WINNIPEG – After Connor Hellebuyck allowed five goals in less than two periods Tuesday night, many Jets fans pondered whether the youngster should even start against the St. Louis Blues.
Head coach Paul Maurice was unwavering in his confidence, though, and boy was he rewarded.
Hellebuyck stopped all 29 shots he faced as Winnipeg smothered the Blues 3-0 in what was arguably the team’s most complete game of the season.
For the netminder, it was his 4th shutout of the season, and a remarkable turnaround after the disaster against Minnesota.
But it wasn’t just him: the team’s defence was wholly suffocating, blocking 18 shots, bolstered by the return of Jacob Trouba.
“We really stepped in, blocked a lot of shots, when your players are doing that and buying in, it makes my life really easy,” Hellebuyck said. “I think I still played a good game, but they really played a good game in front of me too. We played the right way.”
Not coincidentally, perhaps, the team allowed 11 goals in Trouba’s two game absence, and none in his return.
“Jake has started well this year and continued to build and build and build,” explained Maurice. “He was a dominant force on the ice, physical along the boards, skating up into the ice on the power play now. We missed him drastically. Having him back with Josh [Morrissey], that’s a hell of a young pair.”
Blake Wheeler opened the scoring just over halfway through the first with a one-timer from the point on the power play, a spot he doesn’t normally occupy on the first unit.
“I thought it looked good, the goal was great, but the other power plays were probably even more dangerous,” the captain said. “We had ample scoring opportunities, that’s what a power play is supposed to look like, just in terms of creating scoring chances, shots, momentum for your team.”
The Jets sat on the one-goal lead and it seemed like they might win by that margin before Bryan Little and Wheeler each added empty netters. Winnipeg controlled the bulk of the play from start to finish, hitting the post four times in the second, and the damage would have been far worse had it not been for the stellar play of Blues backup goalie Carton Hutton, who made 37 saves in a losing effort.
With the win, Winnipeg pulls within four points of idle Los Angeles for the final playoff spot in the West. The question now is whether or not this stingy defensive effort is an aberration or a sign of things to come.
Remember: most teams have sucked in their first game back from their bye week this season, but often times that bad mojo doesn’t carry over into their next game. We saw that here against St. Louis, but can Winnipeg keep up the momentum against a sorry Colorado team that they have had problems with this season?
We don’t need to wait long to find out, as the puck drops at MTS Centre at 6 p.m. Saturday night.