With the return of former Atlanta Thrasher Ilya Kovalchuk to the NHL, a lot of hype was surrounding the game days ahead of time, somewhat overshadowing the overall excitement of NHL hockey action returning to Bell MTS Place in downtown Winnipeg. This was due to two factors. The first was that many of the original Jets, who were with Atlanta before they made the move to Winnipeg, had played with Kovalchuk. Also, because Kovalchuk had played the last five years overseas in the KHL, people were wondering how his NHL comeback would be against the Jets. The curiosity was certainly there before the game. However, the hometown Jets did hang on for the win, coming away with a 2-1 victory in front of a very spirited hometown crowd.
In the first frame, at 6:26, Kovalchuk opened the scoring for the game off a pass from Drew Doughty, with Alex Ilafalo getting the second assist. It looked like Jack Roslovic might be tying the game up for the home team, but the Kings’ backup goaltender Jack Campbell shut the door on the speedy forward.
The Jets tied it up after Josh Morrissey gave the Kings’ Jeff Carter a Winnipeg hello, passing the puck to Brandon Tanev who, after dodging the Kings' Jake Muzzin expertly, in turn set up Mark Scheifele, who shot it over Campbell’s glovehand.
When asked about setting up the goal, Tanev stated, "A good job by Morrissey in the corner, and then Morrissey giving me that puck, and then I spun off and saw (Scheifele) in the corner of my eye and he made a great finish on the play."
The pressure from the Jets continued for the rest of the period, seeing a lot of high quality chances by Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic being shot at goaltender Campbell, but the score remained knotted up at 1-1 at the end of the first period.
As this was the only team that Schiefele had not been able to get a goal against up until tonight, he was fairly excited, but kept things in perspective by stating, “We got a lot of pucks to the net, so we’ve got to build off of the positives of that period.”
Certainly, the Jets did just that as they were presented with a pair of power play opportunities in the second period. The first was at 6:53, which saw Michael Amadio sent to the sin bin for 2 minutes for tripping. The Jets did get a lot of quality shots on Campbell, but nothing got in. Soon after Amadio came out of the box, teammate Muzzin was also given a penalty for tripping at 9:09. During the Jets’ power play, at 10:21, Kyle Connor tipped in the backdoor feed from captain Blake Wheeler, set up by Dustin Byfuglien.
When asked, Captain Wheeler said about Connor, "The truth is, you look at it and think it's an easy (goal), but he's in the right spot. The reason that play happens is they're trying to take away some one-timer options, and he sneaks around to that back door and is wide open. I think he's a really smart player. We saw once he got some confidence last year the level he could play at. He's so dynamic, he's tough to defend (from). I can't tell you how exciting it is to play with a guy like that... Oh man, I hope he gets 40 goals, honestly. If he's not standing there, I'm not making that play, that's his goal all the way!"
By the end of the second period, the Winnipeg Jets had outshot the Los Angeles Kings 30 to 9, but even so, the score remained a one goal game going into the third.
With the lack of action down at the Jets' end, one wonders if Hellebuyck was at all bored....
Yes, this scene from the classic Disney hockey film Mighty Ducks 3 came to mind a few times during the game, given the lack of shots by the Kings during the majority of the game.
"Sometimes, the mind can wander, but I know at some point I am going to get some action, so it was nice to get a little flow before that happened," Hellebuyck admitted regarding the lack of action in the first two periods of the game.
Thankfully, Hellebuyck was able to keep his mind in full game mode, making some huge saves after only having seen 9 shots in the first two periods, and then being peppered with shots in the third, especially during two consecutive Jets' penalties in the third period. The first was a delay of game penalty to Scheifele as he shot the puck over the glass at 7:38. Then Tyler Myers was called on a high stick at 16:48.
Ironically enough, the most memorable moment of the second successful Jets' penalty kill came when Scheifele rushed the Kings' zone while short handed. Kings' defenseman Doughty decided to try and hip check the speedy forward. Instead, Schiefele actually jumped a bit and did a very acrobatic somersault over the much shorter defenseman, took a slight tumble to the ice, and got right back up again to chase after the puck.
This team determination was reflected when Tanev stated after the game that the attitude for the Jets was "to not take the foot off the gas, continue to play our game, play in their zone, make it difficult for (the opposition) to bring pucks out and create the odd man rushes we like to play with."
FINAL THOUGHTS: Wow, KYLE CONNOR is now on a 3 game goal scoring streak, having scored a goal in each game played thus far in this early season. And now defenseman JOSH MORRISSEY is on a points’ scoring streak, getting assists each night during the last 2 games. And what about BRANDON TANEV, who also saw a bit of time on the top line and helped set up the opening goal along with Morrissey. His offensive game this season has been picking up momentum ever since his hat trick back on March 27th versus the Boston Bruins, seeing him scoring points in several consecutive games, even during playoffs. Although the veterans have been leading very well by their own on-ice performances, the younger players have really been coming into their own, becoming leaders in their own right as well.