WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets have been a star-driven team this season, so if a big night from the support staff is a harbinger of things to come, watch out.
The Jets completed a home-and-home sweep of the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday, downing their opponents 4-1 at the Bell MTS Centre after beating them by the same count on Saturday in Arizona. Before puck drop, Winnipeg — which has earned at least a point in 11 of its past 12 outings — honoured one of its all-timers by inducting Dale Hawerchuk into its Hall of Fame. For the most part, the Jets have relied on the scoring exploits of their Hawerchuk-type talents, guys like Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine.
Against the Coyotes, though, Winnipeg was defined by the contributions of third- and fourth-liners like Andrew Copp, Joel Armia and Adam Lowry — all of whom hit the back of the net — and the fine goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck.
The first period was a prime example of what the bottom half of the lineup can bring. After Hellebuyck’s strong play helped Winnipeg kill off a pair of penalties, Copp opened the scoring by plucking a dump-in off the wall, taking the puck to the goal past Coyotes defenceman Dakota Mermis and banging his own rebound past goalie Antti Raanta.
No finesse or razzle-dazzle: just the kind of hard, greasy play the Jets needed on a night when Laine’s five-game goal-scoring streak came to an end and both Wheeler and Scheifele were held off the scoresheet.
“To win games, you’ve got to get [scoring] from other places,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “The way Andrew scored the first one, just driving it to the net. [The line of Lowry between Copp and Brandon Tanev] had a lot of good offensive zone time early in the game.
“They also, at times, have to go and play against the other team’s best when Scheif’s line is not doing that job. They look like they have something good going on there.”
For the first time in a while, Bryan Little had something undeniably positive to put his arms around, too. The centre hadn’t found the net in 11 games and was sitting on just a single tally this season until he knocked the puck off Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s stick at the Winnipeg blue line, raced down the ice and fired a shot past Raanta’s glove hand to give the Jets a 3-0 advantage 5:08 into the middle frame.
Goodbye back-dwelling monkey, hello to a confidence-boosting goal for a guy who — if he can get untracked — has real potential to further diversify Winnipeg’s attack.
“Confidence is earned,” said Maurice. “You’ve got to score a goal to feel good if you’re a guy who puts up numbers. He does all the other parts and he competes real hard, but he believes — and we believe — he’s an offensive player and he hasn’t had a whole lot of opportunity to shoot the puck.”
One player who has to be feeling great about his game is Hellebuyck. Coming off a rare bad outing — a 5-2 loss on Friday in Las Vegas that saw him yanked after 40 minutes — the 24-year-old reverted right back to the high-end form he’s shown for the majority of the season, missing only Alex Goligoski’s third-period wrister. His best work came in the second period, when an Arizona goal still had the potential to change the complexion of the game. A point-blank glove save on Derek Stepan preserved the Jets’ three-goal lead and had the Coyotes centre looking skyward, while Tobias Rieder also cracked one on net from the slot, only to see Hellebuyck — who made 33 saves overall — get his six-foot-four frame in the way.
“Guys are blocking shots when they need to and keeping them to the outside,” Hellebuyck said. “If they don’t, that’s what I’m there for.”
At the other end of the ice, the Coyotes still can’t seem to get a save when they need it. Raanta was yanked after Little’s goal and while Scott Wedgewood did his best to staunch the bleeding, things have officially gotten ugly for Arizona, which has just two overtime wins on the year and has now set a dubious NHL mark by failing to gain a regulation-time win through its first 20 outings.
While the loss only exacerbates the Coyotes’ problems, the Winnipeg win provided a proper ending on an evening when fans showed up excited to celebrate Hawerchuk and see his No. 10 hang from the rafters.
“It’s nice to send them home happy,” Lowry said.
Given the way it went down, there’s more reason than ever to think the smiles could stick around.