal scorer to hammer home his 25th of the year. And this time it would count.
Nikolaj Ehlers then picked up a zone entry pass from Kyle Connor and scored on the rush beating Tokarski low, glove-side, putting Winnipeg ahead by two with just 1:40 to play in the frame. Another onslaught of shots saw the Jets pull ahead 30-17 through 40 minutes of work.
Jason Zucker and Brenden Dillon dropped the mitts in the final frame, before Scheifele potted his second of the game, as the Jets finished off the host Penguins 4-1 in a game that Winnipeg dominated from the very get-go.
Unless you’re living in Manitoba, you probably haven’t heard a word, and that needs to change:
– Jack Adams candidate.
– Norris candidate.
– Lady Byng candidate.
– Vezina candidate.
Many reasons to watch #NHLJets hockey these days.
Many more to come. https://t.co/UE4wGk7mEm
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) January 14, 2023
“Give the players full marks for playing the way we did,” Bowness added. “That was probably one of the best games we played all year, it really was, in terms of how we wanted to play and how to be successful going forward. There were no passengers tonight. Everyone contributed. Everyone did the job they were asked to do.”
The Jets have now won 12 games a row when Ehlers, Scheifel and Wheeler each score. The game marked Winnipeg’s first win in Pittsburgh since October of 2019, while the Jets improved to 5-0 on the year when putting up 40 or more shots.
Despite the road trip starting with a 7-5 loss in Detroit, the Jets responded with back-to-back wins in Buffalo and Pittsburgh, picking up four of six points in the three-game-in-four-night stretch. Winnipeg will now return home for a Sunday evening matchup with the Arizona Coyotes at Canada Life Centre. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:00 PM.