On the strength of his first-career hat trick – which included the game-winning goal with 6:59 left in the third period – Mark Scheifele continues to roll on a career high, leading the Jets with 20 goals on the year, including eight (for 13 points) in his last eight games.
How hot? That hot. What a show by No. 55.
After scoring first early in the middle frame, Scheifele broke a 2-2 tie late in regulation, redirecting a beautiful pass from Drew Stafford for the ultimate marker in a highly entertaining, all-Canadian contest.
His empty net goal at 19:31 sealed a 4-2 victory over the Canadiens, and the first three-goal performance of his young career.
“It’s huge. To play against a good team like them, on Hockey Night in Canada, it makes it that much better,” Scheifele said with a smile before a jovial Dustin Byfuglien interrupted him mid-sentence.
After the injury to Bryan Little, Scheifele has been thrust into the spotlight as the team’s new No. 1 centre. By just about any measure imaginable, he’s taken the ball and run with it.
“It feels good. It’s definitely huge for me right now, with Litts going down, I wanted to be that guy that stepped up,” he said.
“I just want to continue that. I want to continue to grow and get better.”
That part is coming along just fine. He’s the proverbial ‘first guy on, last guy off,’ relentlessly dedicating himself to his craft, as evidenced by the pre-game skate 12 hours earlier, when he took to the sheet and shot puck around for more than 10 minutes before the rest of the team joined him for their 9:30 practice.
“It’s just skating for me,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “When he brings his speed as the first thing he puts on the ice, he’s a real good player. … He played on injury for a while and some of the speed was missing, but other than that, he’s been a real good player all year for us. We put him back with a veteran like Blake (Wheeler), someone that could really skate with him.”
Scheifele drew first blood for the Jets at 4:09 of the second after a scoreless, but highly physical opening frame. After Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban successfully pirouetted past him a first time, Scheifele then stripped the former Norris winner on the following try, turning a routine Canadiens breakout into a 35-foot breakaway. Scheifele made no mistake, putting the backhand deke past Mike Condon for the game’s initial tally.
The Canadiens tied the game just 1:13 later as Alex Galchenyuk buried a feed from Max Pacioretty for the equalizer, but the Jets, as they did with both of Montreal’s two goals, battled back and scored ‘the next one’
Andrew Copp put the Jets back in front with his third of the year at 5:57 of the final frame. Matt Halischuk did a great job creating a turnover down low and getting the point back to the point, where Ben Chiarot leaned into one, putting the target in play.
“We were definitely feeling each other out for a bit, but once the second got going, we were playing a little faster, be more sure of our decision making,” Copp said.
Copp now has two goals in his last three games.
Galchenyuk got a piece of a Greg Pateryn blast at 9:45, beating Pavelec blocker side for the tying goal on the very next shot, but Scheifele wasn’t about to let his one get away.
“I was definitely determined to get that one,” he said of the winning goal. “It was an unbelievable pass by Staffy. To get us ahead like that, that was the big one.
LATE HITS: Josh Morrissey made his NHL debut, recording one hit and two blocked shots in nearly 16 minutes alongside Tyler Myers on the blue line. Morrissey, the 13th pick in the 2013 Draft, drew a tough assignment, going head-to-head with Thomas Plekanec and Lars Eller for much of the night.
“It was awesome. Just so many emotions,” Morrissey said. “Having the opportunity to start the game — standing on the blue line, hearing the ‘True North,’ playing the Canadiens here at home on Hockey Night in Canada… It was a special night and something I’ll never forget.”
Maurice liked what he saw from No. 36, and while he couldn’t guarantee he’ll be back in the lineup tomorrow vs. Edmonton because of Jacob Trouba’s status, he did praise the young blueliner for the confidence he showed in this, a marquee matchup.
“I liked his game. He was quick. He’s smart, he moves the puck well, he’s got good vision… I liked his game tonight.”
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com