Comrie providing Jets with a calming presence during Hellebuyck's absence

Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor had a goal and assist each as the Winnipeg Jets topped the Chicago Blackhawks 5-1.

WINNIPEG - Eric Comrie, the crease is yours - at least temporarily - and potentially a bit longer.

After seeing captain Blake Wheeler and top centre Mark Scheifele land in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol earlier this season, No. 1 goalie Connor Hellebuyck will miss a second consecutive game on Friday because he is under the weather.

Hellebuyck tested negative for COVID-19, but he didn't play against the Chicago Blackhawks and his availability for Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders is very much up in the air.

It’s been a whirlwind week for Hellebuyck, whose wife Andrea gave birth to the couple’s first child on Tuesday.

But after spending part of Wednesday (which was a scheduled day off for the team) trying to convince Jets goalie coach Wade Flaherty that he would be able to start the games on consecutive nights this weekend - he wasn’t feeling well on Thursday, so he stayed home and was tested for COVID-19.

The Jets were able to push through the loss of both Wheeler and Scheifele as they’ve put together a seven-game point streak (5-0-2), but Hellebuyck played a big role in that.

One of the biggest question marks for the Jets going into the season was about the goalie depth behind Hellebuyck and while the sample size remains small, Comrie has done his part to alleviate some of the concern.

Comrie improved to 3-0 this season with a 1.95 goals-against average and .922 save percentage after he made 17 more saves in a 5-1 win over the Blackhawks.

The most important thing is that he’s provided a calming presence and made the saves he’s needed to in those games.

“A fun guy to bounce off of,” said Jets defenceman Nate Schmdit. “I go out and shoot on him before practice on a lot of game days and you can just see, just like anybody hopefully high-energy, can put it in perspective when you step on the ice, when you step into situations, he does dial himself way in.

“It’s almost like a different person, it’s really cool to see that you can have both sides of it. It’s something I try to have; all guys like us try to have. So it’s been good for him. I think he’s been really calm in games, he hasn’t let any moments get bit on him, especially since he didn’t play a lot in the first six games of the year, that’s a couple of weeks. That’s tough, it’s hard for a guy and he comes in and gets us a big win in L.A. and last game (against the Dallas Stars). That just gives the guys a lot of confidence in him knowing that he feels good about his game right now.”

From his time at the American Hockey League level, Comrie has ample experience playing on consecutive days, so it will be interesting to see what Saturday brings.

Mikhail Berdin would be the other option to play against the Islanders if Hellebuyck is unable to go.

But unless the workload is extremely heavy on Friday, Comrie is likely to remain between the pipes.

“There is a consideration to that. This is a guy who has played three in a row,” said Maurice. “They’ve travelled and played back-to-back. He has, in recent memory, experience. It’s not that long ago that back-to-back wasn’t thought about that much. A whole bunch of goalies say they feel a lot better on the second night. That’s a goalie, right? Trying to get back in the net.

“It’s a bit maybe like the pitch count. There never used to be a pitch count, now if you get to a certain number you’re coming out. We don’t usually play goalies back-to-back because you don’t need to, but in certain circumstances, we would consider it. This might be one of those circumstances.”

Maurice said the biggest difference he’s noticed with Comrie is that he’s been able to take the work he’s done through the offseason and training camp and have it translate into the games.

“He’s been stopping pucks, solid, strong, and highly consistent in his practices. What we’re seeing in the games doesn’t look any different than the off days,” said Maurice. “He’s had a month and a half of being in front of a hockey team and playing exactly the way he’s been playing in the games.

“For Eric, what we know about him from day one is this freakish consistency of personality. That after the second week you meet him you think ‘that can’t be him, nobody is that nice,’ or ‘nobody works that hard every day.’ A couple of years after, you just go ‘that’s just Eric Comrie.’ It doesn’t change his day. There is no manifestation of change that you say he’s a different guy now, now he’s trying, or now he’s buckling down, or now he’s pissed off. His strength, his gift, is his ability to mentally train and mentally perform the same way every day.”

Dating back to his lone NHL last season with the New Jersey Devils, Comrie is riding a personal three-game winning streak.

He’s carried the load at the junior level and in the AHL, but this is the first time he’ll start three consecutive games in the NHL.

There are some obvious benefits to going mere days between months, rather than a 10-month block - which was the case prior to his start against the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 28.

“It’s more what I’ve been used to over my career,” Comrie said on Thursday, before he knew of Hellebuyck. “I guess the last little bit it’s been a little bit longer waits. Over the first bit of my career, it’s been playing almost every single day. So that’s what I’m used to and what I like doing.”

No NHL team wants to be without its starting goalie for an extended period of time, but for guys like Comrie, this is a massive opportunity to cement his NHL credentials.

“Yeah, I think the biggest thing for (Comrie) is you talk to anybody, coaches, players, he’s one of the nicest, most hard-working guys every day. Seems like he’s got 1,000 shots and he’s still coming down to work with you at the end of practices and I think those are the guys you want to root for and play,” said Jets defencemen Brenden Dillon. “Not that you’re going to play harder, but you want success for those guys. And to see for him, he’s been with the organization for quite a few years now, he’s had some little stops with other teams and he’s proud to be a Winnipeg Jet and you want to see success happen for those guys. Everyone is happy for him. He’s getting a great opportunity here with Helle out for a little bit, and I think you can hope he continues to build on it.

“You understand how tough it is for him to play behind such a great goalie in (Hellebuyck) and when you only know you’re maybe playing eight, 10 games during a season, you understand how tough that is to go in and expect to be as good as the guy you partner is. You’re playing hard every single night but you just want to, whether that’s the extra clear or the extra blocked shot, maybe just not trying to rely on him, and not that we do that with Connor at all, I don’t know if I’m circling a bit, but you just want to do your best for that guy because of the situations, back-to-back games where your team is a little more tired, you try to find that extra gear. You just want to do the best for both of your goalies.”

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