DeMelo plays unlikely hero for Jets as Scheifele breaks out of slump

Mark Scheifele was the overtime hero as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2.

WINNIPEG - Even when you fully understand your job title, going 132 games between goals can leave a player with an uneasy feeling.

But for reliable defenceman Dylan DeMelo, it’s tough to imagine a more impactful way to end a lengthy drought.

On a night the Winnipeg Jets had an awfully tough time generating scoring chances against a very structured Los Angeles Kings club, DeMelo was the unlikely hero - jumping up on the rush while shorthanded to deliver the equalizer at 13:36 of the third period in what became a 3-2 overtime victory on Saturday night.

“A huge relief, there was definitely some frustration,” said DeMelo, whose last tally came as a member of the Ottawa Senators on Mar. 21 of 2019 against the Calgary Flames. “Obviously, if you play defence you're not maybe relied on to score, but you want to contribute and there's no feeling like scoring. So it was nice to get that one and the timing was crucial, and to be able to contribute in that sense, it feels really good. I don't do it often so I'm happy to contribute and get a big goal for us.”

In a season where the Jets have been getting plenty of offensive contributions from the defence corps, it was the third pairing that played an important role as Winnipeg improved to 8-3-3.

DeMelo converted a nifty pass from Andrew Copp, but it was Logan Stanley’s smart pass into the neutral zone that started the play. Stanley finished the game with two assists, moving the Jets to seven goals and 35 points from the back end through 14 games.

“Yeah, that's a big one. Obviously, everybody kind of knows it's been a while for him,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “So much more impactful, the kind of goal: shorthanded and late in the game. So he gets to hold on to that one for a while. That's good for the room.”

The Jets bench erupted when DeMelo scored and for good reason.

"Yeah, it was huge. You could see in our reaction we were all super pumped for him,” said Jets centre Mark Scheifele, who delivered the OT winner 32 seconds into the three-on-three session. “He's a guy that does a lot for this team that doesn't show up on the scoreboard, the block shots, the tough plays, the simple chips, the (penalty kill) stuff, the simple things that people don't notice. But us as players on the team notice it each and every night, and those guys seem to get rewarded at big times, and he got rewarded (on Saturday).”

That tangible reward allowed the Jets to breathe a sigh of relief. It was also a sign of maturity in their collective game.

In an outing where a less mature team might have tried to open things up given how frustrating it had been, likely leading to a turnover going the other way and potentially expanding the Kings lead - the Jets stayed patient and found a way to get the game to overtime to secure at least a point for the 11th time in the past 12 games.

"Well, just not get frustrated. Not every time we go through the neutral zone it's not going to be clean or how we like it.” said DeMelo. “I thought we did a good job of coming together with speed and making the right play, not forcing things, just accepting that it was going to be a bit of a grind through the neutral zone. I thought we put the puck in better spots in that third period. I think we got on the puck a little more, got on the body a little more, and shot some pucks and got some looks. We played inside a little more, got some traffic, some second chances, and I think that was the adjustment.”

What was also good for the Jets room was seeing Scheifele find the back of the net for the first time this season in what was his eighth game.

After a smooth zone entry from Nikolaj Ehlers, Scheifele got himself into a prime scoring position and absolutely rifled home a one-timer past Cal Peterson for the game-winner.

The jubilation on Scheifele’s face told you everything you needed to know about what the goal meant to him.

While Scheifele spent a good chunk of this week saying all the right things about generating enough quality chances lately, seeing the red light go on represented a huge sigh of relief - especially after Kings forward Brendan Lemieux beat him to a loose puck in the second period for what was the go-ahead goal at the time.

Neither Scheifele or Ehlers had been able to get much going offensively prior to the goal. They started the game together, were split up for a few shifts and then reunited for the dramatic conclusion.

Maurice also moved Jets captain Blake Wheeler onto a unit with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor, who scored his team-leading 11th goal just 1:59 into the contest, long before the line blender came out.

“A bunch of guys had had some chances that haven't scored, there's really nothing to say about that,” said Maurice. “Those guys that are paid to put the puck in the net and produce points have to have one go for them. For Mark, hopefully that can get him back to a positive frame of mind with the puck.”

After hinting at it during the past several days, Maurice went back to using the three-forward set in overtime that led to a great deal of success last season.

While it was understandable he went away with it early in the campaign because of the upgrades in defensive personnel, going back to this well paid immediate dividends.

Not surprisingly, the move was endorsed by Scheifele.

"It was great,” said Scheifele, who is up to four points in eight games. “I love it, I love the way we play three-on-three, (with) more of an offensive approach than to take it back and play defence, we like to try (to beat) guys. I love it, I wish there was more of that in the league.”

Not lost in the rally was another steady performance from Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who finished with 27 saves and is now 2-0-1 since becoming a father and getting over an illness that led to Eric Comrie making three consecutive starts.

The Jets close out a season-long seven-game homestand on Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers in what will be the first meeting since May, when Winnipeg earned an opening-round series sweep.

With the Oilers sitting atop the Pacific Division standings with a record of 10-3 and the Jets right in the thick of things in the Central Division, this figures to be a highly-entertaining game between two teams with lofty expectations this season.

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