It’s not at the level of Toronto Maple Leafs Zamboni driver David Ayres playing against his employer as an emergency replacement in net for the injury-ravaged Carolina Hurricanes last year. But the sight of Ottawa Senators goaltender Anton Forsberg staring down Winnipeg shooters on Monday night — while decked out in a slick Jets-themed mask — was certainly unique.
And while Forsberg did everything he could to the tune of 42 saves, it wasn’t quite enough as Winnipeg beat their former taxi squad member and his new Ottawa teammates 4-3 at Bell MTS Place. It’s the first regulation loss this year for the 28-year-old former Columbus draft pick, who had gone 1-0-1 in his first two starts with the Senators.
“I was with him for a bit in Columbus and my first training camp so I knew him from there and then obviously coming here, met him and saw him again. He’s a really good guy. He worked really hard when he was here. He didn’t play but he was always on the ice giving it his all and trying to get better,” said Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, who scored twice in the victory.
“He played a good game. He had 40-something shots and he kept them in the game so I was happy for him out there.”
Winnipeg improves to 23-13-3, good for second place in the all-Canadian division with 17 regular-season games remaining. Last-place Ottawa falls to 13-22-4.
Forward Andrew Copp, who added to his career-high in points with two more assists, got to know Forsberg after Winnipeg claimed him off waivers (from Edmonton) back on Jan. 15. You’ll recall the Jets had just lost third-string netminder Eric Comrie on a waiver claim by New Jersey, so they suddenly had a hole to fill.
Forsberg spent the next two months working with primarily with the healthy scratches and extra bodies, travelling with the team across the country and taking part in all morning skates and practices.
“Especially pre-game skates because Connor (Hellebuyck) doesn’t take a whole lot of shots, so he’s out there all the time. Especially with how busy our schedule was. We got pretty used to shooting on him in some of our post-practice type work,” said Copp.
“I apologized to him after I hit him in the head on one, I felt bad. He was good for them (Monday night). He’s been good. I watched the game there when they played Montreal, and he was really good in that game, too. I’m happy that he’s found some games, just because it’s so long, it’s so hard for goalies to go that amount of time without playing a game. So I’m happy that he’s come in, found a spot and has played well.”
The Jets put Forsberg back on waivers in mid-March, after they re-claimed Comrie from the Devils, and Ottawa came calling as they’ve been dealing with a number of goalie injuries. In fact, Forsberg is the fifth different starter they’ve used this season — and he obviously hasn’t had time to get his gear updated just yet.
“(Winnipeg) played good. They played fast right off the bat. They were flying out there and we weren’t really ready at the beginning there. I thought we picked it up after about 10 minutes into the first, and then they got an early goal there that was my mistake in the second there, and then they kind of pushed us back all that period. They played well. We’ve just got to find a way top be more consistent,” Forsberg said of facing his former friends.
Indeed, the Jets were looking to get back on track after dropping two straight games on home ice to Toronto last week, scoring just two combined goals. It took just 130 seconds to strike first, as captain Blake Wheeler found Dubois with a behind-the-net feed. The 22-year-old centre buried the shot past Forsberg for his eighth goal of the year.
“It’s good for him to score goals. I know points are important, but he’s a really good young centreiceman that’s going to get better. I like him with Blake a lot. I think that’s helped his game,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice.
Winnipeg controlled play in the opening period, despite taking three minor penalties. They killed all of them off with relative ease, then really stepped on the gas in the second period.
Adam Lowry made it 2-0 at 4:19 of the middle frame when he took a pass from Copp and wired a shot off the crossbar and in for his eighth. Ottawa got the goal back just 29 seconds later as Ryan Dzingel pounced on a loose puck behind the Jets net and beat a surprised Hellebuyck, who had lost sight of it. But Dubois restored the two-goal advantage at 8:38, finishing off a slick power play sequence.
Dubois, who had only scored twice in his previous 15 games, said finally getting to have a practice on Sunday made a big difference, especially now that he’s playing with Wheeler and Paul Stastny on a new line.
“We were talking about it a bit, having no practices. I’m the new guy in here, played 20-something games but everything’s still new, in the practice and out there in the game. (Sunday) our practice felt good. We did some 2-on-2 things, some 2-on-2 work, some 2-on-1, stuff like that just to get a feel for my linemates,” said Dubois.
Kyle Connor seemingly put this one to bed when he made it 4-1 at 16:12. His team-leading 18th came off passes from Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers. The shots were 36-14 for Winnipeg through 40 minutes, including 22-6 in the second period, and this had the makings of a rout.
But the pesky Sens, who have been playing much better of late and just downed Montreal 6-3 last Saturday, wouldn’t go away quietly. Josh Norris at 10:25 on the power play, and Connor Brown at 16:51 took it right down to the wire despite the lopsided shot clock that finished at 46-23.
“We were right, we took the penalty, thin at best — cat’s ear-like — and we give up that goal, there wasn’t the onslaught I didn’t feel. I thought we were in good shape. I didn’t feel, I’m sorry… I was alright with our game. I was alright with our game straight through and I didn’t feel we were under siege,” said Maurice.
“They’re going to push, they’ll pull their goalie, do those kind of things. I really liked our offensive game. I liked the way we tried to shoot the puck. People will walk away from that and say, ‘You got a 4-1 lead against Ottawa, you should be able to hold that lead.’ I didn’t feel we changed our game and I got way, way more respect for Ottawa than I feel most people do. That might be why we’re 5-1 on them.”
Winnipeg will play Ottawa four more times this season, including twice on a five-game road trip which starts Thursday in Montreal.
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