SAN JOSE, California – It was the quintessential road game for a team looking to rediscover its winning identity away from MTS Centre.
Timely scoring, strong special teams and the “focus” Head Coach Paul Maurice talked so much about where all part of it, as the Winnipeg Jets hit for the goal-scoring cycle, netting one power play, one shorthanded and two even-strength markers in a 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks.
Connor Hellebuyck was brilliant, stopping 27 of 28 shots.
“We played a heck of a hockey game in here,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “Our energy level was good, our compete was real good and when things broke down, our goalie was real good. We skated real hard and had some heavy, heavy sticks. The focus was there. There are nights when you’re going to take some penalties, but I didn’t have a problem with how we were playing.
“I liked the effort from the start right through the game.”
The Jets opened the scoring with a shorthanded marker at 13:15 of the opening frame. Galloping in alone after picking off Joel Ward’s no-look, backhand pass through the middle, a wide-eyed Blake Wheeler made a beautiful move in tight, dishing off and setting up a tap-in for Drew Stafford.
With the assist, Wheeler recorded his 400th career point.
“Just getting that reward,” Wheeler said of the win – and the relief. “We’ve had some real tough beats lately. We’ve played some games where maybe we felt we deserved a better result and are asking what happened. We finally feel like we’re on the right side of it. We’ll be able to watch some things tomorrow, reinforce that and get excited about another big game tomorrow.”
Joel Armia’s first NHL goal put the Jets up by a pair just 2:45 into the second. Driving wide on his off side, the Finn cut to the net and tossed the puck low into the blue paint, where it pinballed in off the foot of a defender. The goal was originally credited to Matt Halischuk, who was creating havoc in front, but was later changed.
“It feels great,” Armia said. “I really didn’t know. Hali told me that it might be my goal, but it didn’t really matter at that point. We scored as a line and brought some energy to the team.”
Brent Burns got the Sharks on the board with a power-play goal at 9:23, bombing a one-timer over the right shoulder of Connor Hellebuyck as Dustin Byfuglien was off serving a slashing minor.
Smelling blood, the Sharks were all over the Jets for the next few minutes, but Hellebuyck stood tall. Then, on a power play moments later, Patrick Marleau split the D and dashed in alone, but lifted a shot just over the cage.
And so, the tide turned.
On a power play of their own late in the period, the Jets restored their two-goal advantage. Mathieu Perreault found a shooting lane up top, peeked around the screen of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and fired a perfect shot upstairs, off the bar and in with 5:05 to play.
In an otherwise eventful third period – the Jets allowed just 11 shots from a team looking for a spark – Nikolaj Ehlers scored into the empty net at 17:17.
“You go back before Christmas. Look at that Edmonton game. You look up in the clouds sometimes and wonder what’s going on,” Wheeler said. “It’s a testament to our group to stick with it. We haven’t come off it yet. It’s been a very frustrating — sometimes — season, but we’re still fighting and I foresee us doing that for the rest of the year.”
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com