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Recap: Wheeler Drumpfs Penguins

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The Winnipeg Jets took advantage of a Pittsburgh Penguins squad playing the second half of a back-to-back, bombing them 7-1.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Winnipeg Jets James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

The Winnipeg Jets (5-3-2) jumped all over the Pittsburgh Penguins (7-5-1) early in this one, and never looked back as they exacted revenge from their Thursday night loss over the defending champs by beating them

There was always the danger that Pittsburgh would tire out in this one, having played in a 2-1 loss to Minnesota last night, but I don’t think anybody could have seen them fail to start. With more than a minute of sustained pressure to start the game, the Jets struck via some depth, as Shawn Matthias teed up Andrew Copp for a one-timer that zinged past Pens goalie Matt Murray.

Eight minutes and forty seconds went by before either team managed another shot, with Greg McKegg denied on a breakaway by Connor Hellebuyck finally resulting in a shot. The Penguins got the next big change of the game with a little over eight minutes left in the period when Evgeni Malkin found himself alone with the puck in the slot, but Hellebuyck stood tall once again and the lead remained 1-0. This was a difference maker, as a short time later the Jets dug the puck out of their own zone, with Kyle Connor sending Mark Scheifele in on a two-on-one with Blake Wheeler. Scheifele elected to pass, and connected with the streaking captain who deked out Murray and slipped it through the five-hole with 6:02 to go. The floodgates opened with a little over two minutes left in the frame. Mark Scheifele twice stopped the Penguins from exiting their own zone. The puck went to Shawn Matthias found Wheeler going to the net, and the Jets’ captain tapped in his second of the game.

Just twenty-three seconds later, Matt Murray’s night ended, as Matt Hendricks forced a turnover that fell to Joel Armia who beat Murray through traffic. Murray had played last night as well, and Casey DeSmith made his NHL debut at age 26. Blake Wheeler welcome him promptly, after undressing Kris Letang, making it a hat trick 11 seconds into DeSmith’s NHL career on his first shot against. Terrific goal. Hats everywhere. DeSmith wondering “why me?” He would have the first intermission to think about it, as that was all the scoring in the opening 20, with the shots 10-7 in favour of the good guys.

Two-twenty five into the second period, the Jets got the first power play opportunity of either team for the game when DeSmith flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game call, as his debut continued to be memorable for all the wrong reasons at this point. Luckily, the Jets power play is blechhhh, and managed only one shot. With 14:18 left, Bryan Rust tripped up Mark Scheifele with a can-opener, giving the Jets another chance. Bryan Little and Joel Armia were sprung for a two-on-one, but DeSmith denied the Finn his second of the game. Finally, something good to write home to Mom about.

Discipline issues began to set in for Winnipeg, with Andrew Copp picking up a roughing penalty during a post-whistle scrum, tackling Malkin by the face. Pittsburgh managed some pressure with four shots, but couldn’t crack Connor Hellebuyck. The Penguins got another opportunity, when Dmitry Kulikov soared one into the netting for a delay of game penalty. The Penguins only managed one shot on the PP, and Hellebuyck saved it. But, the Jets were bound and determined and took another penalty by tackling somebody by the face, this time Bryan Little the guilty party. With Jacob Trouba busy picking up his stick in the corner, Phil Kessel was able to find Malkin in front, who deflected it high past Hellebuyck to break the shutout bid before it could truly be taken seriously.

Dustin Byfuglien was penalized for being big, I guess. Bryan Rust dumped the puck in, got finished into the boards, then Rust got up and broke his stick on Buff because mere twigs are no threat to the big man. Both players were penalized, and the period ended four-on-four.

The final frame opened with nearly two minutes of open ice, but only one Penguins shot emerged from the opportunity. Because that was fun, the refs made it happen again when Byfuglien was once again in the box, this time with Patric Hornqvist joining him in the sin bin. Once again, there was nothing coming of the chance.

Mark Scheifele will not be sending the linesmen any Christmas cards as they called a highly suspect icing call against him, despite clearly winning the race to the dots.

Bryan Little had a glorious chance alone in from with a little over 11 minutes to go. Seconds later, Evgeni Malkin continued his anti-Jet ways, jousting with Patrik Laine in front of the Jets net with the result being 4-on-4 again. Fourty seconds later, Jake Guentzel was called for interference and the Jets got a 4-on-3 chance for a minute twenty.

They didn’t need a minute twenty. Thirty-two seconds into the PP, Mark Scheifele was in the “Ovechkin spot” and wired a one-time feed from Wheeler past DeSmith.

With Joel Armia and Matt Hendricks working hard along the boards on a forecheck, Armia found Tyler Myers at the point. Myers shot and rookie Brendan Lemieux deflected the puck in for his first NHL goal. Something happy to write home to Dad about. The touchdown now had a converted extra point. He even got a celebratory early shower, when he and Ryan Reaves were sent to their respective dressing rooms for speaking to each other a little too sweetly. No further hostilities or scoring occured, and this one ended touchdown to rouge. That’s 7-1, for those keeping track at home.

Scoring Summary

1st Period -

1:20 EV WPG 9 Andrew Copp (1) Assists: 16 Shawn Matthias (1) 39 Toby Enstrom (2)

13:58 EV WPG 26 Blake Wheeler (2) Assists: 55 Mark Scheifele (6) 81 Kyle Connor (2)

17:44 EV WPG 26 Blake Wheeler (3) Assists: 16 Shawn Matthias (2) 55 Mark Scheifele (7)

18:07 EV WPG 40 Joel Armia (2) Assist: 15 Matt Hendricks (1)

18:18 EV WPG 26 Blake Wheeler (4) Assist: 81 Kyle Connor (3)

2nd Period -

17:02 PP PIT 71 Evgeni Malkin (5) Assists: 81 Phil Kessel (9) 58 Kris Letang (7)

3rd Period -

10:28 PP WPG 55 Mark Scheifele (4) Assists: 26 Blake Wheeler (8) 33 Dustin Byfuglien (6)

12:19 EV WPG 48 Brendan Lemieux (1) 57 Tyler Myers (1) 40 Joel Armia (1)

Goalies -

WPG 37 Connor Hellebuyck 31/32 .969 60:00 (5-0-1 .937 SV%)

PIT 35 Matt Murray 29/30 .967 18:07 (7-2-1 .903 SV%)

PIT 1 Casey DeSmith 12/15 .800 41:53 (First NHL Game)

Power Play

Winnipeg Jets - 1/3 (5/34 - 14.7%)

Pittsburgh Penguins - 1/3 (13/47 - 27.7%)

10 Thoughts:

  1. The Captain was dominant, with a four point performance (including a hat trick), bringing him to 12 points in 10 games this season. He used his speed and size well, going to the net for each of his goals.
  2. Connor Hellebuyck continues to play great hockey, improving to 5-0-1 and bumping his save percentage up to .937. Very impressive, and he made a number of saves tonight against some of the biggest names in the game.
  3. The power play scored! Holy smokes! Sure it took a rare four-on-three chance, but ti still counts and ended a long drought.
  4. Giving the Penguins repeated chances with the extra man will burn you eventually, and the Jets eventually fell victim to the “tackle him by the face” penalties.
  5. Brendan Lemieux got the Claude Lemieux hat trick of scoring a goal and getting himself kicked out of the game. Congrats to the rookie.
  6. Lemieux’s fellow rookie, Kyle Connor, again had a good night. His pair of assists means he sits at four point in five games. Playing with Wheeler and Scheifele doesn’t hurt, but he fits in well with the stars.
  7. Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan needs to figure out what to do on the second half of back to backs. His team is 0-4-0 in those games this year, and has 15 more to go. Having a dependable backup goalie is key, and the Pens don’t have that. Antti Niemi was supposed to be that guy, but Pittsburgh sent him packing after three dismal games. Is Michael Hutchinson an option?
  8. The depth scoring that has been sorely missing early in this season emerged tonight, as the bottom six combined for three goals and four assists, with Copp, Armia and Lemieux finding twine.
  9. Seven goals and the second line of Little, Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers combined for 0 points. It’s not that they were awful, I’m more just noting their absence from the scoresheet.
  10. The Jets (5-3-2, 12 points) now sit in second in the Central Division. They next play against the Minnesota Wild south of the border. The Jets won the first meeting between these teams this season by a 4-3 score.