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DALLAS — It was a special night for the special teams.
Not only did Winnipeg Jets’ power play strike early in the opening frame for their first goal of the new season Thursday night in St. Louis, they also killed off all four minor penalties they took while also adding a short-handed goal that proved to be the game-winner.
That’s pretty much a recipe for success right there.
“Our PK was rolling because our goalie was really good, but we’ll take that,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Friday of the job Connor Hellebuyck did in stopping all 12 shots he faced while the Jets played a man down.
“The power play, you want to get those players, your offensive players, feeling confident in what they’re doing. Really important parts of their game.”
One thing Maurice would like to see his team improve on is the number of shots they gave up. The Blues fired 42 pucks at Hellebuyck, who only gave up a late third-period goal in the 5-1 victory.
The Jets’ back end is a bit of a work in progress, with veteran Dmitri Kulikov relegated to the press box as a healthy scratch while Ben Chiarot and Joe Morrow have seemingly moved ahead of him on the left-side depth chart. They are currently paired with Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers, respectively.
“We both would agree he’s about a step off of where he is when he’s at his peak. He can play, he could play right now, from a health point of view, he could play. In terms of where his game’s at, it’s not far off. But he knows it’s not quite there yet,” Maurice said of Kulikov, who had off-season back surgery. “He understood it. Everybody wants to play, so I wouldn’t say that they’re happy. He’s not necessarily accepting, but he gets it.”
Maurice said nothing is set in stone and Kulikov will likely get his shot sooner than later.
As for how his six defenders fared as a unit in the first game of the 2018-19 regular season, Maurice gave them a passing grade.
“I thought our D had a tough job (Thursday) night reading what our forwards were going to send them. So, there were a lot of different kinds of rushes against. I thought our D did just fine given what they saw,” he said.
The season-opening win was a milestone one for Maurice, the 649th of his regular-season career, putting him 10th all-time for NHL bench bosses. Maurice had been in a tie with Alain Vigneault and Ron Wilson.
Maurice is third in wins among active coaches, as only the Chicago Blackhawks’ Joel Quenneville (885, second overall) and Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders (763, 5th) have more. Next up for Maurice is Mike Keenan, who sits ninth all-time with 672. Scotty Bowman’s 1,244 top the list.
There were two notable absences during Friday’s practice at American Airlines Center: forwards Patrik Laine and Bryan Little were not on the ice for the hour-long skate.
Maurice didn’t provide details about what might be ailing them but said both are expected to be in the lineup tonight against Dallas.
There’s no question Hellebuyck is going to carry a heavy workload this season. So, it begs the question of when new backup Laurent Brossoit might get his first taste of regular-season action with the Jets.
Winnipeg has a relatively spread out schedule to begin the year until they play back-to-back games near the end of the month in Detroit and Toronto, the 11th and 12th games of the year.
Does that mean Hellebuyck might run the table for the first 10?
“There’s a flow chart with the goalies, what happens when. So, I’ve got a game in mind,” Maurice said Friday.
Although he doesn’t want Brossoit to sit too long before making a start, Maurice said Hellebuyck is his first priority.
“Make sure you take care of that first. And then it’s a challenge sometimes as a backup when you get in, being ready, being sharp. Our priority has to be keeping Connor in that frame of mind,” he said.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.