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Hellebuyck earning appreciation from teammates as Jets prepare for Stars

"He's one of those goalies that can single-handedly win a game for you." -Sbisa

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton /

WINNIPEG - One day after a 32-save performance over the Vancouver Canucks, Connor Hellebuyck was right back to work in Saturday's practice.

He'll get the start against the Dallas Stars on Sunday afternoon and he wants to keep the good feeling he has about his game on track.

"My balance is good, my feel is good, my depth is good. I'm kind of just letting everything fall into place," said Hellebuyck. "When I square up to a puck, I know where my hands are, I know how I can move. I'm just letting the puck come to me and reacting to it."

The 26-year-old's 0.933 save percentage is fourth best in the National Hockey League. In fact, his save percentage has been above 0.920 in eight of his last nine starts.

His best stop against the Canucks came shortly after the puck was stolen from Andrew Copp in the Winnipeg Jets zone in the third period. Hellebuyck made an outstanding glove save on Bo Horvat to keep the Jets ahead 2-1. Off the ensuing face-off, Kyle Connor went down the ice and turned that 2-1 lead into a 3-1 cushion.

Video: VAN@WPG: Hellebuyck robs Horvat with great glove save

"It's probably happened to every guy, whether it's a turnover or a mistake in the D-zone, he's bailed everybody out at some point," Copp said. "Having him playing the way he's playing right now is huge for everyone's confidence."

So far, the 434 shots Hellebuyck has faced is the second most in the NHL, with only David Rittich of the Calgary Flames facing more (484). But Hellebuyck is used to a heavier workload. The best example is the 2017-18 campaign when Hellebuyck was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. That year, he faced the third most shots in the league.

While he didn't like the fact his save percentage slipped a bit in 2018-19 - the season following his Vezina nomination, he felt once he made the adjustment to the new equipment, he was back on track.

"It throws you off. Maybe that's my excuse but I definitely felt it," Hellebuyck said, regarding his new chest protector.

"I didn't even realize I had a trigger point in my balance, my upper-body balance. Once I found that, I felt more even on both sides and moving so much better, I could trust myself.

"In the second half of last season I started to get that trust. In the summer, I built it and built it. Now I came to camp and continued to build it."

Video: PRACTICE | Connor Hellebuyck

Through it all, Hellebuyck has remained confident in his game. But that confidence isn't only tied to save percentage or goals against average, it's in how he thinks the game.

"There will be nights where we've won games and he's let a goal in and he's just angry at himself because he didn't like the read on the shot, he didn't make the right save selection - where your body is positioned when the puck comes to you," said Maurice.

"He gets through some of those nights where maybe a few more get by him than people think you can assess your game positively. But he goes 'my brain was right, my body didn't react exactly the way I wanted, but I made the right decisions.' 

"He leaves that game assessing his game based on the decisions he makes before the puck comes there. There are, and have been, the pucks that hit feet that get in behind you that are bad breaks. But you're right in terms of how you process the game."

That confidence translates out to the players as well. Even on the rare night this season that Hellebuyck hasn't had any luck with the puck, he's bounced back.

Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice

Two examples from the season include giving up five in the season-opener against the New York Rangers, then following it up with a stellar 37-save effort in a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Then, after getting pulled against the Anaheim Ducks, he posted a career-high 51 saves against the San Jose Sharks to help his team to a 3-2 win.

"He's stood tall for us all year," said Blake Wheeler. "Anytime he has a bad game and gets challenged, he comes back and plays outstanding hockey. That's my favourite part about him."

As one of the new pieces on the blue line, Luca Sbisa appreciates having Hellebuyck behind him.

"He's one of those goalies that can single-handedly win a game for you," said Sbisa. "He did that against San Jose. As a defenceman it's nice to have that in the back of your head in case something happens - you still have probably the best goalie in the world right now back there helping you out."

Video: PRACTICE | Andrew Copp

Saturday's practice was only 30 minutes as the team prepares for the 1 pm CT start against the Stars, which will be Hellebuyck's 14th start of the season - which is also among the league leaders.

Handling that workload is something that Hellebuyck has learned since he came into the league in the 2015-16 season.

"I think a lot of it is just experience, no different than any other player," said Maurice. "The NHL game is different and he's in that fourth full year of understanding that number one role, what it takes to stay sharp, how hard you have to compete in the crease every night to find those pucks."

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