WINNIPEG – There’s no place like home.
The Winnipeg Jets have undoubtedly found sanctuary here at MTS Centre, improving to 6-1 in the month of December and 11-5-1 overall on home ice with a 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
Home, sweet home, indeed.
“That’s confidence,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said of the effort. “We had some nights going into the Christmas break that we played really well and didn’t have a good result and that takes it toll. They get to feel good, a little better every day and a little more optimistic. We’re keeping that faith.”
Connor Hellebuyck was once again sensational, turning aside 33 shots in the victory. In his past two outings, the rookie has allowed only a single goal on a combined 63 shots against a pair of Eastern Conference powerhouses.
The Jets are now 17-17-2 on the year and will begin a season-long five-game road trip on New Year’s Eve in Arizona.
“It helps reinforce what we’re doing,” Blake Wheeler said. “For the most part we’re doing the right things. We’ve been stronger, recently, and when there’s been a problem, Helle’s been pretty good out there. That’s how you win. You can’t win giving up the type or the amount of goals we’ve been giving up. You give up one goal in the past two games, that’s a good start.”
Too often this year the Jets have been on the wrong end of the special teams battle. Early on tonight, however, they made it known they were in control, despite a pair of early infractions.
Jacob Trouba drew first blood with a shorthanded goal at 4:27, firing a shot over the shoulder of Jimmy Howard on a 3-on-2 with Wheeler and Drew Stafford.
A power-play goal by Andrew Ladd put the Jets up by two just past the midway point of the period. In his usual spot below the dot to the right of the goaltender, Wheeler dished off to the near hash, where the captain made a quick move, pulling Howard off angle, before slinging a shot top shelf.
The Jets were all over the Wings for a good chunk of the period, but after allowing two goals on the first four shots, Howard stopped the next three, including a rocket from Mathieu Perreault to cap the opening stanza.
“You’re nervous when you’re in the box for six straight minutes, except we were real good there,” Maurice said. “Our penalty kill now has been as good as it’s been all year. It was that kind of game. They’re a good team; they’re really, really quick and they’ve got a high skill level. Even some of the things that didn’t look dangerous were dangerous until they weren’t. Connor played a really, really strong game, but I thought we had enough energy and our penalty kill was playing with enough pace that you’re not standing on the bench sure they’re going to rip one by you. “
Alexander Burmistrov’s goal at 4:13 of the second gave the Jets a commanding 3-0 lead. Gliding in on his off wing, the Russian delivered an off-speed knuckler off the stick of defenceman Jakub Kindl, beating Howard clean over the right shoulder for his third of the year.
“Finally. I’ve been working on it,” Burmistrov said with an audible sigh of relief. “Everybody in the room tells me to shoot the puck so I’m going to do it more.”
Trouba put this one to bed with a bullet from well out, causing Howard to get the hook after allowing four goals on just 14 shots.
“We didn’t really force the offence,” Trouba said. “We let it come to us and beared down on some of our chances. The previous games we had our chances and we either let them slip away or the goalie made a good save.”
Hellebuyck was terrific at the other end, stopping 12 in the period and 24 through two, including a beauty off the stick of a Darren Helm breakaway, mopping it up – twice – with the right pad in tight.
“I thought the team played really well in front of me,” Hellebuyck said. “Getting that early lead was huge. We set the pace from there and the PK’s off the start were huge, we blocked a lot of shots and you could tell guys were willing to play the price tonight.”
Pavel Datsyuk broke the shutout with a power-play goal, 1:52 into the third. Looking around the big body of Justin Abdelkader, Hellebuyck had no chance with the pinpoint precision of the three-time 30-goal scorer.
Hellebuyck and the Jets brought it home.
“The real change has been in getting the result we wanted,” Wheeler said. “If you really dissect the games leading up to Christmas you’re going to like a lot of what you see except for the final scores. With that being said, that’s not good enough and we realize that. We were two games under .500 going into the Christmas break and that’s not what we were looking for. There’s the knowledge that we were happy with the direction that we were headed, but not the satisfaction with the result. That left a bad taste in our mouth over the Christmas break and that allowed us to come back even hungrier.”
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com