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Forget all about skill and recent success. Sometimes it comes down to the ‘try’ factor, and the Winnipeg Jets had it in short supply until the waning moments Friday night.
Sporting a roster with a dozen regulars from a remarkable spring playoff run, the Jets showed up at Bell MTS Place missing their work boots against a Calgary Flames squad comprising a mostly no-name collection of prospects and guys on tryouts.
Winnipeg needed a late rally to upend the Flames 4-3 in overtime, highlighted by Dustin Byfuglien’s second goal of the game just 34 seconds into the three-on-three session after some flashy passing perpetrated by Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, both playing for the first time in the pre-season.
Veteran centre Bryan Little tied the game 3-3 with just 61 seconds left in regulation time. Seth Griffith, who bounced around in the Boston, Toronto, Florida and Buffalo organizations the last five years before signing with Winnipeg in the summer, found a wide-open Little on the doorstep with the Flames a man short and goalie Connor Hellebuyck pulled for a sixth attacker.
Late dramatics aside, Jets head coach Paul Maurice and his staff picked up limited intel from the sloppy affair, a contest those who had a stake in are probably relieved to see in the rear-view mirror.
“It was OK. It was the first game a lot of us had played in a long time. You could definitely see it. There’s some things to work on, some things to get better at. Ultimately, regardless of the situation, you gut one out you’ll take it,” said Wheeler, who scored Winnipeg’s first goal. “We started moving our feet a little bit in the third period.
“It’s not always going to be pretty and, obviously, it’s a game that doesn’t mean anything. But you start building those little things into your foundation, you want to try to win every time you’re out. So, that was a good step.”
After eight consecutive days on the ice, the Jets’ entire training camp contingent gets a rest today.
Winnipeg hosts the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday at 7 p.m. and then sends a squad to Calgary for a rematch with what will surely be a far more talent-laden team Monday at 8 p.m.
Byfuglien’s easy tap-in past Calgary netminder Jeff Glass was only the Jets’ 22nd shot of the night, while the Flames unloaded 35 shots on Hellebuyck. His first taste of pre-season action was by no means a classic — two of the three goals he allowed were of the shaky variety.
Brett Pollock dangled on the first Flames goal, slipping easily around Patrik Laine and then lifting a backhand through a sliver of space between Hellebuyck’s left shoulder and the post. In the second period, Dillon Dube, a year removed from a 38-goal season with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, drilled a high shot past Hellebuyck with the Jets two men shot.
Wheeler sparked the home side with his first tally of the pre-season, darting down the right side to snap a shot past Parsons. But Alan Quine’s innocent-looking release from a bad angle somehow eluded the Jets goalie to regain the two-goal lead for Calgary.
Afterward, Hellebuyck chose to put a positive spin on things.
“I think it’s exactly what I needed. I felt a little jittery. I was really excited coming into this one, really wanted to play again,” he said. “I think I kind of figured out what I was doing on all the goals, minus the third one. Those were little mistakes on my end, which is good because I can fix that, and be exactly where I was last year. That’s exactly what I’m here to do, kind of figure out what I need to do and the details I need to focus on.’
“The second the goals went in, I knew exactly what I did wrong. It kinda got me excited, because now I know exactly where to go with the rest of training camp.”
Wheeler, Byfuglien and Griffith were the best of a below-average lot. Kyle Connor, a 31-goal scorer last season, wasn’t particularly noticeable in his pre-season debut, while the trio of Little, Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers failed to orchestrate much in the way of offence in their second audition together.
Laine hit a post on the power play and misfired on a couple of other attempts, lending credence to his comments earlier in the day that his hands and head are a long way from regular-season form. Ehlers was removed from the line in the third period and replaced by Mathieu Perreault.
“It’s early. We’ve got kinda six guys, maybe seven guys, who we’ve got to figure out how they play together,” said Maurice. “We know Bryan’s line, those two guys (Laine and Ehlers) have been dynamic. And there’s times it’s a little quiet. (Ehlers is) not a young guy anymore. We want to make sure when we hit the opening night we’ve got him driving at his best.”
Byfuglien cut the deficit late in the middle period, finishing off a nice cycle with JC Lipon and C.J. Suess with top-shelfer from in tight. Lipon, likely destined to play a critical leadership role with the Jets AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, was playing for the second time in as many nights and finished with an assist and six hits in less than 10 minutes of ice time.
Head coach Bill Peters’ final roster for the Flames season-opener Oct. 3 on the road against the Vancouver Canucks will bear no resemblance to the eclectic mix that wore the big flaming ‘C’. The Flames’ regulars are still recovering from their two-game exhibition series (Sept. 15, 19) in China against the Boston Bruins.
No Mike Smith, no Johnny Gaudreau, no James Neal, no Sean Monahan, no Noah Hanifin, no Travis Hamonic.
In their places were the journeyman Glass, one of the feel-good stories of the 2017-18 season when he earned a victory in his NHL debut with the Chicago Blackhawks at 32 years of age, and forward Gilbert Brule, has toiled in the KHL the last four winters. There was also Buddy Robinson, a 25-goal scorer with the Moose last season hoping to turn a professional tryout into a regular gig somewhere in the Flames organization, and Snowflake, Man., product Justin Falk, a defenceman with 269 NHL games on his resume, including 98 over the past two campaigns with the Buffalo Sabres.
And those were the really big names.
Former Winnipeg Blues defenceman Peter Stoykewych finally made his way into an NHL lineup, skating on the Jets’ third pairing with Nelson Nogier. Stoykewich, 26, a seventh-round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010, played the last three seasons with the Moose.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).