Winnipeg is playing honest-to-goodness hockey again and it feels like a familiar old friend. While the Jets may not be a “good” team, per se, they’ve looked a lot more like an NHL squad over the past few weeks. This February stretch was going to make or break this team, and thus far, the prognosis has looked more positive than it has in months. Tonight’s road game against St. Louis was a pivotal test. Could the Jets beat the defending Cup champs again and take another step closer to a Wild Card spot?
Things in the first period kicked off at a pretty decent pace, though both teams were a bit cagey at getting to the net and creating scoring opportunities. It took a few back-and-forth sequences with no real chances in front of either goalie before the Jets hit paydirt. The third line, anchored by Andrew Copp, has been really good as of late. Relative newcomer Jansen Harkins has fit this unit like a glove, with Jack Roslovic adding a dose of elusive shooting skill on the right flank. It was Harkins who scored first, recording his debut NHL goal. The guy has been industrious on the forecheck and had a few looks on net in previous games, but even he might be surprised by the peach of a snipe he pulled off tonight. Harkins caught Binnington a bit by surprise and went top-shelf on the short-side, getting Winnipeg the initial lead.
St. Louis definitely pushed back and had a few very good opportunities, especially with a 5-on-3 penalty that Winnipeg’s sloppiness created. Thankfully, the Blues weren’t able to find a great shooting lane and had to wait for the second period before they could kick things into gear. Again, however, the Jets struck gold, this time on a top line counter spearheaded by Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor. The two forwards opened enough space for Patrik Laine to slip in and wrist a shot past a sprawling Binnington. 2-0, smooth as you like.
And then things came a bit apart, with Sami Niku taking a rough penalty on an extended defensive zone shift a few minutes later. The Jets PK, already tested by a 5-on-3 scare, buckled and capitulated to a Colton Parayko rebound goal. The Blues then began to dominate, taking shots from all over the offensive zone and pinning Winnipeg in deep. One of the point shots deflected off of Blake Wheeler and into the net, tying it up.
The Blues continued to push, but Winnipeg showed a few signs of life in the final 20 minutes of the game. The third line, already Winnipeg’s second hero of the night, capped a strong outing with a greasy goal from Copp. All three forwards were involved in the mayhem in front of Binnington, creating the chaos that Copp deftly took advantage of. Despite St. Louis’ attempts to bring it back level, Connor Hellebuyck stood tall and preserved the lead for the rest of the night.
Connor Hellebuyck was, as per usual, quite good.
The Blues did not create all that much directly in front of Hellebuyck. They did, however, fire tons of pucks from distance and through traffic. Hellebuyck had to make some stupendous saves on really weird shooting angles and buckling slapshots that were inches away from hitting paydirt. The American was strong in net, and has continued a recent turn of great form that’s keeping Winnipeg’s playoff hopes alive.
The third line is also clicking nicely.
I am becoming a Jansen Harkins fan. He’s like a finesse version of Lowry on the wing, though his vision and puck distribution are definitely stronger. With Roslovic and Copp, Harkins is a natural fit and he was duly rewarded with a two-point night. All three forwards worked their butts off and should be happy with the win.
The second line needs help....badly.
Wheeler is looking really old, man. He hasn’t had anywhere near the pace of net-driving ability of his prime seasons, and he’s seemed like more of a passenger while Ehlers is doing all of the work. Wheeler isn’t playing like it’s the positional change that’s causing him problems. He just doesn’t look like he’s capable of keeping up, and his stilted performances on the power play don’t instill confidence either. The Jets need a 2C from somewhere to get Blake out wide again.