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It was the burning question of the week: How would the Winnipeg Jets handle the high-flying Colorado Avalanche after a week of rest could potentially lead to plenty of rust?
The home team responded with perhaps their best opening 20 minutes of the season, then followed it up with a solid 40 more as they skated to an impressive 5-2 victory over their division rivals at Bell MTS Place Friday night.
Winnipeg’s big guns came to play, not only shutting down Colorado’s top trio but chipping in with plenty of offence of their own.
Captain Blake Wheeler led the way — he set up Kyle Connor’s power play goal midway through the opening frame, set up Mark Scheifele’s one-timer tally a few minutes later, set up Nikolaj Ehlers for the game-winner early in the third, set up Patrik Laine’s power play tally a few minutes later then sealed the victory with an empty-netter of his own.
Connor Hellebuyck wasn’t tested a ton, but the Jets goaltender was sharp when needed in turning aside 27 shots for the win.
Winnipeg improves to 9-5-1 on the season. Colorado drops to 7-6-3 in losing for a fifth straight game, four of them in regulation.
Coming into the night, all of the talk was about the line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. But Scheifele, Wheeler and Ehlers, along with the defence duo of Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba, covered them like a blanket in keeping them at bay.
Rantanen, currently the NHL’s leading scorer, did ring a shot off the crossbar on a second period power play but that’s as close as he and his linemates would come on the night. Winnipeg went a perfect four-for-four on the kill, while going two-for-three on their own power plays,
Connor needed just eight seconds to score on his team’s first man-advantage, knocking a loose puck past Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov for his seventh of the year. That makes 11 straight games the Jets have scored a power play goal, which extends a franchise record.
Winnipeg also snapped a dubious streak by not taking the game’s first penalty for the first time in 11 contests.
Scheifele then scored his seventh just over three minutes later, one-timing a pass from Wheeler past Varlamov, who was deep in his net.
Colorado defenceman Erik Johnson cut the deficit in half early in the third when he beat Hellebuyck high, but Winnipeg quickly responded when Wheeler stole a puck, patiently waited out an Avalanche defender and then fed Ehlers for his third goal of the year.
That proved to be the game-winner as Tyson Jost scored with just over 13 minutes left to make it a one-goal game. But the Jets responded when Wheeler fed Laine from his usual spot on the power play, as the Finnish sniper scored his team-leading eighth of the year — and fifth in his past three games. This time, it took the power play just seven seconds to strike.
Wheeler showed he can score, too, when he hit an empty-net with less than two minutes to play for his third of the year.
Wheeler’s four assists give him 18 on the year, second-best in NHL. He’s got 14 in his past seven games and extended his point streak to nine games (two goals, 15 assists).
The Jets returned from the Global Series in Finland last Saturday afternoon and had spent their time since trying to re-create game situations through several up-tempo practices. But coach Paul Maurice admitted he wasn’t sure what to expect from his troops after such a long stretch between games.
He was no doubt pleased with what he saw, especially out of the gate.
Winnipeg is now 15-1-1 in their past 17 regular-season games at home dating back to last season. They’ll continue a four-game homestand by hosting New Jersey on Sunday evening, followed by visits next week from Washington and Buffalo.
Defenceman Dmitry Kulikov was injured late in the first period after taking a hard hit from Colorado’s Gabriel Bourque. He went immediately to the dressing room, favouring either his shoulder or arm, and did not return.
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.